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I reported Reggie Yates’s comment weeks ago – so why is there only outcry now?

I do not think for one second Reggie Yates dislikes Jews. But his flippant comment represents the normalisation of antisemitism. 

Reggie Yates, radio show host and presenter for the BBC made comments on a podcast, almost a month ago, where he discussed how “great” it was that grime artists are no longer managed by “some random fat Jewish guy from north west London”. I heard them, and tipped off The Sunday Telegraph. 

Two weeks after the story was reported, in which the BBC notably failed to comment, Yates issued a tweet announced he will be stepping down from presenting this year’s Top of the Pops Christmas special, saying his remarks were “ill considered” and “hurt many people”. A spokesman for the BBC said that they “take these issues very seriously” and that “Reggie is in no doubt about the BBC’s comments”.

But since these comments were so serious, why was it down to me to report them to begin with? And secondly, why did it take two weeks for the BBC to comment? Was it an unwillingness to believe that when someone is really popular, they can make mistakes? Was it a huge complacency about antisemitism with some people just taking it as unspoken truth that Jews run the world? Or, perhaps, a mixture of both?

I have always been a fan of Reggie Yates. I liked his naturally warm persona, his easily accessible and thought-provoking documentaries, and I was pleased to see him positioned by the BBC as the heir to Louis Theroux. It was natural, then, that I would listen to a podcast he appeared on, and which he was promoting on social media: #Halfcast Podcast: Take Back the Power.

Listening to the podcast, I set off to catch a tube. Then, 37 minutes in, Reggie said very casually the comment above.

I am a Jewish person working in the media, and I can safely say I’m not a rarefied snowflake. I very rarely feel offended or experience antisemitism. But his comments were so unexpected, especially because they were from a BBC presenter known for supporting the cause of diversity and battling against prejudice. They really, really stung.

I googled Reggie Yates and this podcast and nothing came up. None of his quarter of a million followers had raised the alarm. Nothing came up on Soundcloud other than people congratulating Reggie on how funny he was.

Let’s examine this sentence and the chosen adjectives. “Managed”: this taps into the insinuation that Jews wheedle their way into positions of authority, where they are self serving and exploitative. They are “random”: Jews don’t really know anything, there’s no real reason why Jews occupy positions of power beyond a vast sinister conspiracy. And lastly, “fat”: Jews are made to be financiers, lawyers, they are physically inferior, and just another attribute to the Jewish fat-cat.

I do not think for one second Reggie Yates dislikes Jews. I think he made a flippant comment. But I think his comments reflect the dangerous normalisation and acceptability of antisemitism, which too explains this huge delay in any meaningful response.

The response to Yates's Top of the Pops resignation on Twitter has been mainly in the territory of “yes he was wrong to speak out, but he is just saying the truth”.

Yates isn’t saying the stuff of conspiracy chatrooms, but nevertheless, I believe he is wittingly or unwittingly perpetuating stereotypes. This is something that should be checked immediately, rather than building up to a backlash. Why did it take the BBC two weeks to respond, then react so harshly?

Should Yates get fired from Top of the Pops? Perhaps not, but certainly it would be good to create the expectation that someone who is supposed to be a journalist, and is also a role model, must be responsible with their words.


Photo: Getty
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South Africa’s new dawn: How Jacob Zuma’s misrule was ended

“We are going to look back at the past ten years and think of it as a lost decade.”

On the afternoon of 13 February, as South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma was recalled by his party, the African National Congress (ANC), a popular Johannesburg radio station began receiving calls about a peculiar incident.

A truck had lost its load along the M2 highway and people were scurrying to pick up what they believed to be tiny nuggets of unprocessed gold. The highway became congested as motorists pulled over to join the search. Even for a city that rose from the dust of a gold rush, this was a bizarre scene.

The first radio caller was giddy with excitement, as was the second. The third did what South Africans do best: he made light of an otherwise confusing and anxious day in the young nation’s history. “It’s manna from heaven,” the caller said. “Zuma’s just been recalled and already the roads are paved in gold.” Nine years into the president’s disastrous rule, South Africans had not lost their sense of humour – and were awaiting a new dawn. The police cleared the scene along the M2, no one proclaimed a worthy find and the nation returned to waiting for Zuma’s next move.

