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Assessing and promoting civil and minority rights in South Africa.

[Source: Daily Maverick by Rebecca Davis.]

With the ANC’s electoral congress approaching fast, it’s political smear season – and no blow is too low. As IPID head Robert McBride and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa are learning, even a politician’s immediate family is considered fair game for striking political blows. Ludicrous as some of the allegations may seem, South Africa’s recent history is littered with examples of severe consequences for those targeted in campaigns to discredit them. How should the media, and the public, respond?

A bruised teenager claims that controversial cop Robert McBride threatened her life after throttling her and punching her in the face last Sunday.

It’s worth considering the language that introduced the Sunday Times’ most recent front-page lead. The youthful age of McBride’s alleged victim is emphasised, and reinforced in the story’s second line, where she is described as a “traumatised 15-year-old”. It is not mentioned until the sixth paragraph that the girl is a “family member of McBride”. Indeed, the newspaper teased the story before publication as pertaining to McBride assaulting “a minor” – which, while technically true, at no point provides the impression that the alleged victim was McBride’s daughter.

Robert McBride, the executive director of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), is introduced as a “controversial cop”. Later, he is referred to as a “burly Umkhonto weSizwe veteran”: a description aimed at maximising the sense of his strength and intimidation. The closest we get to McBride’s job title is the information that he is “the policeman who is in charge of investigating other cops for illegal behaviour”, which is clearly spelled out to highlight the irony in McBride’s own alleged wrongdoing.

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South Africa at a Glance
57 700 000 (mid 2018 estimate)
4.5% y/y in December 2018 (CPI) & +5.2 y/y in December 2018 (PPI)
2.2% q/q (3rd quarter of 2018)
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