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Do the Twitterati really understand the horror of their casual use of words like ‘necklacing’?

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Thamsanqa D Malinga is director at Mkabayi Management Consultants; a writer, columnist, and political commentator, as well as author of Blame Me on Apartheid and A Dream Betrayed.

This is the new world, where we spew bile on social media without thinking of the words and the power they have. The reality is that the ANC is at war with itself, but we are ready to advocate imprisonment and ‘necklacing’ of others just because they are not supporting a certain faction within the movement.

Growing up in the late 1980s, I recall the political differences between the United Democratic Front (UDF), the ANC-aligned civil movement; and Inkatha Yenkululeko YeSizwe, the civil movement led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Inkatha would later register as a political party under the revised name Inkatha Freedom Party.

The disagreements between the two, not excluding other smaller civil movements, led to bloodshed in the townships. Innocent people were branded impimpis (sell-outs). During this time there were “necklacings”, where an “identified” or “suspected” sell-out would be constrained in a tyre, doused with petrol and set alight.

It was horrific to see live, or in the media. Families whose members were murdered in this fashion do not even to this day have the courage to speak of their pain.

The Inkatha and UDF tug of war reached its height with the unbanning of the ANC and dissolution of the UDF. Now it was an ANC and Inkatha war. The media termed it black-on-black violence. I write about this in my book Blame Me on Apartheid, that inasmuch as there was political intolerance, this was found to be state-sponsored violence. It was a very painful and uncertain time in which to live. Painful in that black people were annihilating each other with the sponsorship of a third force; uncertain in that you couldn’t tell if the day you got to wake up would be your last day.

I am forced to recall this gruesome period because of what I am observing in South Africa’s political circles as well as social media – the latter being a very lethal weapon, especially in the hands of irresponsible and finger-happy content curators.

Following the Sunday morning announcement by the Hawks of the popular Twitter user known as #SphithiphithiEvaluator (an outspoken pro-Jacob Zuma content curator), the platform was on fire, with those for and against the arrest at each other’s throats. A disturbing tweet was when one user posted about law student and Twitter commentator Nkanyiso Ngqulunga. The post nonchalantly said, “Nkanyiso Ngqulunga would have been necklaced during those days…”.

I wanted to ask if the person saying this really understood what he or she was saying and how some fanatic could take this to heart. Did he or she live “during those days” and know how many people lost their lives because of such reckless statements? But hey, this is the new world, where we spew bile on social media without thinking of the words we are typing and the power they have on “fanatics” – as long as we get our posts liked and retweeted and they go viral and bring us popularity, no matter the consequences.

There are a lot of voices like #SphithiphithiEvaluator and each has a faction which they advocate in the ruling ANC. For this reason, it was easy to term the arrest a form of “dictatorship” by President Cyril Ramaphosa and those in his faction. While we can debate the merits – or lack thereof – of this charge of incitement against the handler of the Twitter account, we need to ask ourselves, why do we see fault with each other in the grassroots and not the ANC itself?

The reality is that it is the ANC that is at war with itself, but we find ourselves ready to advocate imprisonment and “necklacing” of other people just because they do not support a certain faction within this movement. As social media flared over Ramaphosa’s “crackdown on pro-Zuma supporters” in a “dictatorial” fashion, we seem to have forgotten that it was the ANC, with the support of its alliance, that introduced the Protection of State Information Bill which was meant to stifle media freedom. This was promoted during the Zuma era by the likes of Minister Blade Nzimande. Some of us still recall how it was meant to make insulting Zuma illegal at the time he was undergoing media and public humiliation.

What scares me is that in the age of social media it is easy to incite the masses. Whether your cause is just or not, there are always gullible people ready to believe anything posted and who jump to act on it – violently so, as we have seen in many countries and more recently in our backyard. The ANC’s internal battles have now escalated to us calling for necklacing. Did we not learn anything from the political violence of the late 1980s and early 1990s?

If you stand for the narrative of Zuma and company being martyrs or Ramaphosa being a “dictator,” I would like to remind you that the ANC as a collective has been passing laws à la the National Party ever since it came into power. To a large extent this movement has been ruling the country using apartheid laws. Julius Malema was arrested and charged by the ANC government under an apartheid-era law. This dictatorship that South African Twitter was crying against this past Sunday did not come by stealth.

We will be calling for each other’s necklacing on social media and kill everyone who crosses our path and speaks against our position. We will gather to march for this or that ANC leader because we see him or her as a saint or a sinner, and we will destroy everything in our neighbourhoods. Until we realise that the problem is within the factional ANC, we will soon find ourselves in a bloody state like we did during the “black on black violence” era.

We need to realise that the ANC’s factional battles will “necklace” us. This once glorious movement has, like the apartheid government, been starving us, spying on us, sacrificed us for its selfish ends, used us in a scramble for power and positions (not forgetting the piggy bank). In the wake of all this are the bodies of innocent loyalists.

Lest we wake up, the ANC’s internal battles and our obsession with taking sides and readiness to throw stones at the other group across the road will, like the UDF/ANC versus IFP, lead to deadly violence where we maim each other without mercy. Of course, the “third force” serving any of the factions will continue to stir this boiling pot. DM

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