Tag Archives: South Africa

iMaverick: the beginning of an African media revolution?

There’d been rumours swirling for weeks; Branko Brkic and the team at the Daily Maverick were going to announce something big on Wednesday. And, true to the hype, they did; the creation of Africa’s first ever tablet-only newspaper, iMaverick (specifically for the iPad, but available too on Android and other devices). This was not the revolutionary bit; the sting was in the tail. Subscribers would be able to get content from the daily iMaverick for the not insignificant sum of R395 ($60) per month. This did, however, include a brand spanking new iPad 2.

My first though was: genius, pure genius. No one wants to pay for content in this age of “free” information, but no one minds paying huge sums for hardware. By bundling the two together, the media outlet gets the money it needs to run a decent operation, and the subscriber gets a nice shiny toy – which doubles as a damn good device for displaying news (as well as advertising). A tablet also does away with the need for printing and distribution – the two most significant costs for any newspaper.

Also, the novelty of the idea guarantees the kind of word of mouth advertising for the new paper that no kind of money can buy.

Tablet newspapers are the future for media in Africa. It seems outlandish now, when iPads and their ilk are still novelty items owned by the very rich. But just a few years ago, cellphones were thought to be incompatible with Africa, and just look at them now. For a long time, I’ve thought that some kind of cellphone newspaper was the way forward, because it’s easy to pay for things with cellphones; I’ve never been able to figure out how that would translate into a comprehensive publication. Tablets solve that problem, with their intuitive interface and superb graphics. Especially if connected to the cellphone billing system, rather than the clunky internet versions like paypal, then tablets will become the easiest way to extract money out of consumers. This will mean that the price of the hardware will fall significantly in the next few years; rather give loads of people an iPad and extract money from them for years than get just a few people to cough up a huge sum.

Media will swiftly graduate to this option, which is so much more sustainable than the internet alternatives. Particularly African media, who will use this as a way to subvert traditional media monopolies and regulatory systems. There’ll be a load of teething problems with this, of course; but it’s a lot harder for governments to stop publication when there’s no printing press to shut down. And the huge reduction in publishing costs will mean more money that can be spent on the journalists who generate the content, thereby helping to improve the quality of news coverage on the continent.

So, iMaverick; ahead of its time, and a glimpse of the future. I just hope there are enough people who want an iPad, and can afford the still expensive monthly subscription, to keep it going until the present catches up.

DISCLAIMER: I write occasionally for the Daily Maverick, iMaverick’s sister publication.


Leave a comment

Filed under Forth

A tale of two rocket attacks

This weekend, rockets rained down on two African countries. There’s Libya, of course; front page headlines all round, especially since everyone realised that nuclear disaster in Japan would be averted. It helped that the mission had a noble name – operation “Dawn Odyssey” –  and that there were some spectacular pictures coming out of Libya.

At the same time, receiving barely a mention in the international press, Laurent Gbagbo – the authoritarian president of Cote D’Ivoire who’s refused to leave power after accidentally losing the elections (accidentally because he’d rigged them to win; he just didn’t rig them well enough. Which gives me little faith in his competence, even as a dictator) – rained down mortar on a market place in the major city of Abidjan, killing anywhere between 25 and 30 people. It’s starting to get really ugly in Cote D’Ivoire; Gbagbo also called on his supporters to “neutralise” his enemies, which is a fairly unmistakeable call to arms.

In a related story, the South African diplomatic service found itself red-faced this weekend after City Press revealed that a hoax letter, purporting to be from French president Nicholas Sarkozy, was “sold to African leaders” by the Gbagbo regime. The fake letter was used as evidence that Sarkozy put pressure on the electoral commission to declare for opposition candidate Ouattara. Despite its shady provenance, and the fact that it was written in poor French, the SA foreign ministry has been using it to support its pro-Gbagbo posturing, showing it to the EU and to Hilary Clinton.

A few questions arise. How was this letter “sold to African leaders”; and for how much? If the French really was poor – I haven’t come across a copy of the letter – this is strange because Cote D’Ivoire is a largely francophone country, as its name suggests. And why is the South African government supporting Gbagbo?

VERDICT: Gbagbo goes 4th, for murdering his own people; South Africa goes 4th, for being a bit stupid and for supporting an illegitimate ruler who murders his own people; and the international media goes 4th, for having completely blinkered priorities.


