How should the media portray violent acts?
When South Africa’s largest Sunday paper, the Sunday Times, on its April 19 front page published a photograph of a man in the act of being stabbed and killed, readers took to the social media and aired their views.
Some commentators supported the move; others furiously condemned the decision claiming that the paper was only interested in sales.
It is common for photojournalists to be condemned for the job they do. Some in the industry are accused of taking photographs and walking away with Pulitzer prizes unconcerned about what became of the people in the images that earned them recognition. But that’s not the case in this instance.
Although the reporter and the photographer followed Emmanuel Sithole, the man under attack taking one bloody picture after another, they also rushed him to hospital where he later died from his wounds. Also, the newspaper established a fund to help Sithole’s family with funeral arrangements in Mozambique, the victim’s home country.
The front-page photograph helped police to identify and to capture the killers. It also humanized the horror of xenophobia. Sithole had been killed in a series of violent acts instigated against a non-South African. Also, the image, together with the story’s headline, “Kill thy Neighbor: Alex attack brings home SAs shame,” placed a mirror in the faces of South Africans to examine themselves and to recognize the brute force of their hatred for African nationals.
(The online version of the story together with the images can be found at http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2015/04/19/kill-thy-neighbour-alex-attack-brings-home-sa-s-shame1. Readers can click on the main photograph below the headline to see all the other images. Alex, where the stabbing occurred, is a poor residential area on the north side of Johannesburg.)
For most of this century, xenophobia has been a common feature dotting the South African landscape, with regular incidents of viscous violence. For instance, in 2008, a man, also from Mozambique, was burned alive at an informal settlement on the east side of Johannesburg. The graphic photographs as the members of the South Africa police force struggled to extinguish the flames can be found at http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2015/02/19/sa-s-xenophobia-shame-burning-man-case-shut
The hatred of Africans by South Africans has continued, in part because of a lack of strong leadership by the government. The government and other leaders in society have sent mixed messages about xenophobia and the accompanying violent attacks.
In a recorded interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation in February following a spate of xenophobic attacks, President Jacob Zuma defended South Africans. He said, “South Africans are not as xenophobic as people say. It’s an exaggeration…it’s not xenophobia.”
Also, in March, during a public address, King Goodwill Zwelithini, the leader of the Zulu’s a South African ethnic group, also said “We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and go back to their countries.” On social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, the King’s words were greeted with a mixture of excitement and shame.
Consistent with general anti-immigration sentiment and views, some South Africans think African nationals steal jobs and are a burden on the country. Also, African nationals are stereotyped in the media as dirty and as criminals who over populate residential homes.
But, when the media cover violence by publishing a foreign national in the act of being killed, people can reflect on their ideologies, help the police with arrests and organize for social change.