One of the most rewarding aspects of travel for me is that it is a learning experience, serving to correct my own misconceptions as much as it gives me the opportunity to try and communicate something of what my own life and country is like to those I meet. On more than one occasion in Sudan, I would have to give lengthy explanations to customs officials, bus drivers and other interesting people as to how it is possible for me to be white and South African. Many refused to believe that such a thing was possible. I’d like to hope that in a good humoured way, my white face and South African passport will leave behind some new views of my country – ones fractionally closer to an understanding of what my life is like, in exchange for the same incremental understandings of others’ worlds. But while it may be understandable that a customs official on the Ethiopia/Sudan border may still think that I live in some alternate African reality, I find it less amusing for an educated Chicago editor to have similar views.
I came across the piece, titled “Could the 2010 World Cup Cause a Food Shortage” on the Matador Network’s sports section and can’t let it go unchallenged. In particular, I have two objections to this piece. The first, and most easily dealt with, is that I feel it is wholly incorrect.
It suggests that there may be severe food shortage in the country, caused by food price inflation as price gouging of tourists in the country for the world cup causes basic staples to become unaffordable to the average South African.
Read the piece if you are feeling temeritous, and if you still think there is merit to the claims, I shall wager you a beer they will not come to pass.
The first rebuttal to this claim is that there is no plausible evidence for it. The economists quoted in the piece only claim a 1.1% – 1.2% likely rise in the cost of food. This is then paired with a link to an alarmist post in a blog on food gardening to hyperbolise the estimate to between 200% and 500%. I am not going to justify the facile views on supply and demand economics and supply chains in Living Seeds with a full rebuttal. Read the piece if you are feeling temeritous, and if you still think there is merit to the claims, I shall wager you a beer they will not come to pass.
So we are unlikely to see pentupled food prices across the economy simply because there is a world cup on. Even if we were to entertain this notion, tying it to child abandonment and causing a borderline famine is misleading in the extreme. While it is true that poorer South African households are struggling with issues of food security, this has less to do with food price inflation putting previously affordable food out of reach as it does with rampant HIV mortality destroying household incomes altogether.
Where malnutrition exists – and it does – it is disingenuine to tie it to some briefly correlating event like a world cup. It is also more than a little simplistically offensive to the large body of academic work on the problem to draw such conclusions, not to mention wholly unhelpful in mobilising support for what is an important issue (HIV) instead of some fad du jour.
Ok. That’s my spleen vented towards the logical substance of the post. These points could all be supported with further arguments, but if you really take issue with any of my conclusions, and honestly think that food prices will inflate to the point that orphan abandonment and famine will come knocking, then make your case in the comments and I will deal with you.
And so we come to Mr Kurtz and Heart of Darkness.
It’s understandable, even slightly funny on occasion, when people believe that South Africans keep elephants in their back yards, or that schools close in the event of lions nearby. If you couldn’t be expected to know better. And if you are not a participant in reinforcing such views.
It’s understandable, even slightly funny on occasion, when people believe that South Africans keep elephants in their back yards, or that schools close in the event of lions nearby.
It gets more than a little under my skin for a writer – nay, an editor – of a publication such as Matador to propagate such stereotypes. South Africa is not Ethiopia of the 1980s. Hell, not even Ethiopia is Ethiopia of the 1980s. While turning out interesting copy is important, and world cup-related writing is relevant, those considerations should not outweigh trying to avoid reinforcing the worst of the world’s one-dimensional stereotypes of Africa. Particularly when the story is untrue. And more so when it can be shown so by the most rudimentary fact checking.
Flame me if you want, but I am going to stick up for my corner of the world. I love Matador as a publication generally, but don’t feel inclined to let this slide. South Africa isn’t perfect – god knows we have enough problems to go around – but making up new ones and shouting them from a position of media privilege does nobody any favours.