Independent On-line, 25 November 2002, SA the darling of continent's journalists

Africa is the focus of the new generation of African journalists whose perceptions include recognition that it is the nation whose people could lead economic growth for the African continent to concerns about crime levels and policies for combating HIV and Aids.

Members of the South African Press Agency spoke to young journalists from 17 African countries during a recent workshop organised by the African Union of Journalism in
Cairo. Although none had visited South Africa, they regard the country with a mixture of fear and awe. They all, however, see South Africa as the mother figure of the continent.

Most of the journalists who attended the course come from countries that are ravaged by war or writhing in the clutches of famine. When they read about
South Africa, they do so with deep interest because they believe that if there is any hope for the continent, it will eminate from the land that "tapers to a point" south of the Limpopo River.

South Africa
, they say, could provide the blueprint for Africa's economic growth and political stability.

South Africa, they contend, even with its myriad of problems that are symptomatic of its history, offers hope for the spirit of tolerance shown by its people during the transition from apartheid to democratic rule.

Tolerance, they say, is the positive force that runs through South African society that stands it in good stead for the future, despite the highly publicised vicious circle of crime and the controversy surrounding South Africa's strategy (or lack thereof) of combating Aids.

Take Mookho Kobeli from
Lesotho. She said she found South Africa to be a unique country in many aspects. She said she had been watching with interest since 1994 how South Africa would overcome the problems of racism and the redistrubtion of wealth.

"Though I have not visited
South Africa, I wonder what strategies are being used to bring stability in South Africa and how Pretoria will bridge the gap between the poor and the rich.

"Through media reports that I have read, I think the minority are still rich while the majority are very poor."

Mustapha Dutch, a journalist from
Tanzania, said he did not think the government had managed to bridge the gap between the poor and rich. However he thought that South Africans were tolerant.

"I think the South Africans are willing to overcome the division of the past and work towards building their country and the continent."

He said the political stability in
South Africa demonstrated how its people were working together towards building their economy.

"It is also not a selfish country because a lot of South Africans are investing in

He said a number of South African companies were investing in his country which was moving away from socialism towards a capitalist economy.

"We used to buy everything cash, including cars and building houses with cash, but slowly SA investors are introducing bank loans.

"I'm 41, never had debts before, and we all wonder how will the system work even though most people are excited.

"The investors have also introduced us to supermarkets, South African Airways has bought our airline, some media houses are owned by them, and so on.

"By doing so, it is addressing a problem of illegal immigrants running into
South Africa for jobs, as has been happening," he said.

Dutch maintained that
South Africa was willing to help in reviving the continent's economy and ending the conflicts.

A Ghanaian, Matilda Asante, said she saw
South Africa as a pilot project where people of different cultures were working towards a common goal.

South Africa is involved in helping the continent and accepting the responsibility of leading big organisations like the African Union.

"I have read a lot about SA and I think given its history it is doing well but there is a perception that it does not address critical issues like HIV/Aids, which is destroying people."

According to the information she had
South Africa was not doing enough to fight the pandemic, and she questioned its policies on diseases.

"As far as I understand a lot of South Africans are infected and only rich people can afford treatment.

"If countries like
Uganda can afford to give HIV/Aids patients free treatment, what about South Africa? I think it can afford it," she said.

She believed that in
South Africa people did not talk about Aids freely and if communities knew someone was infected that person would be isolated.

"I think SA does not have a strong health vision, especially on HIV/Aids,"
Asante said.

Esther Nakkazi from
Uganda said South Africans were hostile and had forgotten that during the apartheid era they had immigrated to other African countries where they were free to do as they pleased.

Nakkazi said her late cousin was employed as a teacher in the
Limpopo Province and after South Africa' first democratic elections she was murdered by jealous citizens.

"My cousin's body was chopped to pieces by South Africans who accused her of stealing their jobs.

"She had been working in
South Africa before 1994 and there were no problems. When we thought things were going to be better for everyone after 1994, her brother and sisters kill her.

"South Africans are hostile. When you meet them they are not friendly people. They think they are better," she said.

She said South African leaders had painted a picture that the unemployment rate was not high.

"When I heard why my cousin was killed, I asked myself if
South Africa
was a self sufficient country why would they kill her. It shows a lot of people are unemployed and are living in poverty."

Nakkazi acknowledged that South African leaders had done good work in dealing with the conflict in
Burundi, but added: "Charity begins at home."

Ali Mohamed Halane from Somali said his country needed to learn from
South Africa because of his own country's political clashes. "We are seen as a country of warlords."

He said he wished Somali political leaders could tolerate each other as the South Africans did. Currently their transitional government and factional leaders were trying to come together and work towards building one government.

"We do not have a strong economy because of the type of leadership we have in
Somalia. We cannot participate in projects of economic revivals in the continent until we have a united government. People are dying of hunger," he said.

He commended the South African government for the good work they had done in
Burundi. "To solve Somali's problems we need strong leaders like Nelson Mandela.

"My country is ungovernable but hopefully one day we will have a government that will unite all the Somalis," he said.

The high crime rate, however, painted a dark picture for
South Africa. The biggest pity for most was that people had to be careful when they walked on the streets. - Sapa