To protect or not: Must we censor what our children see in newspapers?

2011-08-30 00:00

WHEN you get the newspapers delivered to your house in “Cairp Tahn”, they are always wrapped in plastic. It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is; sudden, tremendous and unexplained downpours are possible. If people could walk around wrapped in plastic all the time, it would be the preferable thing to do, for the same reason.

So, when I collected my Sunday newspaper from the driveway this morning and tore off the standard plastic wrapper, there was nothing unusual about it. In fact, there is a kind of delayed gratification thing which happens because you don’t get to see the headline until you have done so. So, I tore off the plastic wrapping and ceremoniously opened the newspaper.

I could not really have been prepared for what I saw. A picture of a white man with a hunting rifle kneeling over what appeared to be a dead black child as a hunting trophy.

I read the story, my head reeling. It appears that this lunatic has a Facebook page with this picture on it. He calls himself “Terrorblanche”. But he is not alone. He has some 590 friends, on Facebook. So, there are at least 590 people out there who would actively press the befriend button to link themselves with a person who would post this picture on his page.

I went to his page, to see what kind of a person this might be. He describes himself (I presume he is a he) as having matriculated at Krugersdorp High School. He is self-employed. He likes Bok van Blerk, Leon Schuster and Afrikaanse musiek, among other things. His activities are self-defence and close-combat fighting. His lists “knifes”, firearms and weapons as his interests. He has a picture of the original Eugene Terre’Blanche riding a horse, with the flag of his right wing organisation unfurled. So, in all likelihood, the man is close to psychotic.

Now, the immediate problem we as parents needed to deal with was what to do with the picture on the front page of the newspaper? Do we leave it lying around? Do we hide it? Do we leave it lying around in the hope that they would not see it? What would we say if they did see it?

On a recent holiday to Devon in the United Kingdom, we went one day to visit Exeter Cathedral. As we arrived, a memorial service for a child was just ending. There was a picture at the entrance of the child, who had drowned and whose body had not yet been found. Our eldest child, Gabriel, was extremely interested. Who was the child? Why did he die? More and more questions. And they continued for the rest of the week, because each day, there were more pictures of the child on the front pages of the newspapers until eventually the body was found.

Our child was clearly dealing with the reality of death. Not for the first time, but this time it was the death of a child he was dealing with. We explained that death is as natural as birth. That yes, we all have to die sometime. That some people die younger than others. No, only a very few children die at a young age and it is usually because of accidents, like this one. No, we as his parents are probably not going to die very soon.

These were normal worries and fears, which any child goes through, and especially an adopted child. We dealt with them as best we know how. Honestly and unemotionally. Telling him the truth, without the embellishments of afterlife and religion and bargaining. The moment passed, as is right.

But this! This is a picture, (which is probably staged, but then how does one explain to a child why it is staged?), where it looks as though a black child has been shot by a white game hunter — for sport! It is on the front page of the Sunday newspaper. That, I am afraid, I simply can’t explain. So, for better or for worse, we hid the page from our two black children.

• Michael Worsnip is the land claims commissioner for the Western Cape.

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