Leave a comment

Filed under 4th

SA gives Cote D’Ivoire’s opposition the navy blues

And in more other news…

While Egypt has been receiving rolling 24-hour news coverage of its political crisis, Cote D’Ivoire’s impasse is starting to look suspiciously permanent. Alassane Outtara, by most accounts the winner of the run-off elections, is still holed up in Abidjan’s Golf Hotel, protected (or penned in?) by 800 UN peacekeepers, and presiding only over the swimming pool bar. Laurent Gbagbo, the country’s president since 2000, is defying a chorus of international calls to step down. Sources at the United Nations have assured me that this policy is based on the reports of qualified election observers and not because no one can pronounce Gbagbo’s name.

But that chorus is looking a little disharmonious of late. First, there were the rumours swirling round the African Union summit in Addis Ababa that some big countries had outright refused to contemplate tougher measures to force Gbagbo out (so far, all the AU has done is send Thabo Mbeki – who returned swiftly, tail between legs – and then Raila Odinga, the Kenyan PM appointed after the violence on Kenya’s 2008 elections, to mediate the situation. This is like asking Eugene Terreblanche to resolve a racial discrimination case.).

So, who were these big countries behind Gbagbo? Well it wasn’t Nigeria, who’ve been calling for military action to depose Gbagbo, perhaps remembering all the fun they had in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It wasn’t Egypt – they’ve got a bit too much on their plate.

Ghana is a likely candidate – despite immense public pressure, John Atta Mills’ government has remained behind Gbagbo, for motivations that are puzzling; some say that it’s in recognition of the two governments’ shared socialist history.

And now, it emerges that a South African warship is stationed off the coast of Cote D’Ivoire, lending quiet but essential support to Gbagbo; acting as protection against any Nigerian-led invasion. While it is good to see the South African navy is finally being used for something other than photo-ops in Simonstown, I haven’t quite worked out what South Africa’s motivations are. It seems a good bet that SA were also playing heavy at the AU summit. For some reason, the country has decided that now is the time to start flexing their military and diplomatic muscles, and this could have ramifications beyond Cote D’Ivoire. Watch this space.

VERDICT: South Africa’s warships (well, one of them) sail forth; but African unity takes a nosedive and goes 4th.

Leave a comment

Filed under 4th

South Africa goes forth against racism (sort of)

A still of some of the workers in the video before being forced to eat an unknown substance allegedly laced with urine. (Image courtesy of e-tv via http://www.niwemang.blogspot.com)

More than two years after the initial uproar, a South African Court has finally convicted the ‘Reitz 4’ of crimen injuria and fined them R20,000 (about $2775) for their crimes.

For those not familiar with the case, the Reitz 4 (so named after the the University of the Free State residence in which they stayed) rose to infamy after filming a video to protest against the forced integration of their ‘white’ residence with black students. The video featured 5 black cleaners ‘being integrated’ into the Reitz residence by being forced to perform humiliating acts of initiation. Among others, this included being forced to eat food laced with urine (although the four accused say they only pretended to urinate in the food) and crawl around on their hands and knees while ‘competing’ with each other in various events. Upon release of the video, uproar followed with protests and riots throughout South Africa, an ugly reminder of the racial tension still common in South Africa so long after the end of Apartheid. The sentencing of the Reitz 4 is supposed to have brought a close to this uncomfortable chapter and many have praised the Court for its strong (if slow) reaction to the issue.

Unfortunately, while the media and politicians have largely supported the decision, many South Africans do not feel the same. In a poll conducted on the mainly white-read News24.com, one of the most popular news sites in South Africa, an overwhelming 41% of respondants answered that the sentence was unfair because “the cleaners were willing participants”, contrasted with only 14% who thought the punishment was “nothing compared to the cleaners’ humiliation”.

Sadly, it seems that even though the South African judicial process has progressed, there is a still a long way to go in the hearts and minds of many South Africans when it comes to truly eliminating racism.

Leave a comment

Filed under Forth

Who’s World Cup is it anyway? Africa goes forth

Watching the confetti drift down on Spain’s jubilant World Cup-winning team, it was hard not to be proud of South Africa’s accomplishment. The country not only pulled off a glittering event, but did so with consummate ease. The naysayers were silenced, and the pessimists largely converted.

And Africa too will bask in South Africa’s glory. There will be a warm glow across the continent, and relief; this was Africa’s coming out party, and it needed to be good.

Of course, South Africa’s success shouldn’t really have anything to do with the rest of the continent. It is a contradiction that many Africans, myself included, frequently gloss over. When something negative happens, we are quick to point out that “Africa is not a country”, and that Darfur has absolutely nothing to do with Botswana; or that what happened to the Togolese football team in Cabinda is irrelevant to the World Cup in South Africa.

But when the good times roll, as they are now in South Africa, we are just as quick to embrace the pan-African ideology. This has undoubtedly been “Africa’s World Cup”, with almost every country on the continent jumping (and being welcomed) onto the bandwagon. A friend complained that Africans had much more fun in the World Cup, because we had six teams we could support passionately; he just had England, and when they went out he was only a spectator, and no longer a supporter.

