South Africa’s police on Thursday arrested one of two men who threatened in a television interview to rob and kill fans at June’s World Cup, causing uproar among officials fearful that South Africa’s high crime rate will deter foreign visitors.
The interview last weekend on the e.tv channel unleashed days of controversy over both crime and freedom of the press after authorities issued subpoenas for two of the station’s journalists to reveal their sources.
A man who set up the interview with the two self-styled criminals was found dead earlier this week, apparently from suicide, e.tv and police said.
The two men, whose faces were concealed, said on the programme they would commit armed robberies and murder during the month-long soccer spectacular which is expected to attract 450 000 foreign fans. They said this was justified as revenge for colonial wrongs.
“Our specialised unit … the “Hawks” in the early hours of the morning arrested one of the self-confessed (gang) kingpins,” police minister Nathi Mthethwa said in a statement. “According to the footage, this is the thug who boasted and threatened to rob and kill during the World Cup,” he said.
Police, who launched a major hunt after the interview, said the man was arrested following a tip-off. He faces charges of intimidation and inciting violence, that are punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
Mthethwa, backed by both the ruling ANC party and police Commissioner Bheki Cele, condemned the e.tv interview as disturbing and reckless, but the station defended the programme as investigative journalism that did not glorify criminals.
The South African National Editors Forum said it was appalled by the subpoenas, saying they would undermine press independence and credibility.
South African and World Cup officials are sensitive about violence, which is one of the biggest concerns around the tournament. The country has one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime, with 50 murders a day, more than the United States which has six times the population.