Dear SA Media, Stop Calling It A Coup!

A 23-year old male was arrested for plotting to assassinate prominent South Africans, including government officials - and they've dubbed it a "coup".

05/05/2017 03:54 SAST | Updated 05/05/2017 03:54 SAST
Kenan Gurbuz/ Reuters
Turkish soldiers accused of attempting to assassinate President Tayyip Erdogan on the night of the failed last year's July 15 coup.

The country was shaken by news of an attempted coup. Yes , that's right - if we are to believe all the media reports - a 23-year old male was arrested for plotting to assassinate prominent South Africans, including government officials - and they've dubbed it a "coup". Now, I'm sorry, but unless the dictionary definition of coup has changed, this revelation from the Hawks is definitely not one. Don't believe me? Okay, let's take a step back and start with basic definitions.

The term coup is short for coup d'état, which is defined as: a sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force. Synonyms include: overthrow, rebellion, revolution, uprising. Cool, so now that we all know what "coup" means, let's compare that to the way in which the media are using it. News24 ran with "Alleged 'coup plotter' set to make first appearance"; Times Live went with "State recommends 'coup plotter' undergo mental evaluation" and the Huffington Post South Africa's headline was "Hawks Arrest A 23-year-Old For Allegedly Plotting A Coup".

I'm not sure who led with coup first but it seems everyone other media outlet followed suit. Perhaps I fail to understand just how a lone wolf was going to single handedly overthrow our country's government. Even to label this an "attempted coup" is ridiculous. There is no evidence proving that this individual was helped or propped up by anyone of governmental significance. What is evident, is that this young man is clearly unhinged and had a list of people he wanted to kill. "Attempted mass assassinations", perhaps? But a coup d'etat? Come on!

If you still don't understand what I'm going on about, why don't we take a look at actual instances of attempted or successful coups throughout history. Take Turkey for example. In July last year, the country witnessed a bloody coup attempt, one of the worst in its political history, when a section of the military launched a coordinated operation to topple the government and unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Soldiers and tanks took to the streets and a number of explosions rang out in populous cities of Ankara and Istanbul.

Now, maybe the local media knows something we don't - but I sure do not remember a bunch of military tanks taking to the streets.

Then there's Thailand, a country that has gone through more coups than Zuma has wives. Thailand has gone through a total of 19 attempted government overthrows, with 12 being successful. The common factor in both cases? The military. See, this is an important point. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the chief prerequisite for a coup is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements. Uh, where is the evidence of this in the case at hand? Look, I understand the investigation is still ongoing and the alleged perpetrator is appearing before the court and so on - but for the media to jump ahead and label this incident a coup is really short sighted. I mean, even the assassinations of US Presidents were not labelled coup attempts. And Americans are the epitome of the dramatic.

Why the South African media chose to lead with coup is beyond me. Perhaps they wanted the story to gain traction, perhaps it was a government spokesperson themselves, who sent out a press release to cause genuine panic or concern for our dearest executive, I don't know. What I do know is this; a random young man plotting to kill a whole list of people seems more of a psychiatric outburst than an overthrow of government.

Want to know about some more coup's? Click here, maybe our media outlets will do the same and realise that they've taken "sensationalisation" to a whole new level.