DATELINE SOWETO: Travels with Black South African Reporters by William Finnegan

DATELINE SOWETO: Travels with Black South African Reporters

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Compassionate, one-dimensional coverage of representative black journalists who play a critical role in ""the ragged, slow-motion revolution that convulses South Africa."" In Crossing the Line (1986), New Yorker writer Finnegan recounted his experiences teaching for a year (1980) at a mixed-race high school near Cape Town. He returned to South Africa a couple of years ago and spent six weeks with a small band of black reporters from the Johannesburg Star, the troubled country's largest daily. During his sojourn, Pretoria's white-minority regime imposed a series of emergency measures, including press censorship, that made news-gathering riskier than normal for black correspondents. Their beats are the tinderbox townships and allegedly self-governing bantustans where blacks rage against apartheid and wage mortal combat amongst themselves. The only possible sources of accurate information on nonwhite resistance movements in South Africa (owing to language and other barriers), black journalists find themselves in a quandary. On the one hand, the black community has become almost as great a threat to their physical safety as government security forces who routinely harass, beat, and/or jail them. On the other, white editors frequently decline to publish stories by black correspondents for fear of government disapproval as well as adverse advertiser reaction. Finnegan makes a find job of conveying black reporters' dedicated professionalism. He also offers an engaging profile of Jon Qwelane, a talented newsman/columnist who meets deadlines and plies a dangerous trade with good humor and considerable grace. In focusing on the quotidian hazards and frustrations endured by black reporters, however, the author scants larger issues such as: the root causes of the lethal strife that pits so-called comrades against tribal groups; the apartheid bureaucracy; the racial attitudes of white liberals; the importance of the outlawed ANC; and the grass-roots reaction to economic sanctions. Uncritical and largely lacking in perspectives, then, but a nonetheless affecting bulletin.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1988
ISBN: 0520089790
Publisher: Harper & Row