Pilger reveals the 'new' South Africa

May 27, 1998

Apartheid Did Not Die: a Special Report by John Pilger
Tuesday, June 2, 8.30pm.

Preview by Norm Dixon

John Pilger's documentaries have the uncanny ability to provoke howls of outrage and indignation from the defenders of the status quo because he simply lets facts illustrate the points he wants to make. He does not let issues get clouded by academic doublespeak or politicians' waffle.

When he interviews people, he demands and gets straight answers. More often than not, when he seeks to expose somebody, they condemn themselves out of their own mouths. It is not surprising, then, that his latest film is provoking a huge controversy in South Africa.

Where his previous films on the human rights situation in Cambodia, East Timor and Burma have been met with general applause from mainstream "left" and liberal critics, Apartheid Did Not Die has been condemned by many in those circles in South Africa.

It was screened in prime time on the South African Broadcasting Commission on April 21 with an extraordinary disclaimer stating that the documentary "presents a highly critical view of the new South Africa" and that Pilger's "views and interpretations are not those of the SABC".

It went on to explain the program was being aired "so that South Africans can see what is being broadcast to the world about us and to stimulate debate in our new democracy about the issues Pilger raises and the journalistic methods he employs".

After the program, a panel to provide "balance" debated the film. ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe was "spluttering with indignation", reported the May 24 Weekly Mail. Although Pilger was in the country at the time, he was not invited to defend his views on the panel.

Alister Sparks, the doyen of South African liberal journalism, has emerged as the most trenchant South African critic of Pilger's "polemical" journalism.

Pilger praises Sparks' role during apartheid's days as "South Africa's great chronicler" and acknowledges his contribution in the battle against apartheid. However, he points out that Sparks today, "as head of news and current affairs at the government-controlled SABC, is an important guardian of the new ANC establishment".

Liberal opponents of apartheid and apologists of the ANC have denounced Apartheid Did Not Die because it dares to point out that the fundamental tenets of the famous Freedom Charter — wealth redistribution, land, housing and jobs for all — have been thrown overboard in the African National Congress' rush to embrace the interests of the five giant corporations that grew fat under the wing of the exploitative racist apartheid system and a new black capitalist elite being fostered by the ANC.

In scenes that are saddening, Mandela openly defends this strategy. He tells Pilger that South Africa "is prepared to do business with any regime regardless of its internal policies" and lauds Saudi Arabia as a model to be followed. The observation that, had the world followed such a policy, apartheid would have lasted much longer seems lost on the great man.

Under Pilger's relentless questioning, Anglo American public relations boss Michael Spicer explains that for South African capitalism, things go on as they always have. Confronted with horrible toll the mining industry has wreaked on black miners (69,000 dead, millions maimed), he responds glibly that there "is no such thing as risk-free mining".

In the "new" South Africa, Pilger bluntly shows, inequality is growing, unemployment is on the rise, and the interests of big business are paramount. For the legacy of apartheid to be addressed, the power and wealth of big business must be transferred to the people.

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