Inequal­ity in crime re­port­ing

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - OPINION - CHUCK STEPHENS

NIGHT af­ter night on the screen we watch that short video clip – taken with a cell­phone – of a black man forced into a coffin by two white men. It hap­pened a year ago on Au­gust 27. Now it has come to trial, so there is daily cov­er­age. The vic­tim, Vic­tor Mlotshwa, was so scared that he didn’t even re­port it un­til Novem­ber 7.

He didn’t think the po­lice would be­lieve him. Un­til the video emerged on YouTube.

In a 20-sec­ond video, a man speak­ing in Afrikaans threat­ens to burn him alive while they throw petrol on him. A phone was used to brag about the scene of a crime.

It hap­pened on a farm near Mid­del­burg, Mpumalanga.

Mlotshwa was forced into a coffin, near an open grave. He was afraid that they would bury him alive. Two against one – on their turf. One of the al­leged per­pe­tra­tors had a gun. They say he was tres­pass­ing. He says that he was fol­low­ing a foot­path.

Charges have been laid against the two al­leged per­pe­tra­tors for at­tempted mur­der and the trial is noth­ing less than a me­dia spec­ta­cle.

A month ear­lier, on July 12, not far away in Belfast, Mpumalanga, Pierre Eti­enne de Necker was blud­geoned to death with bot­tles and pipes – by 12 black men. One of the mur­der­ers crassly took a photo of the dy­ing man with his cell­phone and sent it to his sis­ter to brag of what he and 11 oth­ers had done. His sis­ter posted it on Face­book. Some­one who knew De Necker saw it on the net, recog­nised him and phoned his fam­ily to no­tify them.

Al­most a mil­lion adults over 18 saw that photo within the next few months, all over the world.

They say he had stolen a ve­hi­cle. They say that vig­i­lantes are more ef­fec­tive than the po­lice.

Where is the cov­er­age of this ear­lier case? Will it ever come to trial? If so, who will demon­strate in front of the court? The two cases were only a month apart and there is less than 100km be­tween Mid­del­burg and Belfast.

Both acts are grotesque. They de­serve “equal time” on me­dia plat­forms.

In Mbombela, there was a huge row over the way four white golfers, older men, as­saulted one 19-year black golfer on the course.

They beat him up and made it clear that he was un­wel­come, although he was a pro­fes­sional golfer.

Again there was a de­layed response to this in­ci­dent, which hap­pened in Oc­to­ber. But the lo­cal me­dia did re­port on this story, in­clud­ing cov­er­age of the protests and demon­stra­tions it pro­voked. The po­lit­i­cal back­lash of the in­ci­dent is putting pressure on the Mbombela Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal­ity to can­cel its lease to the Nel­spruit Golf Club (NGC).

In March this year there was an ugly event at a Spur restau­rant.

Part of this al­ter­ca­tion (not all) was also cap­tured on a cell­phone and went vi­ral. It was a ver­bal ex­change be­tween two par­ents, a white man and a black woman. This in­ci­dent has cost Spur big time.

At trade union Sol­i­dar­ity’s #StopRacism con­fer­ence in March, best-sell­ing au­thor, his­to­rian and for­mer Ox­ford don RW John­son was one of the key­note speak­ers.

In his view, the rul­ing party’s in­creas­ingly vo­cal racist rhetoric is a de­coy – to dis­tract at­ten­tion away from its mon­u­men­tal fail­ings.

John­son has been around long enough to have ob­served the way “swart gevaar” was used as a strat­egy of racial mo­bil­i­sa­tion. As he puts it: “Now, it’s hap­pen­ing against whites and I would say that pub­lic racism has al­ways been one-sided. I don’t think it’s ever been an equal thing and I don’t think it ever can be.

“When I was a kid, if a black man raped my white woman, he was hanged. If a white man raped a black woman, he’d get a fine or a short sen­tence. It was, quite ob­vi­ously, not an equal law and that was just com­mon­place.”

He ex­plained that this had now been turned around.

He does not feel that anti-white racism is given “equal time”.

At the time of the trea­son tri­als, Nel­son Man­dela stated bravely and wisely: “Dur­ing my life­time I have ded­i­cated my­self to this strug­gle of the African peo­ple. I have fought against white dom­i­na­tion, and I have fought against black dom­i­na­tion. I have cher­ished the ideal of a demo­cratic and free so­ci­ety in which all per­sons will live to­gether in har­mony and with equal op­por­tu­ni­ties. It is an ideal which I hope to live for. But, my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am pre­pared to die.”

If RW John­son is right, this im­bal­ance in re­port­ing could be in­ten­tional – to dis­tract at­ten­tion away from the mon­u­men­tal fail­ings of a gov­ern­ment that is pre­oc­cu­pied with white dom­i­na­tion and that prac­tises black dom­i­na­tion.

Crimes are crimes are crimes – no mat­ter what the skin colour of the per­pe­tra­tors. God help us to re­place this pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with race long enough to make a dis­tinc­tion be­tween the good guys and the bad guys. There are good cit­i­zens and crim­i­nals on both sides, af­ter all.

The no­tion of “white mo­nop­oly cap­i­tal” has been de­bated hotly since it was de­vised by Bell-Pot­tinger in a cyn­i­cal at­tempt to pour oil onto this fire.

Well, what about “black bal­lot cap­i­tal” in a coun­try where blacks out­num­ber whites 10 to one?

Given these pro­por­tions, the rare re­port­ing on racism that tar­gets whites does not bode well for trans­parency and non-racial­ism.

ý Stephens is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Des­mond Tutu Cen­tre for Lead­er­ship

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