A piece of scripture that never fails to touch me is Exodus 23:9 (in the King James Version, which I prefer): “Thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt”.
In other words, I hate xenophobia from the bottom of my heart.
But I am also publisher of the Daily Sun. One of publication’s cardinal rules, relentlessly drummed into the staff by founder Deon du Plessis, is that Daily Sun exists for its readers – 5, 3 million of them, according to AMPS – and for no one else.
The readers’ views, feelings and experiences have to be our guide; we can’t afford to write with journalistic prizes, editors’ organizations, overseas journalists’ views, monitoring organizations’ views, government spin, abelungu’s (white people’s) views, or the ideas and sentiments of “Fat Bottoms” anywhere in our heads. (A “Fat Bottom” was Du Plessis’ fond term for anyone who was, or appeared to be, a politically correct, vaguely liberal, vaguely Socialist, NGO-belonging, vegetarian, and over-intellectualising bunny-hugger – someone, in other words, not unlike me.)
So who are they, these readers? Some of this question is pretty easy to answer.
Daily Sun’s readers are almost all black. They live mainly in townships. They are able to read but do not necessarily come from a “reading tradition” and might mostly choose not to read (and would rather watch TV and/or listen to the radio or their mobiles – as would most people these days, it seems). This is why Daily Sun stories must be short, direct, clear and entertaining.
The majority of our readers go to church a lot. They like to party, sometimes to excess (a tendency shared by most of the population, it seems). Many, usually older ones, believe in tokoloshes or the power of vutha. But, before you snigger, remember that some of us believe that it’s evil to eat pork while others believe that a wafer and wine can represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Our readers are not affluent. The total household income of the majority (more than 60%) is about R10 000 a month. And 33% of them are “looking for employment,” which is a euphemistic way of saying they’re unemployed and mostly hungry.
More difficult to answer with accuracy, however, are these questions: What do our readers believe? Other than looking somewhat perplexed if you suggest that they could actually vote for the DA, what are their political views?
What, for example, do they feel about xenophobia?
These questions are hard to answer because, obviously, generalising about human beings is a dangerous business, particularly in South Africa. But my space is limited so I’ll cut to the chase:
The majority of readers are what more affluent, younger and more left-leaning people (the Fat Bottoms?) might (politely) call “conservative”.
What they believe does not always mesh with important parts of our much-lauded Constitution. Many are opposed to abortion. Many want a death penalty. Many dislike gay people. Most don’t give a damn about the statue of Cecil John Rhodes; who cares about statues of dead people?
And, if they live in places where the police are scarce – if the “justice system” has “failed” them, as government spin doctors like to put it – and someone tries to steal their meagre belongings or rape their children, they will brutally execute those people without trial.
As for foreigners, in general our readers simply don’t like them. Their opinion of our readers is that foreigners are interlopers who have come to South Africa to put their fingers into a pot that is dwindling disastrously and that is rightfully “ours”, not theirs.
- Zimbabweans, in fact the gentlest of folk (if you visit Zimbabwe), are thought of in the same way as Bulgarians used to be thought of in Europe – as brutal thugs.
- Nigerians are all drug dealers and crooks, didn’t you know? (The movie, District 9, really didn’t help much.)
- “Crime is brought here by foreigners” – this is nonsense of course, but it’s a general perception.
Somalis and Pakistanis keep their overheads down (by, say, sleeping in their “shops”, just as my grandfather did when he came to Johannesburg from eastern Europe in 1899) and work very hard, mostly collectively. They are therefore able to undercut local business people with ease by buying in bulk. So a massive amount of resentment is directed towards them.
I wrote the above 735 words early on Friday morning.
I’d like to add two points now, on Sunday afternoon.
First, given the photographs taken by James Oatway of, and the reporting by Beauregard Tromp, Nathi Olifant and Matthew Savides on, the death of Emmanuel Sithole, apparently a Mozambican, on page one of the Sunday Times (see here and here)) – as well as number of other stories and photographs that have crossed my computer screen today – let me stress that I am not trying to rationalise any behaviours or attitudes, but to elucidate them.
Second, another facet of the people I am writing about is that they generally take their leaders seriously. So, when the so-called Minister of Small Business (Lindiwe Zulu) makes moronic comments – i.e., “foreigners” should share their [special] “business secrets with locals” [what?] – or their trusted monarch calls foreigners “lice” (has Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu been reading Goebbel’s diaries?) ... ... well, you’ve seen what happens.
Jeremy Gordin is Publisher of the Daily Sun.