popsThere cannot be any doubt that South Africa is on edge as the drama surrounding the tragedy that befell the Korkie family in Yemen remains in flux.

Bloemfontein teacher Pierre Korkie has been held against his will by kidnappers who have threatened to kill him if they don’t receive a ransom of US$3 million. The South African equivalent is roughly R32.5 million – an extraordinarily steep demand for his life.

Pierre’s wife Yolande was released a fortnight ago and is safely back with her severely traumatized family in Bloemfontein. Reports indicate that the pair were kidnapped eight months ago outside a hotel in the city of Taiz, apparently mistaken to be Americans. Yolande’s release was negotiated by Gift of the Givers, whose Yemen-based official seems to be the main interlocutor in efforts to have Pierre released.

A few days ago South Africa’s Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim announced upon his return from Yemen that he had made a plea via Yemen TV to the kidnappers to display compassion to Pierre who requires medical attention by releasing him unconditionally. He also confirmed that the South African government does not pay ransom money.

The situation as it currently stands seems rather bleak. If any ransom money is paid, whether raised by the family or the NGO Gift of the Givers or even the government, will it fuel the possibility of turning South Africans into targets for kidnappers? On the other hand if by withholding ransom, will the kidnappers follow through on their threat of executing Pierre? It certainly sounds like “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” but with a significant qualifier in that at risk is a human being whose life hangs on a thread.

You may have noticed that I’ve refrained from identifying the kidnappers as Al-Qaeda or being linked to Al-Qaeda. This is not simply because there is no evidence of them belonging to the group; but also due to the fact that Al-Qaeda would have political considerations that define their goals and objectives. In the case of the Korkie kidnapping it clearly appears to be an act of random banditry – far removed from any understanding of Al-Qaeda’s operations.

In other words if a phenomena known as Al-Qaeda whose defining characteristic as a Muslim Resistance Movement is unfairly and unjustly associated with an inhumane act of thuggery, it does raise the prospect of fuelling Islamophobia in a world deeply polarized since 9/11 and the “War on Terror”.

This is a particularly worrying trend as evident in how media in South Africa has been reporting on the Korkie kidnapping drama. Almost every report or broadcast has tagged the unknown kidnappers as Al-Qaeda seemingly without any regard for accuracy and context.

While its known that parts of the Middle East have become no-go areas largely due to repressive measures and policies of intolerance by unrepresentative oligarchies towards calls for free open societies, its known too that activists are regularly demonized as Al-Qaeda to justify state aggression. The logic used by despotic rulers is that their brutal suppression of basic human rights will be applauded by the West rather than attract censure if the bogey of Al-Qaeda is fronted.

Egypt under military rule of General Sisi following the coup he engineered to overthrow a popular democratically elected government, repeatedly injects the Al-Qaeda bogey to legitimize his vicious and bloody crackdown of protesters. Israel has sought to do the same. Resistance to Occupation and Settlements by Palestinian movements is constantly tainted as Al-Qaeda. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen resort to the same tactic.

Apart from being a deceitful act to rely on negative imagery that owes its origins to America, it is entirely inappropriate for media and commentators to accept such profiling without a critical eye.

In the case of the Korkie tragedy, it is entirely understandable that attention has been riveted on the drama surrounding negotiations and the anxiety of South Africans. Nevertheless it remains inconceivable for media to adopt an approach that smacks of lazy journalism.

Iqbal Jassat

Exec Member: Media Review Network


Twitter @ijassat