But as we drive down Tsamaya Avenue in Mamelodi every lamppost has a newspaper placard, plugging the latest story. Most of them are of the "sex, soccer and celebs" type, but occasionally there is a story that seems interesting in an offbeat kind of way. The Sun, for example, is big on zombies, and one of its best headlines was "Zombie stole my soap". So sometimes if we see an interesting headline we buy one of the other papers, in addition to the Sunday Independent.
One that we seemed to be buying more and more was City Press.
Finally, yesterday, we just bought the City Press, which from now on will be our default Sunday paper in place of the Sunday Independent. Why? Because City Press seems to have surpassed the Sunday Independent as South Africa's quality paper. The only paper that was better was The Weekendser, which folded several months ago.
Why the switch? What has changed?
I'm sure that part of the reason is that City Press has improved, and has higher standards of journalism. Its articles are well-written and interesting.
But also, the Sunday Independent has got worse. It's joined the "sex, soccer and celebs" brigade, though without the soccer (yes, City Press has better sports pages too). So the Sunday Independent is all sex and celebs, though with one difference. In the other papers in the genre the celebs are usually singers or film stars or models, or football players or coaches, or parasites; people like Brenda Fassie and Paris Hilton. In the Sunday Independent, however, they are politicians. The Sunday Independent is full of stories about politicians and especially who is jumping into bed with whom, literally or metaphorically. And also who is divorcing whom, matrimonially or politically.
City Press however, seems to be more focused on issues than on personalities, and that makes more interesting reading.
A selection of recent headlines from Sunday Independent:
- Zuma's lapses
- Gama plans legal bid to keep his job
- Knight-West shootout row continues
- Ousted youth league leader Masoga heading for the courts
So I concluded that Sunday Independent was playing with my head. It was creating and reinforcing the perception that our political leaders have no policies and no vision at all, and all they are doing is jockeying for position to get in the front row at the feeding trough, and the best seats on the gravy train.
Now that perception may well have some truth in it, quite a lot of truth, even. But that can't be all there is. Someone must be running the country while they're fighting. After all, the World Cup stadiums got built in time, and were praised, sometimes lavishly, by foreign journalists. Apart from some glitches at Durban, people got to the matches, and there was less soccer hooliganism than there was in Germany four years ago, and better attendance at the matches. In our big cities (unlike many of those in Europe) you can drink water straight from the tap without fearing that you will catch some nasty disease.
Yes, corruption and greed and incompetence have plagued local government in some places and the water reticulation and sewerage has often not been properly maintained and developed. Two years ago we went to do research in the archives in Pietermaritzburg and the building was all over builders' rubble. I've been told that the renovations are still not done -- two contractors have been fired and it has been put out to tender a third time, and the Public Works Department apparently wants the building cleared while the job is done. But at least someone is renovating the archives. I've seen university student residences in Kenya and Albania that have been in far more urgent need of renovation, yet nothing seems to be done.
So I've got tired of reading all about the jockeying for position; I'd rather read more about the positions themselves.
The media have gone on about the spat between Mbazima Shilowa and Terror Lekota of COPE, and the wooing between Patricia de Lille of the Independent Democrats and Helen Zille of the Democratic Alliance. Very few seem to mention that it was largely due to Shilowa's initiative, when he was Premier of Gauteng, that we got the Gautrain, now nearing completion. A few years ago it was dubbed by the media the "Shilowa Express", because Shilowa had the vision of an integrated transport system for Gauteng. Of course we have yet to see whether the Gautrain will do any better than the ill-fated Metroblitz of 25 years ago.
So for the time being I'll be reading City Press rather than Sunday Independent,. because I'd rather read about policies than personalities; about visions rather than vendettas; about inspiration rather than in-fighting.
PS: Yes, I know Breda Fassie is dead, but she continued to make headlines from the grave for years afterwards, and if it wasn't her it was her boyfriend Chico (what do you call a widowed boyfriend?)