Auspicious timing for dog video

The conjunction of the screening of the documentary and the local government election campaign requires explanation.

THE VIDEO FOOTAGE of police dogs hunting down black men like animals, with their white police handlers delighting in their screams for mercy, has invoked a deep sense of revulsion and shame (mainly from whites who feel responsible for their racial kinsmen) and anger (largely from blacks who feel outrage on behalf of their racial brethren). Justifiably so.

But while the condemnation of naked racism tinged by piratical greed - the police are reported to have offered to call off their dogs for R300 - has been the dominant theme of media coverage, the timing of the television coverage is suspect. Filmed by a police video team in early 1998, the horrifying events were shown on the SABC's documentary programme Special Assignment on November 7, more than two years after the event and in the run-up to the December local government elections.

There is little doubt that the timing of the screening will benefit the ANC's election campaign. The video reinforces the ANC view, as articulated by President Thabo Mbeki at the national conference on racism in September, that anti-black racism is the dominant form of racism in South Africa and that whites have to atone for it collectively. With those images still freshly imprinted on the minds of the predominantly black electorate, the attempt of the newly-formed, white-led Democratic Alliance, to establish a bridgehead in the black community has become that much more difficult.

The conjunction of the two events - the screening of the video and the intensifying election campaign - requires explanation.

It may be coincidental that the Special Assignment team acquired the footage shortly before the viewing date. It may not be, however. Newspapers carried reports on November 7 that former police spy Craig Kotze had been welcomed into the ANC by no less a person that the minister of safety and security Steve Tshwete. On the same day the minister and police commissioner Jackie Selebi were shown the video.

A former journalist, Kotze doubled as a police agent - and informed on his co-journalists - while working for the Star. He later came out of the closet and became the media spokesman for the pre-liberation ministry of law and order. He even managed to serve as an advisor for a while in the post-apartheid ministry of safety and security.

The question thus arises whether Kotze, who is now fulsome in his praise of the ANC, served as the conduit for the transfer of the video recording of the dog attack from police archives to the producer of Special Assignment, investigative journalist Jacques Pauw, whose career includes a spell as a journalist. The reporter in the documentary is another former Star journalist, Gill Gifford.

As Kotze placed gratification of his police seniors above loyalty to his colleagues when he worked at the Star, so it is possible that his desire to ingratiate himself with ANC notables is now stronger than loyalty to his former comrades in the police, whose abuse of human rights did not visibly trouble him while working as the Star's crime reporter. Kotze, who gave an ideological gloss to his role as a spy on the newspaper, now believes the ANC "is the right party to consolidate our democracy".