e.tv should shop for anti-slash vests

2010-01-23 00:00

THE South African government is understandably perturbed at the prospect of thousands of World Cup soccer fans arriving wearing anti-slash vests under their supporter’s kit. After all, as the saying goes, don’t take 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, highlights the government’s conundrum. On the one hand, it wants fans to take reasonable precautions; on the other hand, it doesn’t want to scare them witless.

The government knows that it is statistically probable that 99,9% of the soccer tourists will leave unharmed. It also knows that it would take only a couple of murderous encounters for the international media to go berserk, ruining the soccer spectacle and effectively killing South Africa’s prospects of bidding for an­ ­Olympics — a long-term, although unstated ambition behind the billions spent on stadia.

There are many reasons for the overseas media’s palpitations, bordering on hysteria, about the supposed dangers of travelling to South Africa. Interwoven are aspects of parochialism, ignorance and racism. Nevertheless, anywhere in the world the death of a foreign tourist is always going to evoke a strong response from his or her home country. Our 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 have 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 that the move survives beyond the exigency of more cops for the Soccer World Cup. Just imagine the benefits flowing from the re-employment of thousands of well-qualified, experienced, nonblack 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 overreact. Its response to an e.tv 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 South Africa’s hosting of the tournament.

The cops are resorting to an old apartheid- regime law to force the e.tv journalists 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 e.tv 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 prevaricating would-be visitors or the encouragement it offered would-be thugs, but because it smells disquietingly of hit-and-run journalism.

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

e.tv shouldn’t give in to police bullying by giving up its sources but it does need to convince us that it took every precaution to assure itself of the report’s journalistic soundness, and that has to go beyond blind trust of its reporter. If it cannot, it should buy those responsible some anti-slash jackets and set the hounds loose.

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