Well, it seemed a good idea at the time
20 October 2014 11:32 (South Africa)
South Africa

Daily Sun's 'journalism' and human rights betrayal

  • Greg Nicolson
  • South Africa
C:\fakepath\greg n daily sun

The Daily Sun’s front page on Tuesday fused two completely separate stories into one for maximum dramatic effect, falsely identified Zimbabweans as criminals, and failed to condemn mob justice. Has the 'people’s paper' thrown out its copy of Journalism 101? And which people's paper is it really? By GREG NICOLSON.

An email arrived at our news desk late in the evening on Friday last week, the same email sent to publications across the country:

“My name is Nick Orsmond. I live in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Today, my domestic worker told me about her cousin who was killed in a Honeydew township (Zandspruit) on Tuesday, 30 October 2012. She then showed me a video which someone had sent to her. The video showed a shocking scene of what can only be described as a modern day crucifixion.

According to my Domestic Worker, some men arrived in the township, looking for someone who they suspected had robbed them. They made their way to the shack of the suspected robber’s brother. The brother then led the men to the shack of the person they were looking for.

When they could not find the suspected robber, they took the man, 23-years-old, into the middle of the street, doused him in petrol and set him alight. This man, now naked with severe burns, was then surrounded by members of the community who knew of his brother’s criminal act. 

The group of people then began to physically abuse the young man. The abuse began with punching and kicking, and then escalated to beating with sticks, pelting with rocks and multiple strikes to the head with bricks. The man attempted to escape but the now-enraged mob was relentless - following him, the abuse escalating as the video progresses. The video ends with the man lying on the ground, covered in blood, with two people beating him with sticks.

The man fell into a coma shortly after the video was taken and died later that day. The police were not present throughout the attack.

I was shocked beyond words by this atrocity, and even more so when I saw the lack of humanity shown by both men and women in this community. I have been told that this type of “mob justice” happens on a regular basis in South African townships… I believe that this needs to be investigated fully as well as brought to the attention of people like me, government officials and the police department, so that some kind of action can be taken and some kind of system can be implemented – that taking the law into one’s own hands like this is not acceptable.”

Daily Maverick emailed Orsmond immediately and asked to meet. In his email he says he is an 18-year-old matric student who is proudly South African, and along with his domestic worker, he shared the video because he wants to help address the scourge of mob justice. Before we had a chance to watch the footage, Nick emailed again:

“After doing some research on the internet, I came across a Sky News video, reporting a story on mob justice in South Africa. The Sky News video includes the footage I sent you yesterday. The reporter claims this incident took place in Diepsloot. This video is also dated June 13th 2012. Since my domestic worker says the incident took place on the 30th of October 2012, the facts do not add up.”

He was right. 

The Sky News story was widely circulated in June but the identity of the man remained a mystery. In the original footage, the mob addresses the victim as a Malawian, accuses him and three conspirators of rape, one of whom they call Tshepo, as well as house robbery, and muggings. Some in the mob want to shoot him. They want to take him to section 1. Sky News says the attack took place in Diepsloot. A man says, “Malawian people are not like you. They don’t steal. Why are you doing these crimes?” 

There’s no mention of Zimbabweans. Or Zandspruit.

On Tuesday, the Daily Sun front cover featured pictures from the video, its headline shouting: “Zimbos Hunted and Killed!” 

As the story is a prime example of tabloid reporting plumbing previously untested depths, we bring it here in full:

THE high quality video shows the agony of a naked man being beaten to death. In 10 minutes of unchecked violence, he rolls around on the ground, trying to avoid the blows as blood oozes from his wounded body. THE VIDEO ENDS AS THE MAN, SURROUNDED BY SPECTATORS WHO DO NOTHING TO INTERVENE, EVENTUALLY FALLS INTO A COMA. Unconfirmed reports said the body was later set alight. Many residents in the Zandspruit squatter camp north of Joburg believe that crime has increased greatly since Zimbabwean nationals have started moving into the area – and when a crime is committed a Zimbabwean national is almost always the accused. 

The video of the Zimbabwean man in his early 20s begins with the naked man being punched and kicked. The attackers seem to take turns as they become more and more violent and the beating continues with sticks and rocks. The man staggers to his feet in a dazed attempt to escape but he is struck down again. The video ends with the man lying on the ground, covered in blood, with two people beating him with sticks. 

