Sunday Times

A tweet can be a long time in pol­i­tics

- PETER BRUCE South Africa News · African Politics · Politics · Twitter · Democratic Alliance (South Africa) · Vanuatu · Gupta family · New York City · Donald Trump · South Africa · Africa · University of Cape Town · South Africa Politics · Ryan Coetzee · Redi Tlhabi · Malusi Gigaba · Jacques Pauw · Daily Maverick · Cyril Ramaphosa · Jacques Rousseau

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.

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