Silence on Gbowee is deafening

2012-04-21 09:21

South African media feed our ­ignorance about Africa.

In last week’s issue of City Press, Phiona Okumu in “The beat of SA cultural arrogance” spoke to the prevailing arrogance that South Africans demonstrate about our ­African counterpart, which is demonstrated by our disinterest in anything that “happens beyond Botswana”.

The silence in our media regarding the significance of awarding 2011 ­Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee an honorary degree from Rhodes ­University demonstrates this, and the disturbing ways in which South Africans are dismissive of the efforts of ­fellow ­Africans.

Rhodes University released an ­official press release on April 2 about the awarding of a Doctor of Laws (LLD) honoris causa to Gbowee on April 13 2012, together with four other honoraries, which included Epainette Mbeki. Gbowee and Mbeki were the only two women to receive doctorates from Rhodes University this year.

On Friday morning April 13, the day Gbowee’s was awarded the doctorate, I was among the people who ­accompanied her to her press conference.

We walked into the ­conference room with an expectation that the room would be full of ­journalists.

There are relatively few Africans who have been awarded the Nobel peace prize, and even fewer women, Gbowee being one of the three, so we expected her to command serious media attention.

I was puzzled, however, to see only reporters from provincial newspapers, and most of them junior reporters (with the exception of Michelle Solomon, who was said to be writing a piece for City Press). The SABC and e.tv were nowhere to be ­located.

I was informed that the SABC had stated that they would be covering the ceremonies.

When I asked my colleague to find out where exactly the SABC reporters were, I learned they were on their way to cover only Mma Mbeki’s ceremony. But when I asked whether Gbowee’s ceremony interested them, the answer I got was that she was apparently not newsworthy.

In the end, the SABC covered Mbeki’s ceremony, which was the ­afternoon session, and reported that they could not wait for Gbowee’s graduation in the evening.

If the ceremonies had been reversed, would they have covered Gbowee and Mbeki for the sake of time?

Or was it because the journalists had little interest in finding out who this Nobel laureate was ­because they assumed that most South Africans would not care to know?

The SABC covered Mandla ­Mandela’s graduation at Rhodes University in 2007 and last year travelled to the Free State when Oprah ­Winfrey received a doctorate from the University of Free State.

Yet when an African woman is recognised ­globally for building peace in Liberia, our media assumes on behalf of South Africans that this is not newsworthy?

» Magadla lectures in the Department of Political and International Studies at Rhodes University

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