Every tragedy has a face; a moment of madness captured by the lens of an intrepid or well-placed photographer which becomes, in a sense, a visual soundtrack to madness.
Think of the unidentified man shot in the head by a soldier in Saigon, the lone man standing in the path of the armoured car at Tianamen, the man shot by SS soldiers and pushed into a ditch or the Tunisian orange seller who set himself ablaze and sparked the Arab spring.
Emmanuel Sithole, like those other examples, has become the unwilling and tragic face of the on-going xenophobic attacks in South Africa and as testament to the power of a photograph(s) to both foreground and highlight, it has brought the on-going atavism into sharp focus.
Black men are killing black men and the government seems unable or is it unwilling to do anything about it.
The question to ask is not why? It is how. How does the fact that a Nigeria or Somalian or Mozambican owns a shop impoverish a South African? This is the age of capitalism, of free markets but do these idiots brandishing knifes and cudgels begin to understand the fact, the very fact which makes MTN and DSTV companies from South African some of the biggest players in corporate Nigeria?
Tragedies always make for good news and we gobble it up, oohing and aahing at the images of death and destruction, bloodshed and carnage. Not satisfied by the unrelenting coverage enabled by the 24 hour news cycle, we tweet about it and make posts on Facebook but it is not just news for Emmanuel Sithole’s wife, presumably at home in Mozambique waiting for her husband’s monthly money transfer from South Africa.
It is not just news for Emmanuel Sithole’s aged mother and father, for his brothers and sisters and maybe even for his young children who will never forget the image of their son, brother and father stabbed and left on the curb to die.
It is not just news for me, because for five days now, we have been trying to reach our cousin, Ben Utomi, recently relocated to Durban from Accra.
The last time he checked in was on Sunday April 5, when he called to commiserate with my younger brother who was sick. Now, we cant reach him.
For us, we wake every morning hoping that Ben will call or text and say, “I dey.” Those two words would suffice for us and ease our anxieties because Ben had only just moved to South Africa in search of a better life.
He has not, as far as we know, bought a car or opened up a shop or taken a job that a South African would have had. He moved to South Africa to work hard and help pull himself up and realize his dreams for his young life.
And if that life is taken from him, cut short in an orgy of violence that both astounds and offends in equal measure this will not be news for us, it would be a tragedy of immense proportions and dream turned into a terrible nightmare.
The South African government must step in and make this madness stop. How is it that a mob could kill a man in full view of the press and the public and yet go scot-free? Where does this even happen and why has it gone on for almost one week, with stories spreading of Zulu’s being bussed into Durban and Johannesburg to help kill foreigners?
This madness must stop. They are not kwerekwere, they are human beings, fathers and sons and husband and they don’t deserve to die like cattle on the streets of Durban and Johannesburg.
This must stop even as await Ben’s phone call or text message.
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