Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Apartheid ends in South Africa

Fifteen years ago, the segregated public facilities between racial groups and relocation to barren plots of land and denial of citizenship to black Africans came to an end in South Africa.

The black African population, comprised of nine official languages and dozens of ethnic groups, accounted for nearly 80 percent of the population. However, it was oppressed by the minority ruling party for over forty years.
On April 27, 1994, the first all-inclusive election took place, electing self-proclaimed freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela, as president.

However, the end of apartheid in this former British-colony did not happen overnight. Nor was the negotiation process between the dominating National Party, and Mandela’s ANC (African National Congress) an easy process.

I compared a news article from the New York Times and a story from The Guardian. The NY Times article is a positive hard news story about the election, and the UK editorial is a commentary about South Africa’s future under this new government, analyzing the hurdles South Africa must still overcome in its quest for equality.
In conclusion, the second article provides more background and analysis of apartheid by placing it in historical context, while the American story focuses solely on the result of the 40 year struggle: the election, without providing background leading up to the election.

The NY Time’s article, “ The South African vote: The overview; Mandela proclaims a victory: South Africa is ‘Free at last!’”, published May 3, 1994, only quotes two political figures. The first is Frederik de Klerk, the leader of the National Party which dominated during apartheid’s 40 years reign. The second is Mandela, representing the anti-apartheid struggle. Only positive quotes recognizing the negotiation efforts between the two men are used, as well as quotes explaining the structure of the new power-sharing government.

Details like “a choir of 70 voices erupted into a liberation song” and Mandela toasting to the new South Africa “with a flute of sweet sparkling wine” are details sprinkled throughout the story to create a more cinematic feel. The article reports the statistics of the election and ends with quote by de Klerk, “After so many centuries, all of South Africa is now free.”

By focusing solely on the statistics of the election and using only positive quotes to enhance the “happy-ending” feeling of the story, the article fails to acknowledge the complexity of the relations between faction groups within the equality movement and the concern among the National Party to hand over power in writing a new constitution. Is South Africa really free as de Klerk proclaimed?

This story is reflective of American journalism in the early 1990s because the build-up of drama enhances the “cinematic” feel of the story, while also making sure to report the facts of an event. However, as Lippman argued, reporters needs to provide background of events in their stories and not merely report facts and info without context. For example, Mandela’s over 27 years in prison for his cause was not even mentioned in the story. While all the facts are here, it is the omitting of facts that is a disservice to the public's understanding of this complex transition of power.

The article “A moment of limbo before the dawn of a new epoch” in The Guardian, published May 3, 1994, starts out, “In practice nothing has changed...In theory everything has changed.” This skeptical attitude is arguably a more realistic observation of what was occuring.

The article quotes an officer of Transitional Exec. Council, who provides insight into what will happen to the “black homelands” that existed under apartheid. An ANC lawyer says the transition process will be “plenty of confusion, a fair amount of corruption and a great deal of frustration. But in the end we'll muddle through - we always do."

Unlike the first article, the UK story doesn’t quote political leaders but instead officials with insight into the power structures of the government. Instead of hailing the election as a triumph over evil, it prompts examination of the future effects and difficulties of the new regime.




1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your analysis.

    The articles you picked couldn't have had more different tones.

    I have a few critiques over the UK Article. 1) It didn't mention race. 2)It mentioned a number of political figures and agencies, without giving a description of them. For example, the article states, "Old "homelands" ceased to exist on April 27 but the new provincial structures are not yet in place. " The author doesn't explain what homelands are. I would have also like to know more about the politicial leanings of the national party, President F. W. de Klerk, and the Transitional Executive Council.

    Reading the New York Times article made me feel like I was watching the proceedings take place, which was very exciting. The story made me feel like a spectator who had kept up with the news, who knew which city got what seat, but who didn't know what changes were actually going to happen and who hadn't talked to any of the people in charge of the transitional process. It was cinematic, which I enjoyed, but it provided superficial coverage about what changes were going to happen.

    If the UK Article could be combined with the New York Times article- that would be an awesome story.