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Gold Scoop

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Pan, London, 1979
(first published 1977 by William Collins)
price: 80p; 192 pages

dedication: to Africa in all her savagery and splendour
and to all my African friends who made this book possible

The blurb on the back:

A journalist covering an African crisis ... a sensual beauty at the British High Commission ... a sadistic black General ... a coup d'état that rakes the streets with gunfire ... tough mercenaries who've got the jump on a fortune ... and the age-old lust for hoarded gold ...
'High adventure ... fast action and entertaining tales of the press at work ... staggering descriptions of Africa' -
Sandy Gall - One of Britain's best-known TV journalists and newsmen makes his debut as a novelist with a powerful and authentic adventure set in turbulent modern Africa.

opening lines:
Alastair Playfair obeyed instructions and did up his seat belt. The engine took on the plaintive note which denotes half power and that landing is imminent. Although he could see nothing in the darkness, he knew from the angle of the plane that they were banking over the lake and approaching the runway.

In the 1980s PW Botha, then President of South Africa, declared a state of emergency in the country and imposed severe reporting restrictions on foreign media. To their eternal shame, British news agencies went along with the regulations and so, at a time when the townships were in a state of near-revolution, our TV and newspapers alike remained silent on the intensifying anti-apartheid struggle and on the repression being dealt out by the Boer thugs of Botha's police state. During that period, I participated in a demonstration in support of the great Moses Mayekiso - then under arrest and possibly facing a death sentence - and discovered that the censorship extended to Britain itself: the March for Mayekiso got no coverage in Britain, but it did make the front page of The Sowetan, who should have known what was important.

So why did the BBC (above all others) collaborate with the apartheid regime? I have no idea, but I'd guess their argument would be that if they'd broken the restrictions, they would have been expelled and then would have been unable to report anything. To which the obvious response is, well, you didn't bloody report anything worth hearing anyway. The fact that the BBC isn't allowed into Zimbabwe hasn't prevented white farmers dominating coverage of that country on British TV.

The real problem (if we leave the race issues aside) is that even by the 1980s the British news media was dumbing itself down. A decade earlier their commitment to foreign affairs was more impressive. Here, for example, we find Sandy Gall, a man who went on to become an ITN newsreader but who started as a foreign reporter, and a damn good one at that. He produced distinguished reports from the Congo though Vietnam up to Afghanistan, and reached his peak with Uganda during the terror of Idi Amin. Gall himself was arrested and jailed for a brief period in Uganda in pursuit of his story. Somehow you can't imagine him being bullied by Botha into having his copy vetted and censored.

If I seem to be skirting around the question of the book actually under consideration, then that's because unfortunately it's not very good. Much as I admire Gall's work as a reporter, the truth is the man couldn't write fiction. It's supposed to be an adventure story, which admittedly is not my kind of field, but even so I can spot a clunking prose style when I see one, and I can recognise wafer-thin characters when they're paraded before me.

Not good.

not a hairpiece
Sandy Gall

Note: This was written in November 2003


and finally...

Neither Sea Nor Sand