Inequality in crime reporting
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