#AngryBlacks: Twitter champ banks on controversy
Sentletse Diakanyo has about 14 000 followers on Twitter. For a person who does not have the stardust of an entertainer or the platform enjoyed by an editor of a national newspaper (the Mail & Guardian's Nic Dawes has close to 19 000), this following is staggering.
He is followed by fans and foes for his barnstorming, jack-of-all-trades and witty approach to current affairs.
Diakanyo's adversaries should be warned about trying to get physical with him: the truculent Twitter champion, a teetotaller, has a black belt in karate. Not that he is aggressive, at least not in the physical sense. "Karate teaches you discipline; where you would normally fight, you walk away," he said. But what he keeps in check physically, he more than compensates for in other ways.
Even top politicians are not off limits. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, for instance, has blocked him for quizzing him about assassination attempts on his foes in exile. Diakanyo constantly heckles the likes of British Foreign Secretary William Hague and the United States's ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. He labels the former a "war criminal" and the latter a "warmonger" and routinely calls President Jacob Zuma the "giggling Casanova" from Nkandla.
Diakanyo has opinions, many of them educated and informed, on issues as wide-ranging as cars, world politics and economics. He should know – after all, he is a banker with a bachelor of commerce majoring in economics. He frequently writes irreverent tweets about newsmakers. A few weeks ago, reacting to axed youth leader Julius Malema's regret at campaigning for Zuma at the governing party's 2007 national conference in Polokwane, Diakanyo tweeted: "At the rate Malema is going with his 'regrets', he will soon be a born-again Christian." His position on the government's second transition proposal is: "Second Transition—-> