Living outside of South Africa and reading the local media, it’s always interesting to see what kind of coverage we get.
Not a whole lot of news about South Africa reaches Australia; that much is obvious. The only time South African news did make it into the headlines was during the xenophobic violence that wracked the country a couple of months ago. Of course, there’s the occasional cringe-worthy reference to Thabo Mbeki and Zimbabwe, and coverage of Springboks vs the Wallabies or the All Blacks. But overall, not much news crosses the Indian Ocean.
Most of what does get covered is related to wildlife. Like this morning’s Daily Telegraph, which features an extraordinary photograph of free diver Mike Rutzen patting an enormous Great White shark on the nose:
“Rutzen was captured in this remarkable photograph off the South African coast as he interacted with the monster predator for 40 minutes — even catching a ride on its back.”
The shark story is just the latest in a series of wildlife-related stories relating to South Africa. Whether it’s Jessica the hippo, another news clip of Kevin Richardson the lion and hyena whisperer, or the sexually aroused elephant that got a little too friendly with a hired Citigolf, the message is the same: South Africa is a land where people get to have thrilling encounters with wildlife.
And that’s a good message to have out there. For a start, it’s the sort of feel-good story that people talk about. I’ve overheard colleagues show each other YouTube clips of Kevin Richardson, marvelling at his madness — and secondly, it encourages an interest in visiting South Africa. We may not boast the wonderful wildebeest migrations of Kenya and Tanzania, but our wildlife is accessible. If you want to hire a tiny little tin can and get up close and personal with six ton pachyderms, South Africa is the place to do it.
South Africans and the South African government should not underestimate the importance of wildlife in attracting positive coverage (which, moreover, makes no reference to politics or crime, hallelujah) and thus tourism. Our wildlife is a very precious resource. Best we look after it.