Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Leigh Matthews strikes a cord
The terrible news last night that the kidnapped Leigh Matthews had been found dead brings to a close almost two weeks of intense media coverage of the story. It always interests me how some stories get picked up by the media more than others, and Guy Berger from the Mail & Guardian investigates the reasons behind this case very well.

What was interesting this morning was the statement released by ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama. "We must find a way to deal with this and we must be committed to weeding out these elements. We can't unite as a nation if these sick elements are in our midst," said Ngonyama, who had issued a statement earlier this week to her captors to release her. "Leigh Matthews was a flower, a young person, the lifeblood of the nation and she was abducted for no apparent reason and (not returned) even though her parents gave the money."

Clearly the ANC is responding to the national (and media) interest in the story, as many people are ruthlessly killed in our country each day. What is interesting though, is the question whether the ANC have chosen to comment on this case specifically because it was a white upper-middle class family. At a time when white South Africans' number one fear is crime, and at a time when Mbeki has illustrated a susceptibility to alienate white voters, ANC strategists have used this as an opportunity to reassure South Africans, and more especially white South Africans, that crime is high on the ANC agenda.

In fact Ngonyama even went as far as evoking Apartheid memories in his statement, saying that although kidnappings and abductions were familiar to people directly involved in the struggle against apartheid, "Whether it was caused by oppression or because of crime, the effects are the same."

It is highly commendable that the Government has shown such empathy in this tragedy, and will definitely gain plaudits amongst the South African populus for doing so. It will be interesting however, to see whether there are any rumblings in the African language press that this may be a hypocritical time to make such a statement given the incessant murder that continues in the townships.