Before we are so quick to judge outsiders for their naïveté in viewing the whole continent as one, homogeneous entity, we should remember that the pan-African identity was one of the legacies not left by colonialists, who were much less fond of unity than they were of divide and conquer. African solidarity was instead forged in the intellectual hothouses of the independence movements, by the great names of African history – Kwame Nrumah, Julius Nyerere, Steve Biko, Frantz Fanon, etc. They created pan-Africanism. If we want to criticise anyone for a simplified view of Africa, it should be them.

But I don’t want to criticise. I want to claim South Africa’s World Cup as Africa’s success, and let as many people as possible have a share in the glory.


Filed under Forth

Police Chief a criminal; Jackie Selebi goes 4th

It was, from any angle, a sordid story. The details are complex and contested, but involve murder, bribes, drugs, and South Africa’s Chief of Police. In a landmark judgment on Friday, said former police chief, Jackie Selebi, was found guilty of accepting bribes from shadowy businessmen (and all-round bad guy) Glenn Agliotti. His conviction marks a swift fall from grace from a man who was once the head of Interpol, basically the world’s top cop. Sentencing is yet to happen, but the minimum stretch for the offence is 15 years in jail.

It’s encouraging to see Big Men fall. The fight against corruption can only start at the top, and South Africa’s prosecutors and courts must be applauded for their fight for justice.

But Selebi’s conviction must be understood in the context of South African politics. Selebi was Thabo Mbeki’s man; and he found himself under pressure only once Mbeki was out of office. Mbeki himself must be worried; the tenacious Irishman who brought down Selebi has promised Mbeki’s downfall too. It seems unlikely that this will come to anything, but may be a useful stick for Mbeki’s enemies to hold over his head. It will also be interesting to see if Selebi tries to bring anyone else down with him.

A further unsettling point is that Selebi’s prosecution was brought by the National Prosecuting Authority (known as the Scorpions) an independent body with a mandate to investigate anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Unfortunately, it appeared that the Scorpions overstepped the mark when they launched corruption investigations into a certain Jacob Zuma; after Mbeki lost power they were  swiftly disbanded, and their function was absorbed into the South African Police Service – a body not free from a bit of criminal behaviour itself, as evidenced by Selebi.

Nonetheless, the message sent by the court in Johannesburg is powerful. At best, this case indicates that high-level corruption has very real consequences. At worst, it demonstrates to corrupt officials that they are at the mercy of the prevailing political winds, and if these change, as they do with relative frequency in South Africa, they might find themselves in a cell somewhere near Jackie Selebi. Perhaps this will make some think twice.

Leave a comment

Filed under 4th

Fifa to go 4th if it bans vuvuzelas

South Africa loves vuvuzelas. (Image courtesy of Reuters)

There are increasingly persistent rumours of Fifa looking at banning vuvuzelas from World Cup matches in South Africa, due to their supposedly annoying and distracting nature. The very idea of this is unacceptable. As the world has bellowed loud and clear over the last few weeks, this is Africa’s first world cup. It is an African World Cup, put by South Africans for the rest of the world and is something to be proud of. Well, bad news for Fifa – an African World Cup means that African traditions are an inevitable part of it, and that includes vuvuzelas! Banning the infamous horn is unthinkable and would only show an imperialist, West-is-best way of thinking dominating the World Cup and completely defeating the purpose of this beautiful mission.

While most players have remained mute on the subject, Jamie Carragher, of the English Team, has come out in defence of the plastic trumpet. He says “I didn’t notice the Vuvuzelas too much when I came on but I think you notice it more when you are watching” and adds, “What would you rather hear, the coarse swearing from the fans at an everyday Premier League match in England?” Thank you Jamie!

For the moment, Fifa has said it will only ban the vuvuzelas if it finds grounds to do so, such as if they are thrown onto the pitch or used as weapons (because us barbaric Africans want to turn everything into a weapon?). Sepp Blatter tweeted earlier today “To answer all your messages re the Vuvuzelas. I have always said that Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound. I don’t see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country. Would you want to see a ban on the fan traditions in your country?” Let’s hope Blatter’s view prevails as the calls from international journalists and fussy foreign fans grow to remove our favourite instrument from the games entirely.

Simply because the vuvuzela is not something European fans are used to doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be allowed. Surely there are people who find the off tune singing of fans in Europe or the drumming and drunken shenanigans of English fans annoying too? These things will never be banned and neither should South Africa’s beloved vuvuzela.


Filed under 4th