Saturday, October 07, 2006


A good idea gone so very wrong

There is no doubt about it that White South Africans are feeling the rising tidal wave of crime in that country. In response, several websites have opened to protest this crime and bring it to the attention of the world. Sadly these people don't realise that it's very hard to bring anything in Africa to the attention of the world. The wars, famines, droughts, brutality, misgovernment, natural disasters and outbreaks of diseases seem unrelenting, no matter how much money the west gives, no matter how many peace accords are brokered, pop concerts held, or how many summits are attended. Furthermore on the list of disasters wreaking their havoc in Africa, the rising crime in South Africa is very low on the scale of emergencies.
Now that South Africa is going to host the 2010 soccer world cup, however, there is a window of opportunity for change. Tourism is a large industry in the country and tourists have been murdered, raped and robbed along with the citizens. This is obviously something the South African government does not want publicised as it gears up for a lucrative international event. But these rebel websites are doing their utmost to ensure the world does know, exactly what is going on in the country. That it is not the peaceful paradise Mandela sold it as.
What a great pity, then, that sites like run by Niel Watson allows its message boards to be filled with racist comments and empty rehtoric.
When first directed to the site I was pleased to see promises of "freedom of speech" but noticed that the only people given such freedoms were those that propegated racism. Don't get me wrong, it allows publication of letters from blacks, but mostly those that spew hatred and abusive language.
I chalked this up to teething problems. It appeared Watson was a good man, trying to do what was right but had been overwhelmed by the response from South Africans eager to have a voice over the most pressing issue in their lives.
A request for an interview with Watson went unanswered.
The site claims to "moderate" comments, but I have not been able to discover the criteria they use for moderation.
Still as the racism grew and members questioned whether or not this hurt the site's image no effort was made to curb it. One supposes this was under the "freedom of speech" tennet. But on the other hand, my postings were, in fact censored. I was surprised at this because in no way had they been abusive. In the absence of any explanation from the powers that be, I can only assume this was for two reasons:
Firstly, as a journalist I have certain ethic and moral, not to mention legal restraints on what can and cannot be published. It appears - not unexpectedly - that crime expo feels no such restraints or responsibility. They saw fit to publish a picture of a rape victim, without saying the victim had given permission for her picture to be published. One of my emails took them to task for this.
Second, Jackie Selebi's comments that people who complained about the crime in the country were welcome to leave drew the expected outrage - across the world. The point being debated on the site was that Selebi had said he would take resources from previously white areas and deploy them in previously black areas as needed. The general feeling was, of course, that whites seemed to deserve better policing protection than blacks. My email pointing out that protection of the law was something all citizens needed was deemed not fit to publish.
Under the current conditions it's easy to see why these activist sites fail so miserably. If they were more ethical, if they were indeed not racially biased, businesses in South Africa and citizens across the colour divide would be clamouring to support them. Instead the opposite is true, and their credibility is so bad that no one wants to associate with them.
It's de ja vu of the apartheid government.

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