Author Archives: Lindani Memani

Should this photo be published?

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.

Trevor Noah: treading carefully as the new Daily Show host

As soon as news in March of Trevor Noah’s appointment to replace Jon Stewart of the Daily Show became public, online spaces flooded with calls for his axing.

While the news in South Africa was met with an explosion of excitement and pride, the same cannot be said about the reception to the news in America. The NPR headline “Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart’s replacement, goes from hero to villain In 24 hours” succinctly captured the speed at which the news story was developing.

Noah, a 31-year-old South African comedian, was tossed to the middle of a whirlwind over jokes he had made on Twitter as far back as 2011. In some of these jokes, which were included in most online news sites ranging from blogs to CNN, Noah disparaged Jews, African Americans and fat women.

Writing for Vox, Kelsey McKinney labeled Noah’s jokes as “misogyny, fat-shaming, anti-Semitism, and a large dose of homophobia,” something she said she found “upsetting.” McKinney then suggested that a comedian hosting the Daily Show “should be held to a higher standard than other comedians.”

Others on Twitter already had foretold Noah’s fate, tweeting “R.I.P Trevor Noah. You’ve experienced what American Blacks refer to as The Grand Opening/Grand Closing.”

As the news wheel spun the Daily Show’s executives were on record backing their decision to appoint Noah. Noah also received support from other comedians, from some media quarters and from South Africans. The Huffington Post asked that Noah not be “written off just yet.”

Whether in the comedian’s defense or calling on the Daily Show to fire Noah, many claimed he was not the first comedian to have made offensive jokes about certain social groups. But, arguing that it is the lifeline of comedians to rely on stereotypes was a feeble excuse and did little to invigorate debate. A much stronger debate could have been whether comedians have the freedom of speech to never self-censor and to say what others in society tiptoe around. Put differently, would it be acceptable for journalists to write stories that offend certain sections of society? Probably not. Stories that people find offensive are regularly debated and challenged.

As a comedian Noah had a successful career in South Africa before taking his chances with an American audience in March 2013 on what was then the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Following this brief performance, this comedian appeared in another American show, the Late Show with David Letterman, and had a series of stand-up shows in America. His signature is his eloquence and ability to deliver jokes without any expletives.

But, was Noah being judged based on jokes made years ago when he was in his 20s even before he had saddled the Daily Show’s horse or was there something else peppering the debate?

The real issue seemed to be why an unknown South African had been chosen over a plentiful pool of capable Americans. Was Noah a subject of scrutiny because he is a foreigner? Was the real issue the fact that Noah had also made jokes about Americans?

Indeed, Howard Kurtz in a video clip on foxnews.com summed up the sentiment and made it clear that opinions about Noah are largely based on his non-American status. In the video, Kurtz says, “It’s one thing when Stewart mocks American values (or administrations, or politicians, or business leaders, or those of us in the media) because, ultimately, he’s seen as one of us. If Noah is viewed as an outsider slamming the US of A, the audience may not like it so well — just as, say, many Americans resented being lectured on gun control by Piers Morgan.”

In fact, in a panel discussion hosted by Don Lemon on CNN, it became clear in points raised by Wendy Todd, a culture and race blogger, that part of the issue is that Noah is an outsider. In reality, therefore, the debate was not about Noah’s tweets or necessarily about his fitness to replace Stewart, but the issue, as Kurtz pointed out, was that criticism by a person who is not a member of a certain group is not often welcomed. While it may be okay for people to poke fun at themselves, it raises eyebrows when an outsider does the same.

So, rather than focus on old tweets, a richer and more useful debate would have been about comedians and stereotypes, and whether there is space for non-Americans to make jokes about American citizens. In the future, such discussions should be expanded to include topics about stereotypes Americans have about the rest of the world, particularly Africa. Then, perhaps African American comedians such as Jamie Fox and Arnez J would also be called out on their jokes which claim that Africa, Africans and African women have a putrid smell.

 

 

Lindani Mbunyuza-Memani is a doctoral student from South Africa. She is interested in media representational issues and social change studies. She is also an avid reader with a pulse on both the South African and American news beat.