Last year the National Press Club came under fire for naming rhinos news makers of the year, coming ahead of ‘Marikana’ in which 44 miners were killed and many more wounded by the police during protests often described as ‘violent’ in the media. They defended that decision and made it clear the decision wasn’t taken lightly, but that overall the rhino poaching got more media coverage both in the country and internationally. This year rhino poaching is a constant presence in news headlines. Which I haven’t really thought about until I listened to a talk radio show in which a company was being criticised for making fun of rhino poaching in their TV advert, claiming that their energy drink will give you enough energy to go and poach rhinos, or something of that sort. For me this was the final straw. I get that rhinos are an important part of our heritage and so on but are this much hype deserved? First, it is made news maker of the year ahead one of the most tragic mass killings by the state against its people since Apartheid and other more pressing social issues in this country, and now it is deemed inappropriate and politically incorrect to even joke about rhinos? Good Lord.
Yes, rhinos are an important part of our heritage and tourism industry and should be protected by all means (although rural communities around these tourism attractions have not exactly boomed economically). And in no way am I condoning the criminal practice of poaching rhinos. But here’s the thing, many struggling South Africans couldn’t give a toss about rhinos. At least not as much as the media is fabricating, pretending that a vast majority of South Africans want to hear about rhinos all day long. The mere fact that rhino poaching is more important to the South African media raises questions about what gets prioritised, and at the expense of what else. About half of the country is estimated to be living beneath the bread line. Crime, rape, AIDS, increasing unemployment, the secrecy bill, corruption, gender based violence and gender inequality, housing, education, health care, ‘corrective rape are but a few examples of social reality that affects South Africans much more urgently than rhino poaching. The list goes on and on. We can take the day off, but you get the idea. To then have rhino poaching being depicted as such an important issue that it gets way more airtime than all these issues is frightening. Now get that to be considered more newsworthy than 44 people being killed while engaging in a democratic protest by the state. It is bizarre.
So who cares about rhinos? As controversial as this question appears to be as we are now being trained to be more concerned about rhinos than actual human lives, we need to question why rhino poaching gets so much privileging in editorial rooms.(Recently questioned the dominance of Christianity in South African schools) Step into an informal settlement and list how often people cringe when you make the odd joke about rhino poaching and see how offended they will be. You might be taken aback by the lack of cares. Because people here have so much to worry about. So do people in townships and rural areas. I just don’t see a protest here against rhino poaching. But the higher you go up the class, the more rhino poaching matters.
Some will say the problem with this kind of thinking is it makes generalisations. Maybe there are some people who in impoverished background, a segment of South Africa that forms the majority. But the likelihood of rhino poaching being a trending topic in these social contexts is pretty low. I am not saying that rhino poaching should be ignored, but I am saying the tendency to make the interests of the few seem more important than issues that actually affect the majority needs to be called into question. If there are much more important and urgent issues than rhino poaching, why this story so prioritised in our media is beyond me. Thoughts? Leave your comments below
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