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Denis Beckett

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

At the “Africa for Haiti” Media Gig

That I made it to the Nelson Mandela Foundation for the lunch of “Africa For Haiti” was thanks to cabin fever. I’d had seven days chained to a laptop and I needed human buzz or I was going to need a straitjacket.

Up pops a short-notice invite to a press conference, and hey, why not? I’m only a sometime taker for Very Politically Correct functions, but sometimes is right, like it’s sometimes right to hear the other lot too.

Moreover, there’s no nicer corner of PC-ness than the Mandela Foundation. The vibe is great and so is the kitchen. Occasionally they trundle the old man in, too, to smile at everybody for a minute or two. And I’ll tell you this much: nobody, not even the webcretins with their anonymous bigoted bile, fails to feel dew in the eye and a lump in the throat when the old man bestows that smile.

So I get over to Central Avenue, Houghton, feeling mildly fraudulent because (a) I’m not a real journo any more and (b) I have nil thought of writing Haiti.

I know Haiti is the toughest disaster ever, and if I put myself in the heads of those guys pulling boulders off their grannies I feel the stomach tangle. But it’s far, and there’s 42 beggars on my shopping block, and the big ous are on the case, US and UN and UK and EU and so on. What is Africa going to do, send beads?

Nobody knows I’m a fraud, and I love meeting the new media gang. They got out of school in about 2008 and you can’t believe they’ve lived long enough to grow the heads of hair they sport, but they’re amiable and open hearted and you get to know them without the sniffing-out and status-gauging of money-minded professions.

Journos are good at that, as a breed. So are smokers and so are Africans, and here are lots of African journalist smokers whose days are made by an Ubuntu that comes naturally. How nice that some good things persist in this world of somersaults, even if they get a bit stressed hiding their smokes like contraband.

Africa for Haiti carries the blessing of lots of large names, including no less than four archbishops, but only Graca Machel represents the nomenklatura right here right now. She is pretty much chairman, and makes a delightfully unpretentious speech about how it’s one thing to cough up bully-beef while shattered waifs are all over your screen, but there’s also a problem with reconstruction after the world’s attention has moved off. So this effort is not about disaster relief; it’s about medium- to long-term reconstruction over the next six months.

From those TV scenes I’d think they’ll still be clearing debris in six months, but fair point, Africa for Haiti isn’t talking soup-kitchen. It’s talking the caravan of normality getting back on the road.

Graca is endearing. Not that she comes across wrong on screen, but that you tend to assume haughtiness among screen-people with big claims to status, such as being the only person who ever married two presidents. Live, that assumption evaporates, in her case.

Still, I’m ho-hum about the project, and the support-messages from dignitaries don’t always help. We owe Haiti for anti-apartheid sanctions? Or because God says so, as if He had to tell someone to tell us or we couldn’t guess?

But… then, reservations vanish:

Trevor Ncube is a guy about whom I have already revised my ideas. He took over the Mail & Guardian while media owners were shovelling shares at anyone who had indigenous features and an excellent tailor, and nice guy though he was — no question, but so are they all — one was bound to assume that this was a case of more of the same: another trumpeted advance that would wither into stagnation.

I don’t think so any more. The media empire he is building is, I’m reliably informed, the real thing, with actual building actually happening and at the actual hands of the actual chief exec. That’s exciting in its own right.

And now here is Trevor on Haiti, making a speech a paragraph long, with the punch of the Gettysburg address.

He says in effect that let alone Haiti’s acute current need to receive, Africa has a big chronic need to give. “It is time that we stand and be counted as Africans. We have received much from the world. We must show them and ourselves that we can give as well as receive; that though we may not be rich we do have a heart.”

 

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