A Zimbabwe-born domestic worker, whose cousin was stoned and burnt to death in Zandspruit on the 30 October this year, was shown the video. At first she thought it was a video of her cousin but then realised it was a repeat of the previous horror. Describing the previous event, the domestic worker told Daily Sun she had heard that men arrived in Zandspruit looking for someone who they suspected had robbed them. They found the man’s brother, who was forced to take them to the shack of the man they were looking for. But the man wasn’t there so they set the innocent brother alight. The community allegedly abused the dead body afterwards. The domestic worker and her family do not want to report the attack because they are scared of persecution by the same men. The woman’s employer said he was shocked beyond words by the incident and even more so by the lack of humanity shown by both men and women in the community. 

Warrant Officer Carin Jacobs, spokeswoman for the Honeydew cops, said she was not aware of the video. ‘Send me your details. If I hear anything I will let you know,’ she said. National Hawks spokesman Captain Paul Ramaloka said, ‘Send the video to me, I will look into it and take it from there.’”

The article begins with a basic description of Nick Orsmond’s email describing the footage. A description of the domestic worker’s story follows. It ends with comments from the Hawks spokesman and a Honeydew SAPS officer that offer little insight into the issues of mob justice and crime committed by Zimbabweans. 

Throughout the article the two unrelated incidents – the footage of the Diepsloot killing of a Malawian and the Zandspruit death of the domestic worker’s cousin – are fused into one story. 

Takeaway from the story: Zimbabweans – bad.

Daily Sun would not respond to questions about the article. Daily Maverick asked whether the reporter, Glacier Nkhwashu, identified the victim, and if so how; and whether the reporter verified the location of the footage. Daily Maverick also asked whether it had evidence to support its two headlines on the footage: “Zimbos hunted and killed” and “Crime up since Zimbos moved in, say residents”. Deputy editor Reggy Moalusi said “We see no need to comment on such.”

This sort of reporting is to be expected from the “people’s paper”, right? Who cares anyway? Even avid Daily Sun readers usually acknowledge its sensationalist stance and love of superfluous exclamation marks over temerity(!!!!). In the same edition, page four featured “Joy as thug died on street!” (he is believed to have died from injuries sustained from “people’s justice”). “She’s a white Zulu girl” was on page five (shock horror – there’s a white girl who can speak Zulu in South Africa). It’s followed by “Creature eats my 4-5!” (a 4-5 is a penis, a word too crude for the Sun’s sensitivities).

But it appears further information was available to the Daily Sun, which was conveniently neglected. Orsmond told the newspaper the same thing he told Daily Maverick – he found the footage had been aired by Sky News. He also told them there was no link between the death of the man in the video and his domestic worker’s cousin. The worker never spoke to Daily Sun, yet the reporter ignores Orsmond and writes as if they spoke directly to the domestic worker.

Orsmond said he struggled to communicate with the reporter when she called to discuss the issue. He mentioned the funeral of his domestic worker’s cousin was being held in Zimbabwe. “That was the end of my correspondence with (the reporter).” 

Presumably, it was also where the “Zimbo” link, and pretty much the entire purpose for the story, came from.

The impact of such reporting shouldn’t be underestimated in the country as delicately poised as South Africa is these days. It cannot be seen as just another story by the newspaper middle class intellectuals love to poke fun at. We're talking about South Africa’s most read newspaper; the one that has already been reported to the SA Human Rights Commission for its coverage of the 2008 xenophobic attacks. The Media Monitoring Project said it continued to call foreigners “aliens”, failed to condemn the attacks and accused it of legitimating the violence. “In essence, the reporting of the Daily Sun appears to make the xenophobic violence understandable and justifiable, rather than clearly condemning it as unacceptable,” it said.

It has also betrayed a young man's trust, the one who was concerned enough about the issue of mob justice to “email to every news entity I could think of – these ranged from the Daily Sun to the New York Times”. And the one who conducted a fair amount of research and offered it to the Daily Sun, to no avail.

Where was the paper’s focus on the real story? Who was the domestic worker's cousin who was killed in Zandspruit, and who killed him? Why? Who was the man in Diepsloot who was killed on the video, months ago, and what was his story? What fuels mob justice? How can we put an end to it? 

Instead of pursuing those questions, straight from journalism 101, South Africa's “people's paper” showed no concern for responsible reporting. The Daily Sun’s report fused two completely separate and unconnected stories into one, showed zero interest in ascertaining the truth, painted Zimbabweans as criminals, and failed to condemn or show any interest in investigating mob justice. 

Xenophobia. Good sales. How’s that for “Sun Power”? DM

Photo: Daily Sun's front page screams “Zimbos Hunted and Killed!”

  • Greg Nicolson
  • South Africa


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