It is official. After more than a decade of planning, setting up, and bankrolling African media, the Chinese are finally ready to cash in on their investment.
Last week, I decided to dedicate my weekly column in a South African newspaper to discussing the persecution of more than 1 million Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.
The column looked at the discrimination suffered by the Turkic-Muslim community and the inability of the more than 40 African leaders in Beijing for a historic China-Africa forum to seek clarity from their host. No more than a few hours after the piece was published by newspapers belonging to Independent Media, South Africa’s second-largest media company, I was told that the column would not be uploaded online.
A day later, my weekly column on neglected people and places around the globe, which I have been writing since September 2016, was immediately canceled. I was told the “new design of the papers” meant that there was no longer space for my weekly venting.
Given the ownership structure of Independent Media, with Chinese state-linked firms holding a 20 percent stake, I understood when I wrote the column that it might rattle the higher-ups. I didn’t expect the exorcism to be so immediate and so obvious. I had, it would appear, veered into a nonnegotiable arena that struck at the very heart of China’s propaganda efforts in Africa.