Calm heads will trump knee­jerk re­ac­tions in World Cup year

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

THE GOV­ERN­MENT is un­der­stand­ably per­turbed at the prospect of thou­sands of World Cup soc­cer fans arriving wear­ing anti-slash vests un­der their sup­porter kit. Af­ter all, as the say­ing goes, don’t bring a knife to a gun­fight.

News that a Bri­tish com­pany was glee­fully ex­ploit­ing vis­ceral Euro­pean fears of the Dark Con­ti­nent to sell the vest, which pro­tects against knife at­tack but not bul­lets, high­light the gov­ern­ment’s co­nun­drum. On the one hand, it wants fans to take rea­son­able pre­cau­tions; on the other, it doesn’t want to scare them wit­less.

The gov­ern­ment knows it is sta­tis­ti­cally prob­a­ble that 99.9 per­cent of the soc­cer tourists will leave un­harmed. It also knows that it will take only a cou­ple of mur­der­ous en­coun­ters for the in­ter na­tional me­dia to go berserk, ru­in­ing the soc­cer spec­ta­cle and ef­fec­tively killing South Africa’s prospects of bid­ding for an Olympics – a long-ter m, al­though un­stated, am­bi­tion be­hind the bil­lions spent on sta­di­ums.

There are many rea­sons for the over­seas me­dia’s pal­pi­ta­tions, bor­der­ing on hys­te­ria, about the sup­posed dan­gers of trav­el­ling to South Africa.

Nev­er­the­less, any­where in the world the death of a for­eign tourist is al­ways go­ing to evoke a strong re­sponse from their home coun­try. The South African gov­ern­ment is in the in­ter­na­tional spot­light and, for the first time, can­not shrug off vi­o­lent crime as just a racist per­cep­tion.

This be­lated re­al­i­sa­tion lies be­hind an in­vi­ta­tion to cops who had re­signed – mostly squeezed out to meet de­mo­graphic tar­gets lim­it­ing whites – to reap­ply. This is also a sign, per­haps, of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s promised prag­matic and more rec­on­cil­ia­tory ap­proach.

One can only hope the move sur­vives be­yond the ex­i­gency of more cops for the World Cup. Just imag­ine the ben­e­fits flow­ing from the reem­ploy­ment of thou­sands of wellqual­i­fied, ex­pe­ri­enced, non-black teach­ers, en­gi­neers, tech­ni­cians and civil ser­vants, who de­spite com­mit­ment to a demo­cratic South Africa, bit the dust af­ter 1994 be­cause of their skin colour.

But while the gov­ern­ment can’t af­ford to fail the World Cup test, nei­ther should it over-re­act.

Its re­sponse to an in­ter­view with two hoods who dis­closed sup­posed plans to rob tourists and kill any cops in their way has been as knee-jerk as some of the cov­er­age of our host­ing of the tour­na­ment.

The cops are re­sort­ing to an old apartheid regime law to force the jour nal­ists to re­veal their sources, ap­par­ently so that the crim­i­nals can be ar­rested for “pub­lic in­tim­i­da­tion”. Of course, if the po­lice were go­ing to charge with in­tim­i­da­tion every­one who threat­ened to kill some­one, the en­tire ex­ec­u­tive of the ANC Youth League would be sit­ting in the chookie.

The in­ter­view was, how­ever, ev­ery bit as “gra­tu­itously sen­sa­tion­al­ist” as Po­lice Min­is­ter Nathi Mthethwa de­scribed it. Its air­ing was ill-con­sid­ered, not be­cause it was “un­pa­tri­otic” – given the ef­fect it could have on dis­suad­ing would-be vis­i­tors or the en­cour­age­ment it of­fered would-be thugs – but be­cause it smells dis­qui­et­ingly of hit-an­drun jour­nal­ism.

Two uniden­ti­fied black men threat­en­ing to rob and kill are given ex­ten­sive pub­lic­ity, feed­ing ev­ery neg­a­tive cliché there is about South Africa. Yet doesn’t even know the iden­ti­ties of the men and has zero ev­i­dence that they are crim­i­nals.

It ar­gues that since it did not pay the “crim­i­nals” or the in­ter­me­di­ary, who has since com­mit­ted sui­cide, why would the men agree to ap­pear on tele­vi­sion, incog­nito, un­less they were, in­deed, crim­i­nals? Well, half a dozen rea­sons spring to mind.

The sta­tion shouldn’t give into po­lice bul­ly­ing by giv­ing up its sources, but it does need to con­vince us it took ev­ery pre­cau­tion to as­sure it­self of the re­port’s jour­nal­is­tic sound­ness, and that has to go be­yond blind trust in its re­porter.

If it can­not, it should buy those re­spon­si­ble some anti-slash jack­ets and set the hounds loose.

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