Guest Column

Did you think of the girl in the pink tracksuit?

2017-07-11 14:36
MAKING THE GRADE Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters has a degree and charity credentials to her name. Picture: Simone Kley

MAKING THE GRADE Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters has a degree and charity credentials to her name. Picture: Simone Kley

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Tania Broughton

We don’t know much about the little girl in the pink tracksuit who made her social media debut in a photograph posing with Miss South Africa Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters.

What we do know is that she was one of several children who attended a sponsored feeding scheme in Soweto.

They are all vulnerable children. But they soon became clickbait in a frenzied social media outrage - some say manufactured - over the fact that our reigning “first lady” was wearing latex gloves “because she didn’t want to touch black children”.

So let’s go back to the beginning.

The marketing department of a large company says, let’s feed some hungry children. It may be a “good deed” but it’s also good for their image. They are not Good Samaritans. It is called marketing.

They invite Miss South Africa - who in terms of her contract and those who sponsor her - is also duty-bound to do “good deeds”. She is photographed with the children, hugging them, feeding them, and posing with them.

She then posts the photographs online, and the “gloves” story becomes the story of the day, “trending” as social media commentators say.

While everyone argues over whether or not Miss South Africa had racist intentions, the pictures showing the children’s faces are shared. Over and over again. Every time their constitutional right to dignity and privacy is taken away.

Through all of this, nobody - not even media organisations who should know better and couldn’t wait to jump on the clickbait bandwagon - gave the children’s rights a moment’s thought. No-one considered blocking out their faces.

A popular national magazine proudly displayed the picture of the little girl in the pink tracksuit under its banner on its Facebook page.

In the scramble to get on board, a journalist of my acquaintance shared the photograph of the little girl in the pink tracksuit on his Facebook page. He labelled it a “public relations disaster”.

She smiled out of the image as everyone debated whether or not this was a racist act and whether or not she was the victim of a heartless racist young woman who didn’t really want to hug her or make physical contact.

On my own Facebook page - where I raised my concerns about identifying vulnerable children - a friend said of the original posting of the pictures by Miss South Africa: “But it’s a good news story… we need good news.”

It may have been well-intentioned. But it is not a good news story. It was marketing. And innocent children became the victims.

A good news story is the one where recently-appointed Constitutional Court Judge Ray Zondo met up with businessman Solly Bux, who sponsored his studies more than 40 years ago. Bux did it expecting nothing back.

Marketing, for example, is when a big businessman gives his domestic workers shares in his latest project and calls in journalists to report on his “good deed”.

So the question remains. Who gave the sponsors of this project and Miss South Africa permission to photograph the little girl in the pink track suit and to disseminate those pictures in any way? And, common sense and decency aside, was any such permission lawful?

Attorney Charmaine Schwenn said: “It is utterly unacceptable to identity vulnerable children. They cannot consent to it. I understand that the motive was possibly to raise awareness of children in need, but that should not be a reason to have their privacy and dignity compromised.

“The rights of children are enshrined in the Constitution. The actions of parties - including those who just shared it on social media - have breached these rights and can be taken to court and subject to penalty,” she said.

One day, if not today, when the little girl in the pink tracksuit is old enough to grasp all of this, I wonder how she will feel.

Like the special princess she probably felt when the important, pretty lady paid her some attention and she got a decent meal?

Or like she was hung out to dry by a society that should have been protecting her?

- Tania Broughton is a Durban-based freelance reporter who specialises in reporting on legal matters and courts.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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