President Jacob Zuma has told the press that the image of xenophobia attack victim (Yes Mr President, It was a xenophobic attack, not “just” a “normal” attack, whether you want to believe it or not) Emmanual Sithole was “an appalling sight” and that it was a “Terrible picture... I am sure even people who live in very rough townships or areas have never seen such a scene generally.”
Now there are a few things I feel like I need to address after reading the many thousands of comments around this tragic story. I am not going to go into the details of the attack other than the fact that the 35 year old foreign national died soon after being rushed to hospital. The photographer who was on scene published the photograph in a national paper and it has become the 2015 burning man face of xenophobia. ( In 2010 the xenophobia was summed up and represented by the image of Mozambican Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave burning alive).
I have seen many comments from people (some politicians and some regular citizens) who believe the image was too graphic to be published, especially on the front page of a massive newspaper. My opinion is that the image is indeed graphic, but the brutality of the image is a symbol of the situation and cannot be measured as being too brutal before the action and the repercussions of the whole dark cloud over South Africa has been resolved. It is the duty of the press to report, accurately and without bias, the news. Good or bad, ugly or pretty. For those who are against the image being published, stop and imagine for a second the way the world reacted to the image of Hector Pieterson, the young boy who was shot by police during the 1976 Soweto Uprising. Imagine that picture had not been made free for the world to see and absorb. What then? The world needs to see the knives and the pain and the fear in the streets. Words are one thing but an image has the potential to convey feelings, mood and the truth far greater than any sentence could. There is that saying “A picture paints a 1000 words,” and it could not be truer in this case.
Photographer Sam Nzima's image of Hector Pieterson's body being carried after he was shot
The second issue that has come to my attention is the question of “When should a journalist put down his or her camera and help?” This is a tricky question but I do have an opinion on it. And it is just that, an opinion…
The moment Emmanuel Sithole is stabbed. Image by Sunday Times photojournalist James Oatway.
The image journalist James Oatway took of Sithole moments before being stabbed is the image that will undoubtedly define the 2015 attacks. It is powerful, angry and filled with a story of South Africa right now. But was it right to take it? And what about helping the man? These are two questions that have popped up. In my opinion as a journalist yes it was right. It was necessary to document the situation in order for all of us to see what really happened. I don’t think that the situation would have been avoided if the journalist had dropped his camera and rushed to the aid of the man. Firstly he wasn’t armed so he would probably have been injured if not killed himself. Secondly, he is a photojournalist – his job is to record the news through pen and photo, regardless of how easy or uneasy the event makes him feel. The moment he drops his camera he then takes the role of the civilian and therefore becomes part of the situation. After filming the attack the journalist along with others helped get Sithole to hospital, but he unfortunately did not make it.
I want to cast your mind back to the famous image of the African child next to the vulture. In March 1993, while on a trip to Sudan, Carter was preparing to photograph a starving toddler trying to reach a feeding center when a hooded vulture landed nearby. Carter reported taking the picture, because it was his "job title", and leaving. He was told not to touch the children for fear of transmitting disease. He committed suicide three months after winning the Pulitzer Prize. Sold to the New York Times, the photograph first appeared on 26 March 1993 and was carried in many other newspapers around the world. Hundreds of people contacted the newspaper to ask the fate of the girl. The paper reported that it was unknown whether she had managed to reach the feeding centre. In April 1994, the photograph won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. There are many more facts about the photograph but one thing is clear, that photograph was instrumental in the highlighting and assistance of the plight of the Sudanese people.
Kevin Carter's Pulitzer Prize winning picture
The bottom line is this. We live in a country where the average headline include the words “corruption” and “crime” and we are told daily to question the neutrality and truth of the stories we read. To censor images such as this would be the true definition of a crime, and the absolute corruption of the watch dog profession that is journalism.
It may not be easy to see, but it must be seen.
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