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South Africa: The Massacre that Changed a Nation

Wed Apr 24, 9-10pm, BBC2

The alarm over Nelson Mandela’s recent health scare seemed more than just natural anxiety about the wellbeing of a great leader (Thatcherites take note – that was the kind of emotion real unifiers inspire). It surely represented a tacit acknowledgment that, 20 years on from the end of apartheid, something’s still not right in South Africa.

Peter Hain’s documentary begins at Marikana, the site of last year’s horrendous massacre in which 34 miners lost their lives. But Hain ranges far and wide in search of answers, finding some good cheer – sport, for example seems strikingly unified – but much more misery. As usual, the problems are, at their root, economic – the free market struggles to generate a living wage or any real choices for manual workers, while the unions are apparently in bed with the governing party.

Throw in corruption, the increased stifling of press freedom and the kind of race-dictated poverty that was assumed to be a thing of the past and an ugly picture emerges. Still, in historical terms, 20 years is a drop in the ocean; Hain’s natural optimism just about survives this dose of reality. But one senses it’s a close run thing.