South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, has lashed out at the BBC for a documentary on crime in South Africa, writes Bate Felix.

The documentary was aired by BBC World on February 8, a day before President Thabo Mbeki delivered his state of the nation address.

A letter on the party’s website accompanying the president’s weekly newsletter accused the British broadcaster of perpetuating the notion that South Africa is a crime-ridden nation and feeding other “racist” stereotypes.

Entitled “What the media says – Propaganda and reality: The truth as the first casualty of war,” the letter said:  “Everything we have said, communicates the unequivocal message that to avoid unnecessary disappointment and surprise in future, we must teach ourselves to expect that those who hold us in contempt, regardless of what they profess concerning their liberal and progressive credentials, will continue to represent us as violent criminals, or anything else that helps to feed the deeply embedded stereotype that Africans are less than human, or, at least, genetically inferior.”

The letter said the documentary highlighted several incidents in the Johannesburg city centre and on high-rise buildings that are empty because of crime, particularly in areas like Hillbrow.

It also said that the report “made the assertion that allegations have been levelled against our national police commissioner that he is associated with ‘the mafia’,’ and because Commissioner Jackie Selebi was not removed from his position, the report “conveyed a message that it is convinced of the complicity of our government with the most notorious international criminal syndicates”.

The ANC said it resented the timing of the report which coincided with the state of the nation address.
“We have no doubt that this broadcast represented a deliberate attempt by BBC World to insert itself as a player in the determination of our future as a people. Thus BBC World was determined to ensure that what it had resolved to say about our country, it said at a moment that would make the maximum impact on our country's national consciousness and agenda.”

“Any honest report about any country in this regard must necessarily take these realities into consideration. However, in our case as an African country, we must accept that we will continue to be faced with the reality that we will, for a very long time, remain victim to the entrenched Afro-pessimism born of centuries of contempt for Africans, which legitimises the most insulting anti-African prejudices as a perfectly acceptable part of the mindset that should inform all understanding and interpretation of Africa and Africans”.

“The BBC World documentary confirmed that in conditions of war, even when it is conducted without guns, the truth would always be the first casualty. It showed how easily the media can be exploited to use propaganda to create the illusion of reality. It made the statement that until the hunted produce their own historians, so long will their victories be obliterated from the human record by those who arrogate to themselves the right to define themselves as victorious hunters,” the letter concluded.