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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Angola, South Africa: It's all the same...right?

It’s unbelievable really. The African Cup of Nations suffers a major attack; the Togolese deep loss and trauma and the Western media is more concerned whether this is the “litmus test” of what’s to come during the football world cup later this year in South Africa! What is that all about? Nonetheless, I thought the response of a South African who was being interviewed about this perceived security risk, by a Sky News reporter, was priceless. Drawing the parallels he asked the reporter that if a bomb went off in London (as indeed it has) whether it would deter them from going to Amsterdam? Of course not – it wouldn’t even cross one’s mind to think that!

For a moment I want to draw a few comparisons to gain some perspective on this. First of all, the continent of Africa is larger than the size of Western Europe, China, USA, India, and Argentina put together! Secondly, as Time Magazine points out, the distance between Cabinda (where this attack took place) and Cape Town is about double the distance between Paris and Kosovo , double the distance! (http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1952798,00.html). Thirdly, for me to fly from Durban to Cape Town takes about the same amount of time as it would to fly from England to Switzerland. A vast continent indeed! With countries that are separated by massive geographic distances! Why then is the Western media so concerned that what happened in Angola is going to happen in South Africa?

Is it because they still think that Africa is one and the same country? Surely not! However, considering the number of “non-Africans” who still refer to the African state they are about to visit as ‘Africa’ – then perhaps this remains a valid hypothesis. But why such fear?

With the way the world has been politically and economically structured, it is usually those with less power who are obligated to enter into the world and worldview of those who exert the power. The result of this in South Africa meant that most “blacks” have had great insight into who “whites” are – as they were continually having to enter into the “white” world. On the contrary, for “whites” knowledge of who “blacks” are has largely been based on what the media and religious institutions have said (or didn’t say) they were. For “whites” this created a deep-seated fear of “blacks” that was pivotal to upholding the Apartheid rule.

So, when reading about the fears that the West continues to have of Africa I am reminded that such dynamics are not peculiar to South Africa but form part of the global order. I am also reminded of how similar “white” South Africa and the West are with their attitudes towards Africa. For me, this Togolese tragedy is a beckoning for those of us in the West to step beyond our ideological boundaries and discover that in fact the distance between Cabinda and Cape Town is as safe as the distance between London and Amsterdam. In doing so not only will we feel more secure but so will the rest of the world!

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