Defend Truth


Youth League lizards lose limbs, but who do they think they’re fooling?

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

What, the ANC Youth League wants to shut down Twitter? Hahahaha! Wait, where have I seen this trick before?

As children, my friends and I would go often lizard-hunting with ketties and pellet guns. When we had expended our last pellet and snapped the elastic band on the last kettie, we’d throw rocks at the lizards. It was great fun, in that cruel way children have. It was during those hunts that I first learned the concept of the decoy. When we were on the cusp of catching a lizard, it would suddenly drop its tail. My friends and I would gather around, gawking at the lizard’s tail as it twitched on the ground. We soon caught on, and during later hunts would carry on chasing the lizard even after it had lost its limb as a decoy.

Which brings me to ask: At what point will South Africa stop being distracted by the twitching tails the ANC Youth League leaves in its wake?

The country’s Twitteratti had a jolly good laugh last week when the ANC Youth League’s spokesman Floyd Shivambu issued a press release, threatening to bring down the law of the land on the proliferation of fake Julius Malema Twitter accounts. The release was typical Floyd – the spelling and grammar was laughably atrocious, it read like the rants of a drunkard kicked out of a casino after a particularly bad night at the tables. Clearly, Floyd was very angry when he wrote it. Or was he?

Compare that press release to the one issued a few weeks ago when the ANCYL had to explain to the nation why it had failed to fulfil its promise to needy children. Floyd was chastened in his writing on that occasion, even apologetic. On the phone, he was clearly agitated and wouldn’t answer questions about the due payments for wheelchairs promised to a special school in Mthatha.

The Youth League was well and truly cornered, besieged on all fronts by its own empty promises. It couldn’t very well try to bluff its way out of that situation, not when vital political points stood to be lost with its chosen constituency – the poor. So with the teeth of pursuers starting to snap dangerously close to its exposed underbelly, it dropped its “we’re going to shut Twitter down” tail.

We’ve been here before. At what point did the ‘Shoot the Boer’ saga begin? Was it not after the sustained and damaging scrutiny of Julius Malema’s financial affairs by the media? As Branko Brkic wrote back then, within a matter of weeks he had led the media away from a position from which he couldn’t possibly win to one from which he couldn’t possibly lose. It worked too. The newspapers that continued uncovering the murky waters of Malema’s financial activities were drowned in a flash flood of ‘Shoot the Boer’ stories.

As ridiculous as it sounds, the ANCYL actually has nothing to lose by railing against satirists on Twitter. The assumption is that the press release is for the consumption of the media and the Twitteratti and nothing could be further from the truth. It’s using an oft-employed trick of the ANC, which is using press releases and press conferences to speak to a very specific group within the party of the tripartite alliance. They get to perpetuate the myth of a struggle against “dangerous enemies” (Twitter accounts hurting the good name of ANCYL president Julius Malema, praises be) to the people who buy into its populist paradigm, just as it did when it claimed that those who wanted Malema to stop singing ‘Shoot the Boer’ were  trying to erase the ANC’s struggle history.

Who cares about iffy technicalities like the fact that all of Bheki Cele’s horses and all of Bheki Cele’s men couldn’t shut the Internet down? As long as everyone focuses on that, and not on the schoolchildren who have gone for yet another day without wheelchairs, courtesy of an empty promise by Malema. If Twitter shuts down some of the fake Malema accounts (some of them are bound to fall foul of the laws on Twitter governing satirical accounts), it’s double score for them. Who will be at hand to explain to the people that shutting down one Twitter account isn’t the same as shutting down the entire site or the Internet when the ANCYL inevitably parades it as a victory against reactionaries and counter-revolutionaries?

Scoffing is no substitute for scrutiny. Cynical jeers are not as damaging as critical investigative journalism. Malema & Co. know that. It would be a tragedy if the press and you forgot that. By all means mock Floyd and Julius and the rest of them, but, lest we forget, they’re still the same people who made a promise to schools that needed help, and didn’t keep it. DM


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