Hawks close in on 'hunter'

04 September 2011 - 03:13
Colonel McIntosh Polela says the Hawks are studying the original docket
Colonel McIntosh Polela says the Hawks are studying the original docket

The man in a Facebook picture holding a hunting rifle while posing over the seemingly "lifeless" body of a young child has been identified. But the hunt is still on for the person responsible for uploading it on the social networking site and posting a litany of racist rants.

And, as the multipronged probe continued this week, calls have been made to tighten legislation to easily track down abusive social network users.

As the furore over the picture grew this week, a lawyer representing the man in the photo contacted the Hawks in North West province, where he now lives, in order to co-operate with the investigation.

The Hawks on Friday studied a statement he made to Knysna police in 2008.

This follows a probe by North West University into a racist Facebook group initiated and frequented by their students, and on which the picture was also uploaded.

The man was not a student and he was never charged by police, although the picture violated several laws, including the Children's Act, which makes it illegal to subject a child to behaviour that may harm him/her either physically or emotionally.

The child in the picture, meanwhile, is alive and well with his family in North West, according to the Hawks.

This week, police again made contact with the family.

The child was eight years old when the picture was taken three years ago.

Hawks spokesman Colonel McIntosh Polela said on Friday: "We are now studying the original docket that was compiled by Knysna police after the photo first surfaced.

"This will include why no further action was taken and, after this process, we will make a decision on the way forward."

Polela would not discuss the exact details contained in the statement.

But it is claimed the man told police at the time he paid the child to lie down and "pose" for the photograph.

The photo was uploaded on the Facebook profile of a person calling himself "Eugene Terrorblache".

It was published in the Sunday Times last week and sparked outrage. Up until a day before publication, "Terrorblanche" had 590 friends on Facebook.

Experts and outraged government officials warned that those who knew the picture had been posted but failed to report it to police, could find themselves guilty of the Children's Act, the Films and Publications Act and the Criminal Justice Act.

There have been renewed calls for the government to amend legislation to criminalise racist hate crimes.

A ministerial task team appointed in 2008 to investigate issues at NWU made no findings on the photograph, saying it was not part of its mandate.

Two of its members, Dr Nico Cloete and Dr Jon Lewis, on Friday said they were only asked to investigate problems after the merger between Potchefstroom University and NWU, which resulted in severe disruptions on its Mafikeng campus.

Said Cloete: "At the time, we did know about the Facebook issue, but it was never discussed as an issue we needed to deal with. The university took steps to deal with it."

Lewis said students at the time complained about "double standards" being applied, as several were suspended, while those accused of racism were allowed to continue their studies and were sent for counselling.

The university's spokesman, Louis Jacobs, said this week "the university could not find the origins of the picture or the identity of the man. We wish to state emphatically that he was not one of our students, nor one of those charged."

He said one student had been found guilty of bringing the university into disrepute and was expelled, while six others were found not guilty.

He said the picture was used as an exhibit during the investigation and hearing.