Mother, baby sleeping out in the cold

Date: January 1, 1970
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This article profiles the fate of one woman and her child after they were driven from their home amid South Africa’s xenophobic attacks in May 2008.

This article may be used to:
  • debate the causes and affects of xenophobia;
  • discuss the appropriateness of identifying vulnerable populations;
  • demonstrate humanising a story.
 Trainers’ notes:
This article profiles a young mother and survivor of xenophobic violence in the aftermath of the event. The article is a decent, short example of a journalist’s attempt to humanise a hard news story – out of the tens of thousands displaced, the journalist finds one case study and uses it to provide a window into the lives of many. In this case, it also provides a voice to a marginalised group – migrants, and more specifically, female migrants. The young woman featured in the article mentions that of the seven members of the family who have migrated to South Africa, it is her mother who will stay as she has work in a restaurant. While a small comment appearing quite low down, it highlights the plight of female migrants who studies have shown are – in contrast to the past – increasingly migrating unaccompanied by partners, and often become the sole breadwinner for households left behind.
The humanising tone of the article is mirrored by the photographer’s image – although focused on mother and child, the photographer allows enough background to feature in the picture to communicate that this woman’s story is representative of the plight of many. The framing of the shot is also quite interesting, simultaneously protecting the identity of the affected mother as well as others appearing in the background that while visible are not easily identifiable. Meanwhile, the writer chooses to identify the mother by name – a choice that were she to stay in South Africa, might affect her ability to reintegrate into local communities by identifying her as a foreigner.
Xenophobia often touches the lives of groups who are already among life’s more marginalised populations – migrants, refugees or people whom a community considers ‘outsiders.” Perpetrators of this kind of violence often justify it to themselves and others by presenting their already marginalised targets as “the other,” something that is antipodal to what they are and often a threat. This is often accompanied by the demonisation and dehumanisation of groups. In order to present a balanced story on xenophobia, journalists need to strive to re-humanise survivors, allowing their voices and stories to come through. However, journalists must be sensitive in the way they approach such populations. Also, one needs to make sure the interviewee is fully aware that his/her story will be published alongside his or her name. If they are uncomfortable with that, a pseudonym can be used, often alongside an explanation of why the person wished not to be named.
Discussion questions
  • What are the causes of xenophobia and what are the causes – or push factors – that drive migration in southern Africa?
  • What is the responsibility of a journalist regarding sensitisation? Is it in the job description? What responsibilities does a journalist have towards her subjects and do these change when she deals with vulnerable populations?
  • When do you identify a source and when do you not? When is an unnamed source okay?
 Training exercises:
  • Perception and reality – divide into groups. Half the groups are responsible for going out into the community and gathering vox pops – what do people think of when they think of migrants? The other half must go out and profile immigrants living in the community. What do you find? What’s fact and what’s fiction about people’s perceptions? 
  •  Interview someone who works with asylum seekers, refugees or migrants about how to cover these groups sensitively- based on your interview, develop your own interview guidelines for use when reporting on related issues.
  • Examine your own preconceptions. Draw a picture of what a foreigner looks like to you. Discuss what people draw and whether or not the pictures point to internal biases.

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