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South Africa 2024 Elections: UK Media ‘Makes No Effort to Understand Why the Country Views the World So Differently From the West’

The latest episode of the hit Media Storm podcast focuses on unpicking the narratives around South Africa’s stance on two of the world’s biggest geopolitical issues

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in the 2024 General Election in South Africa. Photo: Emilio Morenatti/AP/Alamy

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As we write, South African votes are being counted, punching one more notch in the belt of 2024 elections, in which two billion people across 50 countries will head to the polls.

You can speak to South Africans for unexpected insights into a fascinating democracy, as Media Storm did this week.

Take Khayalethu, whose mother sacrificed work and income to clear the ruling ANC party’s path to power and who didn’t get so much as a tombstone from the party she lost it all for. Her son now lives in destitution, traumatised and impoverished from his rebel childhood, furious at the comrades who sold the rainbow vision for riches. Yet, she still insists the ANC is worth “one last chance”.

Or Gerard, a Congolese asylum seeker who leans towards the Democratic Alliance (despite its nickname being the ‘white privilege party’), in the hope its perceived bureaucratic competence could reduce the nation’s tortuous asylum waiting times.

Or Ndivhuwo, a young black property owner who is voting for the Marxist-subscribing Economic Freedom Fighters because most of the land is “still owned by colonisers”.

But it’s not just South African democracy that people on the ground can provide their thoughts on.

“British newspapers are incredibly condescending when they write about the 88% of the world’s population who live outside the West,” former President of the UN Security Council, Kishore Mahbubani, once told Media Storm. They “make absolutely no effort to understand why they view the world so differently from the West”.

On the two biggest geopolitical issues of our time, South Africa – like much of the Global South – stands at odds with the narratives insisted by our mainstream.

It uses the term ‘genocide’ in relation to Israel – while we use ‘conflict’ and ‘war’ – and it is ‘non-aligned’ on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – while we call Russia’s attacks ‘illegal’. 

With South Africa in the news this week, we ask why the world beyond the West sees things so differently: what are South Africans reading that we are not – and vice versa?

Russia is a tricky one. The South African President’s apparent cosiness with Vladimir Putin is a source of controversy internally. Yet Putin can still book a column in South Africa’s national press because the people reading it broadly agree with the notion that “the expansionism of European influence towards Ukraine is unreasonable”, according to Dr Mpumelelo Mkhabela, a South African political analyst.

“The relationship with Russia is very sentimental,” he told Media Storm. For one thing, the USSR trained and armed anti-apartheid fighters when the West “frowned upon” Nelson Mandela’s call for help.

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But, it’s a conflicting alliance., because “South Africa is on the West’s [side] in terms of value systems, outlook, individual rights, constitution, democracy, property rights”. But principles only go so far: “South Africa is dismayed when the West doesn’t apply those values in international affairs.”

On Gaza, foreign rejection of Western media is stark and unnegotiable. “South Africa has got a very high sensitivity towards racial and ethnic segregation,” said Dr Mkhabela – ending the sentence with a synonym: “apartheid”.  “We need you to pick a side and we don’t have time for the in-between”.

Tats Nkonzo, a South African comedian who joined Dr Mkhabela on the latest Media Storm podcast, was less diplomatic. He quoted the famous statement attributed to Mandela, that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”. For Nkonzo, the language his compatriots use about Gaza today is reminiscent of their own anti-apartheid struggle: “Anybody who’s fought the struggle is speaking the same language and anybody who hasn’t is not.”

In the same way our media uses unprecedentedly emotive terms to describe Russian aggression in Ukraine in factual reporting – ‘illegal war’, ‘invading force’, ‘resistance’ – South African journalists apply terms such as ‘apartheid’ and ‘genocide’ to Israel’s actions in Gaza.

In step with this, the ANC Government has brought a case against Israel, accusing it of genocide, at the International Court of Justice. Perhaps the starkest difference between South Africa’s narrative of the war and the West’s is that it doesn’t begin with the 7 October Hamas attacks. The lawsuit cites Israel’s “75-year apartheid, 56-year occupation, and 16-year blockade of the [Gaza] Strip”.

By contrast, South Africans look upon Western media as not merely biased, but ‘gagged’. Such is the term used by Dr Mkhabela to describe the West’s coverage of the ICJ case (or lack thereof). He is not alone.

Canadian journalist Davide Mastracci called out his country’s front pages for their “minimal to zero coverage of South Africa’s case against Israel”. The communications chief for the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor made a long list of Western mainstream channels not showing the ICJ hearing, describing it a “campaign of disinformation by omission”. 

To South Africans, this was a damning failure of a deliberate test: “In this particular case, we are going against Israel,” Nkonzo told Media Storm, “but we are also putting the world on trial.”


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The issue is not merely symbolic for South Africans, whose scars of apartheid are still healing.

“When I look at the situation in Gaza, it’s first and foremost from the perspective of somebody who has seen a situation of settler colonialism,” Andrew Feinstein, a former ANC revolutionary-turned-South African MP (who is also standing as an independent parliamentary candidate in Labour Leader Keir Starmer’s constituency in the UK 2024 General Election) told Media Storm. But it’s also as someone whose “life and political education were steeped in the Holocaust”. Because Feinstein is a white, Jewish ANC revolutionary-turned-MP.

His mother married a South African after surviving the Holocaust hidden in a coal cellar. When her sanctuary turned out to be a white supremacist apartheid, she realised ‘never again’ didn’t apply to black people in her new homeland. So the Feinsteins joined the fight. In doing so, they were among a huge and honoured movement of Jewish South Africans who bridged the nation’s racial gulfs, in solidarity for fellow victims of ethnic segregation and abuse.

“Yes, it’s sometimes a difficult position to take,” Feinstein said, recalling his mother’s cousin and uncle who found sanctuary in Israel. “But, given my own personal life experience, it would be far more difficult to take any other position.”

South African testimonies exhibit the complex layers of worldview that shape the voters of our globalised world. And while they expose the geopolitical biases unadmitted by our media, they also reveal a simple fix – all we need to do is talk to each other.

Media Storm’s ‘South Africa Elections – Worldviews in ‘the West’ vs ‘the Rest’ is out now

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