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Lydia Polgreen
Johannesburg bureau chief for the New York Times.
Johannesburg bureau chief for the New York Times.

Lydia's posts

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Terrific omnibus page for information about Zimbabwe's elections set up by Google. 

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More from Africa Check on the BBC report on whites in South Africa. 
A week after the BBC first broadcast his film questioning whether whites had a future in South Africa, the corporation’s World Affairs editor, John Simpson, has written an article defending his reporting:

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:

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.

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Who owns Nelson Mandela's legacy? A pretty nasty battle is on to claim it, and he isn't even dead yet. 

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Are you sad about the news that Google will be shutting down Reader this July? In response, Digg announced that it will release its own Google Reader alternative.


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Robert Mugabe's party struggles to attract younger voters with no memory of the independence struggle. An interesting piece from Reuters. 

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And so it begins. Violence and intimidation of regime opponents in the runup to the constitutional referendum and presidential election in Zimbabwe. I'll be in Zim from tomorrow. 

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The African Development Bank says that graft, kickbacks and tax evasion costs Africa at least $62 billion a year. Am I the only one who thinks that number sounds low?  

Am sick of Facebook. Is this still on?

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Anna Hazare faster for 12 days and it seemed the whole nation yielded. Meet a woman who has been fasting for 11 years to get a draconian law lifted from her home state on India's troubled northeastern fringe.
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