Columns 30.4.2015 06:00 am

Spin won’t fix the problem

Former Citizen Editor Steven Motale. Picture: Michel Bega

Former Citizen Editor Steven Motale. Picture: Michel Bega

Rattled by an embarrassing wave of xenophobic attacks, our authorities have now begun looking for scapegoats, instead of searching for long-term solutions to the recent upsurge of violence against foreign nationals. As usual, the media is their soft target.

King Goodwill Zwelithini is on record as saying foreigners were parasitic ticks who “should pack their bags and go”. However, when these thoughtless remarks ignited attacks on foreigners, Zwelithini failed to take responsibility. He claimed he was misquoted and demanded the media be investigated.

This week, parliament’s small business development committee chairperson, Ruth Bhengu, chastised the media for reporting on Zwelithini’s remarks. She said the media have the responsibility to think about the possible consequences of the angle they take when they report on issues.

Her comments followed those of National Assembly Speaker and ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete, who told us, ridiculously, the xenophobic violence was “part of an evil programme to discredit South Africa in the international community”.

Their boss, President Jacob Zuma, has been at the forefront of efforts to demonise the media. When the Sunday Times published shocking pictures of the callous murder of a Mozambican national, Zuma said the photos portrayed South Africa in a bad light.

In his official Freedom Day speech on Monday, Zuma said the murdered Mozambican was an illegal immigrant using a false name. These comments might be interpreted as implying the slain Mozambican got what he deserved.

Whether the Mozambican was in the country unlawfully is immaterial. The fact remains he is a human being whose right to life should have been respected. That he was in South Africa illegally does not justify his murder. The bottom line is he did not deserve the barbaric slaughter witnessed by the nation and the world.

Zuma’s statement also lays bare his administration’s culpability in the murder. If his government was doing what it had been elected to do, including protecting our borders, very few foreign nationals would be in the country illegally. Our porous borders have made it possible for millions of illegal immigrants to flock to South Africa, thus exposing them to vicious attacks by locals who accuse them of taking their jobs.

Although Zuma is correct to point out other African nations are responsible for the influx of their citizens into South Africa because they have failed to create conditions that would make them stay in their own countries, his government is not blameless in this whole mess.

For years the ANC government has rallied behind a dictator, Robert Mugabe, whose disastrous policies brought economic ruin to Zimbabwe, forcing nearly half of his population into exile.

Had Zuma and his predecessors mustered the political will to tackle Mugabe’s madness, millions of Zimbabweans would not have been kicked out of their country. Zuma, Mbete and Bhengu need to know no amount of spin could sanitise the shameful events of the past few weeks, or show South Africa in a positive light.

Equally, their hostility towards the media will not deflect attention from government’s failures. Shooting the messenger will only serve to make the damage worse.

 

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