A tweet can be a long time in politics
If Twitter is any guide (it probably isn’t) SA has fragmented into one giant squabbling mess, incapable of contemplation and dedicated to the elimination of all debate. In SA every man is an island. Former DA strategist Ryan Coetzee, who now observes us from a distance, tweeted the other day that this “week in SA [is] interesting. The place is so polarised that you have to agree with people 100%, 100% of the time otherwise you’re the enemy. And that’s just inside the DA :) (It’s even worse outside the DA!)”
Something is wrong with a lot of us. One Twitter fight this past week is now heading for court after broadcaster Redi Tlhabi accused home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba of introducing ruinous visa regulations back whenever in a fit of rage after his ex-wife had allowed their child to travel inside SA with a cousin. It got ugly. Tlhabi won the popular battle but Gigaba announced he had instructed his lawyers to sue her for defamation.
I doubt he has a winnable case but that’s by the by. He made his announcement on official home affairs ministry stationery, sparking yet more howls of outrage, forcing him to explain later that he was using his personal lawyers.
In the meanwhile, journalists were turning on each other. Jacques Pauw had penned a piece calling on journalists from this newspaper to make themselves available to the Sars or the Zondo commissions to explain why they wrote stories about a “rogue unit” that eventually made it easier for the Zuptas and their Sars commissioner, Tom Moyane, to hollow out this vital institution. “Sunday Times’ rogue journalists must reveal the anatomy of the stratcom cooked up by SSA and aimed to cripple #Sars and #Hawks — @Jaqqs,” tweeted Pauli van Wyk, approvingly, from Daily Maverick.
There’s a silent but soon-to-burst story on how Daily Maverick and the outstanding investigative unit amaBhungane lost their exclusivity over the Gupta e-mails to the Sunday Times last year. What was the editor supposed to do? Give them back?
It is partly what is driving some social media animosity towards this newspaper now. Someone was given the Gupta hard drives for safekeeping and instead leaked them out of frustration that Maverick and amaBhungane were taking too long to use them.
The worst of the week, though, was reserved for President Cyril Ramaphosa. In New York for a host of meetings, he was grabbed for a quick (like, really quick) interview by Bloomberg.
Trying to counter Donald Trump’s recent tweet that he wanted his secretary of state to “study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers”, Ramaphosa stumbled badly and said “there is no killing of farmers or white farmers in SA”.
Which is not true, as Ramaphosa knows. Only last year he told parliament: “We condemn the farm killings that continue to take place in our country, because we can never justify any form of taking of life. The farm killings must be brought to an end.”
So he had clearly misspoken. But Twitter exploded with everyone finally “seeing Ramaphosa for the liar he is”.
Ramaphosa’s office offered a lame statement. UCT philosopher Jacques Rousseau tried to explain (always dangerous): “Some folk seem to think Ramaphosa was claiming there are literally *no* farmers being murdered, and want him to clarify and/or apologise, because just interpreting his words in context is obviously out of the question.”
Rousseau didn’t tweet a sarcasm emoji that some of Twitter’s more engaged adherents require to stop them taking everything literally and was engulfed by a flood of abuse from what I assume to be to the right of him, including the fine editor of Rapport, Waldimar Pelser.
“Sorry maybe I missed something,” tweeted Pelser. “He was pretty clear. Or did the rest of the planet miss something? Secret language? Sign language? DM straight to you?”
“Of course that’s what his words meant,” Rousseau replied. “But equally of course, it’s entirely implausible to think it’s what he meant to say. We should be capable of seeing that, and saving our outrage for intentional lies.”
“The end of truth,” Pelser flung back. “Here the professor implores us to look not at what a speaker says, but at what he or she might have intended to say, but chose instead not to. Remember also not to be equally charitable to all speakers, as some of them are to be taken quite literally.”
Give up? I do. If I were Ramaphosa I’d stay in New York.