Finally in South Africa!

Mar 182009

Editors Note: Fellow Mia Malan returns to South Africa.

I’ve been back in Johannesburg for a month now – after an absence of six years in Kenya and the US. So I’m seeing my country through a new set of eyes - mostly because I’ve got more to compare it to than before I left. Many people are negative, which I can understand to some extent – dealing with a constant climate of crime and corruption can be exhausting. But mostly, I see positive changes in South Africa - at least so far.
There is a rapidly rising black middle class, housing developments on almost every street corner, road works (okay, I know that’s probably for the Soccer World Cup in 2010), and the customs procedure to get my belongings into the country was relatively simple. Even my Telkom internet – finally – works pretty well.
 
The electricity has gone out a few times for a few hours at a time. That never happened six years ago. But it happened all the time in Kenya when I lived there for four years – sometimes for as long as four days - so I guess I’ve gotten used to it.  
 
I walked around a bit in Albert Luthuli House, the headquarters of the ruling party, the African National Congress in downtown Johannesburg, a few days ago. The atmosphere was quite relaxed for a party that’s supposed to be in trouble politically. Even Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the ANC, was quick to greet me and treated me with utmost friendliness. It wasn’t like this seven or eight years ago, when a journalist was likely to be met with cold hostility at ANC HQ.  
 
I’m just so grateful to back in Africa again. My time in the US made me realize how much of me is African - and not western – even though I’ve got a pale skin. And I can truly say: I like Africa with all its troubles. I love the diversity, the caring, the family sharing, the fires, the meat, the pap (porridge); the noise. And I’m crazy about South Africa – with all its problems. For now, at least.
 
I love the newsroom of the Mail & Guardian newspaper in Johannesburg where I’m based – it’s vibrant, diverse, intelligent and sometimes wonderfully loud like only Africans can be.
 
Health reporting in South Africa seems to be driven by individuals, rather than media houses. There are committed - mostly female - health correspondents who regularly write quality stories…. But if one of them is absent for a period, little health reporting happens. Sometimes newspapers are published containing not a single health story – in a country with one of the highest HIV infection and maternal mortality rates in the world. Is health not something everyone should be reporting on? And how do you go about giving health stories a human face as often as possible?
That’s only two of the issues I would like to explore during my year as a Knight International Health Journalism Fellow here in Johannesburg, South Africa.