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JANINE WILLEMANS: That's news to me!

Janine Willemans
Opinion

Janine Willemans reflects on the death of an eight-year-old in a park she knows well.

News is meant to be objective, but it’s actually quite subjective.

What’s news to one person might be of zero interest to someone else … and so sourcing and disseminating content becomes quite a challenging feat for those of us in the industry.

You have your generalist who enjoys making their way through the news buffet and tasting a little of everything on offer. Then there’s the political hack who lives and dies by the scandal, corruption and controversy that politics tends to provide. The sports nut is unparalleled in their zest for news both on and off the field or pitch and there are also those who can’t let a day go by without their entertainment fix. Ultimately though, I believe that our interests are fuelled by our environment.

If I asked a range of people what they thought last week’s big story was, I would probably have received different answers from different people. For some, it was the ANC policy conference; for others it would have been the R2 billion presidential jet saga or possibly the Limpopo textbook fiasco. Some would also have seen the silver lining to the dark cost of living cloud in the news that we were headed for a substantial petrol price drop.

In my world, it was the death of an eight-year-old child in Cape Town. Junaid McKenzie was hit in the head by a bullet while playing in a park outside his home. He wasn’t the first child to die in the Cape’s ongoing gang violence … he won’t be the last.

But what made Junaid’s story stand out is the fact that the park he was playing in was the same park I walked across every single day of my high school career as I made my way to and from school. I was shocked by the realisation that the gang violence is spreading from Lavender Hill into neighbouring Steenberg. Junaid’s shooting happened not too far from the church that my family attends. It’s also just a few short kilometres away from the “nice” neighbourhood I live in today.

So while, as a journalist, I should probably have been hanging onto every word that came out of Midrand and debated with the rest of my ilk the future of the country and the second transition or non-transition and the nationalization of the mines and whether Jacob Zuma’s second term is secure, quite frankly, I had more pressing issues to deal with.

How can I contemplate matters that are so obscure and far into the future (if they’ll ever even happen) when, in my own backyard, I can’t be guaranteed that the next innocent bystander to be hit by a stray bullet won’t be someone near and dear to me? Not that it makes it okay that until now those who have been affected are strangers.

Elsewhere, someone else is concerned about the ongoing baboons versus humans’ debate. They may be pro- or anti- baboon and it may seem frivolous to the people who have to dodge gang bullets on a daily basis; but the reality is that for the people who share a backyard with the animals on a daily basis, that is their most pressing issue and we can’t take that away from them. Those so vehemently opposed to the Chapman’s Peak toll plaza … same story. It is the biggest thing in their immediate environment.

And for the victims of floods and fires in our informal settlements, the baboon and toll plaza debates are foreign; their most pressing priority is trying to minimize the impact of the harsh winter without losing their meagre possessions, or worse, their lives.

We wade through a torrent of news on a daily basis and sometimes it’s very easy to try and present one issue as more important than another; it’s not uncommon to ignore an issue because there is so much else going on. The reality though, is that one person’s non – issue is quite possibly the thing that is keeping someone else awake at night. So before we laugh off the baboon or toll plaza issues, or shrug our shoulders at the ongoing gang violence and how it doesn’t affect us, perhaps we should pause and spend a few minutes in someone else’s backyard.

Janine Willemans is EWN's Cape Town editor. Follow her on Twitter @JanineJD.

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