The Media, Research and Racial Representation in Post-Apartheid

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1 This article extracts from and revises Berger (2000b). It is written with the express acknowledgement that it is not and cannot be “race-free” in its origins. However, in writing this article there has been an attempt to be aware of the blinkers of White racial identity, no matter how anti-racist one might subjectively strive to be. To this extent then, it is to be hoped that the article merits consideration with acknowledgement that it comes from an author part of whose life experience is ‘White’, but also with a refusal to reduce it entirely to that source. Much of the information for the argument is based upon attendance at the South African Human Rights Commission Inquiry and upon participation in discussions at the South African National Editor’s Forum.

2 It is notable that in South Africa historically, the more middle-class the social base, the more vociferous the mobilisation of racial identification and exclusiveness has been. In contrast, more mass movement and trade union thrusts have been more non-racial precisely because they have concentrated more on class and less on race issues. Just as it was the rising Afrikaner petty bourgeoisie that developed racial identity with a cover-up of class differences amongst Afrikaner Whites, so a Black petty bourgeoisie today represents itself in racial terms that are silent on stratification amongst Blacks.

3 “Laughingly ridiculous findings” commented a Sunday World editorial (27/2/00); “obviously inept and ill-equipped researchers whose report made the HRC a laughing stock and nearly became the framework of the hearings,” was the judgment of The Star (7/4/00). See also Woods, 2001.

4 “There was no basis for us to say White editors had walked out. We published the story not to make a racial point, but to reflect the fact that the country’s top White editors were not present when the submission was made (by the five African editors – GB)” (9/3/00).

5 SANEF said the Final Report was a “sober document.” Additional positive, neutral or mixed views were evident in headlines like “Editors welcome findings” – Business Day 25/8/00; “A wishy-washy effort” - Sunday Times, 27/8/00; “Education is the best way to fight racism” - City Press, 27/8/00. Even a critical article titled “HRC borrows a page from Kafka” in Business Day (5/9/00) was subtitled “Media racism report may be a blast from the past and reaction to it a sign that South Africans are talking to each other.” The lone publication with a very strong reaction to the Final Report was the Mail & Guardian , which said the document was “lazily recorded, pretentious in its intellectualism and inept in its presentation” (25/8/00).

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