Vuyo Mvoko, an SABC contributing editor, was mugged last night. Did you hear about it? Perhaps you’ve seen the viral video that caught the offenders’ faces. It’s everywhere; on all major local news websites. Maybe, upon seeing it, you feel you have a sympathetic message to share, or maybe you’re just outraged at the frequency of crime in the country.
Well why not go ahead and share your views. It’s what the internet has allowed us to do, after all. Here is one that was posted on the video uploaded by the SABC:
“Hey look – It’s South Africa! Where so Jacob Zuma and Nelson Mandela sang about killing white people. Where so many white people have been killed since the fall of apartheid that they’re officially on genocide watch. Where a once booming economy has been turned into a corrupt and broken rape capital of the world. Where the standard of living has plummeted since apartheid fell. At least they got rid of evil whitey. Clearly they were the problem here.”
The story here is simple: a man got mugged on the job. It becomes major news because of Mvoko’s status and profile. One hopes that this incident serves as a springboard to fuel inquiry into petty crimes in South Africa and, of course, the quality of the police service, which has surely got to come under intense scrutiny for this case seeing that the culprits have been identified.
So why then has it inspired a social media storm defined by racial divisions, political party polarisations, and aggressive keyboard one-upmanship?
At the time of writing, the top comment on the aforementioned mugging video goes thus: “South Africa right now. The ANC is the cancer killing the country. Other parties must be able to organise an effective platform, with security and corruption fighting at the center [sic]”.
It goes on to say: “[The ANC has been in charge] for the last two decades. If current levels of violence and corruption can’t be attributed to the people who’ve run the country for 21 years, then who’s to blame ?!”
Hang on a minute. How did a video of a mugging warrant such sentiments? The comment appears completely out of place. A mugging is a tragic, if uninteresting, everyday occurrence the world over. While there may very well be a greater regularity in South Africa, a mugging is a fairly unspectacular event, given importance here — where it otherwise would not have — because of the particular offended.
While it could be rightly pointed out that the root causes of petty crimes may lie in social and political issues brought on through the effectiveness of governmental policy and service delivery, these are still hardly appropriate statements to make on this particular story.
The sad truth is that all that major incidents ever seem to do in South Africa is spark a furious back-and-forth made by those who are all-too-eager to defend the group to which they are identified. The comments themselves are usually so clearly prejudiced and agenda-driven that they appear as if the writer had been sitting on them, waiting for an opportunity to air their views.
Another story in the last 24 hours was the desecration of the statue of Cecil Rhodes on the UCT campus. While the debate of politics and race is indeed more appropriate in this instance, it still managed to birth needlessly coarse comments.
News24’s Facebook post of a comment piece on the issue sparked a full-on debate: on one side it was blacks arguing that the gesture was a stand against white supremacy. This was countered by accusations of black idiocy, ANC incompetence, as well as comment-section staple, reverse racism.
Even pieces that aim to provide a balanced look at issues seem to stir. The comments on an analytical piece on the Mail & Guardian about white privilege again featured a very obvious — and furious — black/white divide, indicating that we are still steadfastly clinging onto our particular race with a violent us-and-them mentality.
Critical theories of race and race politics have a firm interest in understanding the embedded practices of race. It implores one to dig deep to see the tensions, prejudices, and implications of being a particular colour.
For South Africa, one does not need anything else but to be vigilant to the obvious. One can choose — as many do — to ignore the gaps in healthcare, education, wealth, access to opportunities. One can dismiss the implicit divisions, prejudices, assumptions, and geographical separations. But if you need convincing of racial tensions in our country, all you need do is wait for the next big story, and take a look at the comment section.
Image – Screengrab