Magazine article The Spectator

The Great White Hyena

Magazine article The Spectator

The Great White Hyena

Article excerpt

Cape Town

'This is a goer, ' declares Deon du Plessis. It's Sunday afternoon, and the Great White Hyena is presiding over a news conference in the Johannesburg offices of the Daily Sun, the largest daily in Africa. Mr du Plessis is publisher and part-owner. Seated before him are his editor, Themba Khumalo, an amiable Zulu in a baseball cap, and a cheerful menagerie of subs and reporters. Some weeks ago they ran a story headlined 'Dark Secrets of Crime Terror!' which revealed that unscrupulous witch-doctors were charging up to £8,000 for magical potions (almost) guaranteed to render thieves and armed robbers invisible to police. Now fate has delivered a follow-up in the form of two criminals caught at a Soweto roadblock with 19 stolen creditcard machines in their boot and a bag of magical potions dangling from their rear-view mirror. There are photographs. 'I like it, ' says Deon. 'This is front-page.' It's also a cue for a bout of reminiscing about similar stories, of which the paper has carried many. 'Penetrated by a python' featured a woman ravished by a snake that came out of the toilet. 'Raped by a gorilla' told the story of a witch-doctor who sent a giant ape-like creature to punish a woman who had spurned his love proposals. Rewrite man Denis Smith, formerly of Paddington, recalls a story about 'stuff in a bottle' that was 'supposed to give you a permanent hardon' but instead rendered a Sun editor unconscious for four days. By now everyone in the room is incapacitated with laughter. The Great White Hyena wipes tears from his left eye (the right is covered with a piratical eyepatch necessitated by recent surgery) and says, 'What on earth will they make of this at the Dorset Echo?' Well, yes. Du Plessis may sound like a joker, but he's also the central figure in a tabloid revolution that has outraged the pious, shaken corporate monoliths, lured three million virgin readers into the newspaper market and triggered a furious battle about questions of national identity. Left-wingers portray South Africa as a painfully politically correct society imbued with gender sensitivities and what have you. The Daily Sun suggests otherwise. It is conservative, at least to the extent that it supports old-fashioned family values and clamours for tough law enforcement. Gay rights make it a bit queasy, and it does not like illegal immigrants who come here to steal our jobs and defile our women. And finally, it is respectful of the cult of ancestor worship and frequently carries stories about miracles and magic. This cocktail has proved enormously popular. Founded in July 2002, the Daily Sun now sells 500,000 copies on a good day, utterly dwarfing all competitors.

Several ironies lurk hereabouts. Eleven years ago, when Nelson Mandela came to power, South Africa boasted a dozen or so English-language dailies, all owned by white media conglomerates and deemed to be in dire need of what we call 'transformation'.

Within five years almost all these titles had new owners (often black) and a new ideology -- billows of soft-left waffle about women's rights, human rights, gender issues and cultural diversity. Reading these papers became an ordeal, but one bore it because this was supposedly what the black masses wanted. Only they didn't, as it turns out. Circulations stagnated. Pundits blamed the internet, but Deon du Plessis knew better.

Du Plessis is the sort of Boer that the English have been caricaturing for centuries:

a jovial giant with thighs like tree-trunks and a great raw slab of a face. He likes guns and biggame hunting. He eats and drinks to excess, tells dirty jokes, swears. His car licence plates read 'Beast1' and his business philosophy comes from Conan the Barbarian: 'Find the enemy, crush him and hear the lamentations of the women.' He and his heiress wife are famous for their outrageous parties. A friend was at one such when gunfire broke out in the backyard. Drunk and bored, Deon was shooting up the shrubbery with a shotgun. …

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