June 18, 2008
You know what’s disturbing? Finding out that someone who does the same job as you has been brutally murdered for it. Crazy as it may sound, I’m really against people getting killed for giving out leaflets. I’m against other people getting horribly killed of course – it largely goes without saying – but as I’ve found to be the case with both everyone else and myself, we just simply care more when there are similarities between ourselves and the victims. We tend to do so in an unspoken way, though – witness the stories about Mugabe’s initial land grab, back in 1997. Why was this newsworthy? Many other post-colonial African nations have done or are doing something similar, but somehow they don’t seem to merit the same level of attention.
I suggest this is because of Mugabe’s deliberate strategy of targeting the white-owned farms only, rather than all the larger landowners, many of whom were black. Thus, the press could report on a very simple and easy to sell story of white people having farms taken away by black people. And, like it or not, a story about people we very visibly are similar to being attacked by people we aren’t similar to is gruesomely fascinating. It’s not racist to find it thus, it’s analogous to the same stone-age instinct that makes us more concerned with the wellbeing of our families than with others. It only becomes racist when you cease to accord moral value to all of humanity, and begin to blame all black people for the actions of others. However, what it does do is sell newspapers.
Again, like it or not, people found this story viscerally interesting, and papers that carried it sold more copies. Publishers noticed this, and continued to carry more stories about Zimbabwe. However, there’s a movement which seems to believe there’s some sort of conspiracy behind this, as though the British were building up moral support for the claim that Africans can’t govern themselves, in order to resurrect the Empire. You get comments like this one on Comment is Free, bewailing the fact that there’s so many bad things happening in Africa that the excessive focus on Zimbabwe is ludicrous. It’s not. It’s the market doing what it does. It’s just that no-one seems to want to talk about why people like the story. Funny that.