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Let’s have more Africa news, not less!

Jacob Zuma casts doubt on the Constitution and the Mail & Guardian cuts the Africa section: what a week!

Insulting the dignity of the Constitutional Court is the sort of thing I expect to hear coming out of Julius Malema’s mouth; I didn’t expect the head of the ANC to say such a thing. It’s sad. I’m not going to dwell on Mr Zuma; others have and will do that much more eloquently than I can. I want to think out loud about the Mail & Guardian and what I believe to be its incredibly short-sighted decision to no longer have a section devoted to news from our continent.

Let me put some cards on the table before continuing — I am married to Stephanie Wolters, who was editor of the Africa section of the M&G until last month. She has moved on to other challenges and I had looked forward to hearing who would replace her and continue delivering news about Africa to my door.

I’ve been a devoted reader of the Africa section and most of the rest of the M&G since long before I knew Stephanie and long before it was called the M&G; anybody interested in South Africa had to read it. Increasingly over the years, the M&G became an important source of information about the rest of Africa, and by the rest of Africa I mean Africa north of the Zambezi — the countries that are not in our immediate back yard.

Africa-watchers know that media in South Africa is not strong in reporting African news. The best sources of news about this continent have their offices in London and Paris. I’m thankful that I can get a good dose of African news before I get out of bed every morning by listening to Network Africa on the BBC and Afrique Matin on Radio France Internationale. I’d also like to be able to open a South African newspaper and feel I’m getting a reasonable resume of what’s important in Africa at the time of printing.

I don’t expect the dailies to say much about the Congo, Sudan, Senegal or Nigeria because that’s not the sort of information most of the people in their target audience is looking for. The dailies are also not trying to build up a readership in Nairobi and Kampala, however the Mail & Guardian was. I know many people in East Africa who look forward to reading the M&G more than they do their own weekly regional newspaper — the East African. And I know many more in more distant parts of the continent who wish they had a paper such as the M&G to read.

Africa needs a good newspaper and the M&G has the potential to be that publication. But it needs to invest not only in content, which at the moment is sadly insufficient; it must also invest in distribution, as well as cultivate advertisers from well beyond the Limpopo. It can be done — DSTV/Multichoice manages to find advertisers from the far reaches of Africa and French-language news magazines about Africa manage to find their way to my post box and shelves of CNA on a regular basis — Jeune Afrique in particular.

If M&G management feel the need to ditch content, I would have axed the international news section long before taking out Africa. Most of the international news is wire copy or copy from other newspapers that is already out of date by the time we read it on Friday. And frankly, there can’t be too many people who wait for the M&G to come out to find out what’s happening in Europe, Asia or the Americas. Chances are, people who purchase the most expensive newspaper in South Africa also have the means to get their world news elsewhere, most likely by trawling the internet. The large numbers of people who access M&G Online from overseas certainly aren’t trying to find out if France is getting ready to play a more dominant role in Nato!

Trevor — have you lost interest in the M&G or are you planning on turning your new daily in Zimbabwe into the paper for Africa? There are quite a few of us who could use some good news.