Naledi Pandor. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Naledi Pandor. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Regarding the anti-immigrant violence and looting we saw in parts of Gauteng two weeks ago, the government is like a horse with blinkers. Ministers have always been averse to the phrase “xenophobic attacks”, even when it is happening right under their noses.

Their approach is, if we do not talk about it and we do not see it then it is not happening and we don’t have to explain or account for it. And it seems they want the media to start doing the same.

So it didn’t come as a shock that international relations minister Naledi Pandor accused the media this week of deliberately pushing a narrative that paints the country as xenophobic.

Just like it’s a media narrative that SA’s cricket and soccer teams have performed dismally in recent months, or that the economy is in the doldrums. If only the media would be more positive and patriotic, things would be just fine.

So to Pandor, when journalists see fellow Africans from other countries being attacked by mobs, their priority should be to take a wider perspective of a  “complex issue” and help the government push “a different message” about events in the country.

It is this type of thinking that has led to inaction or delayed action by the government, and why, since the 2008 xenophobic violence, this problem persists

“I think it is SA media that is depicting SA as xenophobic because SA media is very keen to keep this impression alive,” Pandor said.

Why local journalists, who presumably love their country as much as Pandor does, should want to push this negative narrative is left unsaid.

Pandor is leading a delegation to the UN General Assembly in New York where she is likely to have to explain what has been happening. This is after President Cyril Ramaphosa, under attack for his initial silence on the crisis, decided to rather stay at home.

We can only hope this is not the message she will be passing on to world leaders, otherwise our credibility as a country will be severely damaged.

What Pandor is doing is calling on the media to censor itself in the interest of government PR. It is this type of thinking that has led to inaction or delayed action by the government, and why, since the 2008 xenophobic violence, this problem persists. There is always someone else to blame.

It took Ramaphosa a few days to take the attacks seriously and comment. This was happening while SA was hosting the World Economic Forum meeting in Cape Town, where it was hoping to attract investors, and the attacks were not a “good story to tell”. 

Some of the blame for what has been happening should be put at the feet of politicians who continue to make xenophobic comments that fuel this sort of violence.

In Gauteng, especially Johannesburg where the violence was most intense two weeks ago, premier David Makhura and mayor Herman Mashaba have made ill-advised public comments about foreign nationals.

A video was circulating in April of former deputy police minister Bongani Mkongi saying that South Africans were surrendering the country to foreigners. This was in 2017.

“We are surrendering our land and it is not xenophobia to talk truth. We fought for this land from a white minority, we cannot surrender it to the foreign nationals ... we fought for this country not only for us, [but] for the generations of South Africans,” Mkongi said in an interview with EWN in the Hillbrow police station two years ago.

There have been no consequences for politicians who make such statements, and when xenophobic violence flares up it is surprising that the government is in shock.

If we do not diagnose the problem properly, we will never resolve it.

If you want a good story to be told, you have to ensure that there is actually a good story to tell. In this regard, the government is for the most part failing.