He has also attempted to explain away his unquestioning use of the estimate, given to him by AfriForum and Solidariteit Helpende Hand, of the number of whites supposedly living in "squatter camps" in South Africa.
According to Simpson: "The civil society organisation AfriForum consulted a charity which works with poor Afrikaners, Solidariteit Helpende Hand, and estimated a figure of up to 400,000 white people living in poverty. My article made clear the source of the estimate and they stand by their figures. Other estimates vary widely and any figure is inevitably only an estimate."
While an online article written by Simpson did make clear the source of the estimate, his television report did not. "At least 200,000 whites live in squatter camps like this today," he stated as fact in the accompanying voiceover. He also did not explain why the figure used in the film, which was broadcast by BBC News: The Editors, differed so markedly from the figure cited in his online article. Nor did he explain why the BBC apparently made no attempt to check the “estimate”.
In his response Simpson claims that AfriForum and Helpende Hand "stand by their figures". They do not.
As we reported, Simpson's guide through the Sonskynhoekie "squatter camp", AfriForum’s Ernst Roets, told us "there are no reliable figures at this stage about white poverty" and indicated that he had been pressured by the BBC team for a figure. (You can find the Africa Check report here: http://www.africacheck.org/reports/do-400-000-whites-live-in-squatter-camps-in-south-africa-the-answer-is-no/)
Mariana Kriel, the Helpende Hand regional organiser that Roets consulted in a bid to give the BBC a number of poor whites living in "squatter camps" told us her organisation normally did not give out such figures because there "aren't any". She also called into question the use of the term “squatter camps”. “We don’t really have white squatter camps,” she told Africa Check. “We have homeless shelters. Squatter camps are places where people squat illegally on state-owned land. These people are staying with permission on private land.”
Simpson also now claims the figure of 400,000 refers to "white people living in poverty", yet in both his television story and the online report, the numbers were used to refer to "squatter camps".
South Africa's 2011 census figures suggest that 7754 white households live in informal settlements. Assuming that an average household consists of four people, which is slightly higher than the national average of 3.6 used in the 2011 Census, it would mean that there were around 31,000 whites living in informal settlements.
Simpson argues that census returns are “famously unreliable in assessing the numbers of people who live on the fringes of society” and while there is some truth to this, there is no evidence – and it would seem highly unlikely – that census takers would have underestimated the numbers by nearly 370,000 people or, in the case of the television report, by 170,000.
As many have rightly said, of course, the issue of the poverty identified by Simpson in his report is important, whoever it affects, black or white. But no problem will be properly tackled if it not properly understood.
Lydia Polgreen is the Johannesburg bureau chief for the New York Times. Before that she was a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, based in New Delhi. She covered India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives.
From 2005 to 2009 she was the West Africa correspondent for the Times, covering Africa's deadliest and most complex conflicts, from the widening crisis in Darfur, Chad and Central African Republic to the continuing chaos in Congo.
Her work in Africa has been recognized with numerous prizes. In 2007 she was awarded the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting for her coverage of the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan. In 2008 she won an Overseas Press Club award for her coverage of Africa, and she was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. In 2009 she won the Livingston Award for International Reporting for "The Spoils," a series on resource conflicts in Africa. In 2011, she was awarded Columbia University's Medal for Excellence.
After working at the Washington Monthly, the Times Union in Albany, New York and the Orlando Sentinel in Orlando, Florida, Lydia was hired as a reporter on the metropolitan staff of the New York Times in 2002.
Lydia was born in Washington, D.C. and spent most of her childhood in Kenya and Ghana. She attended Saint Johns College in Annapolis, Maryland and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
You can follow Lydia on Twitter @lpolgreen
- Columbia UniversityJournalist, 1999 - 2000