Last year, when former ANC spin doctor Carl Niehaus’s litany of debt, unpaid rent and CV-engineering was being revealed in the mainstream media, the team at www.hayibo.co.za was taking the affair to its (il)-logical extreme.
“More Lies as Carl Niehaus Admits He Is Divorced Mother of Four” declared the satirical website, as it went on to detail a fictitious confession by the recently evicted Niehaus from “inside the cardboard box he now calls home”.
“It was there that he confessed to being Hestrie van Tonder, a 52-year-old divorced mother of four from Boksburg,” revealed Hayibo! before charting Niehaus/Van Tonder’s rise from working at “Crazy Solly’s Pink Bubble Laundry” to cleaning and spin-cycling the ANC’s dirty laundry.
Styled as a breaking “fake news” website in the vein of The Onion in the United States, www.hayibo.co.za parodies “real news” stories. And, for South African news junkies, it has provided — since going live in January last year with a story on how former president Thabo Mbeki lost his party’s presidency because he chose a Bonnie Tyler theme song — an irreverent antidote for our often depressing current affairs.
According to co-creator Anthony Pascoe the goal was “to produce something high quality, devoid of bitterness or bile, that would make people laugh — The breaking-news format works because it is more than a couple of one-liners or jokes — it is topical. It relies on the reader being informed and in on the joke.”
Its diet of “news” includes “scoops” such as fur-panty wearing socialite Paris Hilton’s simpering acknowledgment that her “hotness” was contributing to climate change and this week’s lead about President Jacob Zuma’s relief that Cosatu had called for him to have two terms in the presidential office (and not two prison terms). But the website is not merely about the laughs.
Through the bizarreness of its fiction it makes the bizarreness of reality more acute. It also scratches at the scab of human foible, of political duplicity and the sheer idiocy of life as we know it.
According to Pascoe, the website was the brainchild of former Mail & Guardian columnist Tom Eaton. Hayibo! (which is an Nguni exclamation of disbelief) is owned by Eaton and the Sunday Media sports agency (Pascoe and Steve Porter). The trio, with Sunday Media and external writers, contribute to the website.
“A lot of people” take the website seriously, says Pascoe. “We have been quoted on right-wing websites by fascists looking to justify their crazy views, we have had people write in to verify our sources or to find out if we had the name of the spokesperson correct: ‘Dear Sir / Madam. I believe you are misinformed. Thabo Mbeki’s spokesperson is Bheki Khumalo and not Macduff Maponyane. Could you please correct this oversight immediately.’ That sort of thing,” he says.
The website attracts about 3 000 unique users a day, with its most-viewed story being “Vagina a Myth say Saudi Scientists”.
“We had close to 100 000 users in a few days, extraordinary traffic really. Although our audience is primarily South African that story was a massive hit in the US and we have had countless Americans writing to find out more and to request our sources,” says Pascoe.
The Best of Hayibo.com (Jacana Media) was published recently and is available in bookshops