Technically, the president did not have to resign as head of state, despite the opposition of the ANC, the proud liberation movement turned ruling party that Zuma led for a decade until December 2017. Realistically, he had no options left.

With an overwhelming majority in parliament, the ANC was ready to table a motion of no confidence the next day. Defiant to the end, these final hours on the eve of Valentine’s Day were Zuma’s last stand.

They called him the “unstoppable tsunami” and with good reason. Zuma damaged South Africa and the ANC in ways only history will fully capture. He wrecked a country struggling to rebuild itself under the shadow of apartheid. Under his rule, the economy stagnated, unemployment rose, poverty grew, violent crime spiked and corruption became endemic.

“South Africa was headed in the wrong direction,” says Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition, which governs in cities including Johannesburg and Cape Town. “We are going to look back at the past ten years and think of it as a lost decade,” the political analyst Stephen Grootes concludes.

Zuma lurched from one scandal to the next. He was acquitted of rape, avoided almost 800 corruption charges for over a decade and nearly crashed the economy by recklessly firing a respected finance minister. Taxpayers were misled over exorbitant upgrades to his private mansion (a swimming pool was defended as a fire-fighting feature) and his friendship with the controversial Gupta family placed him at the heart of what became known as “state capture”: the looting of state coffers through the corruption of senior government officials.

“State and independent institutions were repurposed for the enrichment and protection of Jacob Zuma,” says political commentator Justice Malala. “He went through the guts of the framework, pulled out the institutions he needed and systematically broke them down or took away their independence.”

The institutions ranged from the tax revenue service to the public broadcaster, from the police to the prosecuting authority, and from the intelligence services to crucial industries such as mining.

Although constitutionally barred from governing beyond 2019, Zuma was widely believed to have engineered a plan to hold on to power (and avoid prosecution) through his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was campaigning to take over from him. By December, when the ANC met to pick its next leader, who would go on to become the country’s president in 2019, a mood of despair and hopelessness had set in.

The race was close. In the end, 179 votes out of nearly 5,000 cast separated Dlamini-Zuma from her challenger, Cyril Ramaphosa, a former union leader and businessman who had campaigned on an anti-corruption and pro-growth platform.

Ramaphosa’s victory in mid-December was a turning point. It removed the prospect of Zuma’s continued rule, began an instant shift in political power and sparked a moment of renewed hope. Ramaphosa had his own controversies, but was viewed as largely incorruptible. He had risen through the trade unions, served the ANC and built his wealth in the private sector. 

Following Ramaphosa’s election, the extent of state capture emerged through superb investigative journalism.

Politically driven prosecutions fell away, a hugely unpopular nuclear energy deal with Russia was frozen and, as Zuma was being recalled, police cars arrived outside the home of the Gupta family.

And yet, the president refused to leave the Union Buildings quietly, prompting comparisons with Margaret Thatcher. “He was the worst possible combination of ignorance, selfishness and incompetence that could have been inflicted upon the long-suffering people of South Africa,” read an editorial in the Daily Maverick on 13 February. “Now, stripped to the bare essence of being Zuma, the final image emerges, one of the selfish man who cared only for himself.”

Journalist Richard Poplak concluded: “What is born in chaos dies in chaos.”

 Zuma’s departure allows for the rebuilding to begin. The role played by the media, civil society – which found its voice during the Zuma years – and the judiciary (particularly the constitutional court) is being recognised. New president Ramaphosa delivered an inspiring state of the nation address the day after being sworn in.

“You can survive bad leadership, but what you won’t survive is bad institutions,” Mmusi Maimane told me.

There are no delusions over the epic challenges ahead. Unemployment is at 27 per cent (and is much higher for young, black South Africans) and GDP growth is stranded at 1 per cent. However, there is optimism, too: the “lost decade” is over and the Rainbow Nation’s renewal has finally begun. 

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia