The dogs that aren't barking

The Western media's strange silence over the recent escalation in anti-minority rhetoric in SA

On Saturday at a “homecoming rally” in his home town of Tlokwe in the North West the Black First Land First leader, Andile Mngxitama, issued a barely veiled call for the killing of South Africa’s white minority. He stated that “We mean it when we say, ‘Land or death!’ We are prepared to kill for our land, as much as we are prepared to die for our land.”

Last week in his PowerFM interview the businessman Johann Rupert had joked that a friend of his, Jabu Mabuza, was chairman of the taxi association, which was also one of the early tenants of Business Partners. “So I also have my own army when those red guys come.” Riffing of this in his address Mngxitama claimed that Rupert had “declared war on us black people.” He stated that “For each one person that is killed by the taxi industry we will kill five white people. For every one black person we will kill five white people.” Working himself and the crowd (such as it was) into a frenzy he declared: “We kill their children, we kill their women, we kill their dogs, we kill their cats, we kill anything that comes before us!”

Despite being widely reported on in the South African media these statements have received, as of the time of writing, zero coverage in Western publications such as the BBC or Guardian. The same happened with Malema’s recent attack on Pravin Gordhan as “a dog of White monopoly Capital”. “We must hit the dog until the owner comes out”, the EFF leader told a crowd outside the Zondo commission hearings, “And once the owner comes out we must deal decisively with the owner.” Again, no coverage evident on the BBC or Guardian websites.

Then there was the far more minor controversy last month over UCT student Masixole Mlandu’s use of the slogan, “ONE SETTLER, ONE BULLET!!” in the acknowledgment section of his honours dissertation, and then in a Tweet the following day. “One settler, One bullet. Each bullet will take us closer to freedom,” he wrote there. Again, despite being covered in the SA media, no coverage followed on the Guardian or BBC websites or anywhere else.

By contrast, such publications have in the past been quick to report on examples of crass racial comments and slurs by white (and Indian) South Africans, let alone acts of violence such as in the “coffin case”. The BBC website, for instance, has a number of reports on the cases of inter alia Penny Sparrow, Kessie Nair, Mabel Jansen, Vicki Momberg and Adam Catzavelos. With the exception of Jansen these individuals were intellectually limited or mentally disturbed and of no public standing. Apart from Nair’s these comments were made in private or semi-private settings, and were not intended for public consumption. All suffered severe repercussions as a result of images or videos of their grossly offensive and inflammatory comments being leaked into the public domain and then going “viral”.

By any objective journalistic measure the extreme racial rhetoric emanating from volksverhetzers like Malema, Mngxitama, and Mlandu should be regarded as equally newsworthy.

Malema needs no introduction. Mngxitama is a public figure of long standing in South Africa, and his extreme racial views have been both consistently expressed and are well known. He was the subject of a glowing profile by the Guardian’s then Africa correspondent, David Smith, in 2010. “This might be the age of iPad and Twitter,” Smith wrote, “but Mngxitama, a radical activist, continues a centuries-old tradition of political pamphleteering and verbal gunslinging.” He has also often been quoted by that newspaper over the years. In 2013 the BBC invited him onto a Question Time Special panel in Johannesburg, hosted by David Dimbleby.

This aspirant young génocidaire also worked for years as the policy advisor to the Foundation for Human Rights, the European Union’s grant making body in South Africa. He then became an MP for the Economic Freedom Fighters, before forming the Black First Land First movement after the EFF ejected him. It remains unclear who sponsors this organisation but it aggressively defended Jacob Zuma, and was (and is) clearly seen as performing useful functions by some of the most sinister elements within the ANC party-state.

Mlandu is less well known than the other two. But he first came to prominence after desecrating a war memorial at UCT with crude anti-white graffiti and is a leading figure in the Fallist movement on campus. Again, the funders of the festival of anti-white violence known as the Shackville protests remain unknown to this day.

Malema, Mngxitama and Mlandu’s rhetoric is deliberate, unprovoked, directed towards a public audience, and against a still relatively wealthy but politically powerless racial minority. The fact that such individuals are allowed to act with a significant degree of impunity makes their rhetoric all the more disturbing and worthy of coverage. It is no coincidence, and not without historical precedent, that this disturbing escalation in rhetoric should go hand in hand with the moves to strip minorities of their constitutionally enshrined rights to property.

It may well have been justified for the BBC, Guardian and similar publications to have ignored all of these incidents, as too trivial to merit attention. But to report solely on the Sparrow, Momberg or Catzavelos-type cases, but not the racial statements of Malema, Mngxitama or Mlandu, is not journalism but propaganda. By obsessively reporting on the one, but scrupulously avoiding reporting on the other, the Western media is creating a hugely distorted image of what is actually happening in South Africa.

The message being conveyed to British readers of these publications is encapsulated in a commentary that was published on the BBC website in reaction to the Catzavelos video. “There is a growing impatience within the black community” it claimed, “with turning the other cheek and forgiving the unrepentant. It has left many to wonder what can be done to end racist intolerance 24 years after the end of apartheid's divisive white-minority rule.”

This claim is not only a massive misrepresentation of actual reality, but it is dehumanising. It suggests that should the black majority finally lose “patience” with South Africa’s minorities this will simply be an expression of “justified and understandable outrage”, rather than the product of prolonged incitement and scapegoating.

As the German journalist turned propagandist Hans Fritzsche noted many years ago: “crime does not begin when you murder people. Crime begins with propaganda… The moment propaganda turns against another nation or against any human being, evil starts.”

It is a lesson that the Guardian, BBC and similarly-minded publications would do well to re-learn.

The eightieth anniversary of Kristallnacht seems as good a time as any to do so.