Thursday, July 24, 2014

Are African Plane Crashes all of a sudden of importance?

Are African plane crashes suddenly a big deal?

One of the most iconic parts of the novel 1984 by George Orwell, involves the captor of the main character relaying a thought problem to him. It is possible for a man to fly, those around him need only agree to believe that he has flown, and the impossible as far as the world is concerned will have occurred.

Plane crashes in Africa are not uncommon. They happen all the time, with the lax safety standards and conflicts with which the continent is ridden. From: small aircraft crashing down upon the soil of arid earth like the dropping of heavy hail or the weeping of the rainstorm, a regular occurrence in Africa newspapers. To: airliners disappearing from the sky, stuck in the putrid inferno of the jungle, rainforest or African plains. African aircraft disappear all of the time. And these deaths and disappearances of human individuals, don’t tend to make the news in other countries. Granted, some countries such as France often report on these. An entire country can fall in Africa, and the fallen people will not be reported upon.

There are fascinating stories about battalions of tanks crossing borders, hidden by the tree lines like elephants, fighting wars no one ever bothers to read about or listen to the telling of. A genocide can occur, and no one hears about it. In South Africa, our newspapers often relay the terror and aghast events which occur in Africa. We are after all still a part of the continent, even if when we refer to it, we generally exclude ourselves.

The old cultural adage is that the prophet will not be accepted in their homeland. Perhaps a more truthful adage is that what happens on foreign soil and affects no one who is not alien to the listener, is seldom ever spoken of by the speaker. This is perhaps why Hollywood renditions of horrid events such as the genocide in Rwanda, tend to present the people of the country in question as though they were Americans. Historical retellings of the terrible and wonderful events of the human history, tend to portray heroines and heroes who are very Western and nothing like the people who lived and who walked the earth under the name and appearance of those who are supposedly represented in television, in books, in plays and whatever other fictional means that are utilised in the worship of Dionysus.

It seems, with the disasters befalling Europeans upon Asian jets, that all of a sudden the land once referred to as overseas, as the dark continent, as a circle of hell itself: is suddenly of interest to outsiders. When is the last time you saw an ant? Or a buzzing bee? Perhaps you cannot remember this event. We seem to block out so much. You might not hear the sound of your car as you drive. You might not hear the chattering in a restaurant. People tend to block out things that they do not understand or do not want to understand.

And so, with the disappearance and feared crash of an African airliner, suddenly there is news. Suddenly there is some fear to sow. Aeroplanes crash every day in Africa, massive aeroplanes and small ones alike go down or disappear, or are hijacked, or experience some other catastrophe or cataclysm with a regularity resembling the heartbeat of the Earth itself. Suddenly, newspapers want to report stories about aeroplanes crashing or disappearing. It perhaps resembles the events in the Bermuda Triangle. No more planes or ships crash or disappear in Bermuda than anywhere else. These events are merely almost always reported on. There is after all a fan market for horror when it comes to Bermuda and its Triangle.

When the shock and horror of the Malaysian airliner incidents dies down, when irresponsible journalists are finished with making it appear the world is about to collapse into chaos: no doubt: the loss of African lives, and the disappearance or crash of an African airliner: will no longer be newsworthy. Things will return to normal again. African lives are not that interesting. It does not matter if people are being forced off their land like old-time serfs on a Russian estate. It does not matter if they are dying in droves for some other horrendous disease has overtaken them. This is only interesting when it touches a Western nerve.

And so, for now: the disappearance or crash of an African airliner is almost as important as the disappearance or crash of an Asian one.

Make no mistake I mourn what has happened. I also mourned the kidnapping of those Nigerian girls. However, a deeper tragedy exists which is not being reported on. Just as one might begin to see ants and other small insects everywhere, just as one might begin to hear the traffic on the road outside and the birds tweeting, when one opens one’s mind to it and wants to look: for now the world and its journalists are interested in accidents involving planes. My fear is that this certainly won’t be an ad infinitum interest in the welfare of Africans. It is interim, it is temporary: it is the current fad overcoming journalism, to report on incidents on planes. Suddenly the mundane and every day horror they with the newspapers did not care to report on is in vogue for but a moment. The true horror of it however is hidden behind the veil of forgetfulness. The true danger of taking an aeroplane into the sky in Africa is hardly reported upon. African lives are not that interesting, our hardships and our injustices do not quite strike the right chord to resonate horror into a Western heart as far as many journalists are still concerned. We still are not newsworthy. What is newsworthy is a plane going down as many planes have, or in the very least it disappearing from the horizon. For now it fits the narrative, as a tourist press for a moment visit us: only no doubt to leave us shortly, they do not bear a long-term affiliation to the continent that would have them tell more than a much spun moment of our history. No doubt also there are responsible journalists covering the story. If only they would recover the press archives of Africa and realise how many stories they have not told.

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