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Globe misleads on South Africa death

"South Africa Executes Poet," shouted the Globe headline.

My gosh, I thought, now they're not only imprisoning dissident writers, they're executing them. What trumped-up charge did they pin on him? Espionage? Sedition? Slandering the state? This sounded bad.

The next few paragraphs seemed to confirm my impression -- there were protests all over the world, and officials from a large number of governments, including the United States and the Soviet Union, condemned the South African government's denial of clemency.

At last, the article revealed that the "poet," Benjamin Moloise, had been convicted of murdering a black South African policeman. Moloise had even admitted being in on the conspiracy, although he denied pulling the trigger.

What is going on here?

Moloise was a revolutionary, a member of the African National Congress (ANC), which is dedicated to the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa. He had penned some verses, but that is supremely irrelevant to the issue of his trial and execution. The Globe, along with many other newspapers, had been irresponsible and misleading.

Although he was a revolutionary and a poet, Moloise earned his daily bread as an upholsterer. Can you imagine a headline: "South Africa Executes Upholsterer"?

Some people have called Moloise a terrorist. I think the term "revolutionary" is more accurate. I am not passing judgment on whether the ANC should use violent measures to achieve its ends, although I do agree with those ends. But from the point of view of the South African government, Moloise was a murderer.

Why are we wasting our energy condemning the execution of a killer? It may be correct to view the ANC's struggle as a war, and excuse Moloise's acts as we would those of a soldier fighting for his country. But we have no business telling South Africa they can't execute a murderer. After all, many states in this country enforce the death penalty for the murder of a policeman.

Telling South Africa they should free Moloise was like telling a country at war they should not defend themselves. Even if we feel the country is in the wrong we would not do that.

There is enough to condemn in Pretoria's unjust laws. Condemning South Africa for carrying out the just ones is not going to make its government more likely to listen to us. Nor is slanting the headlines to make the regime look even worse than it is.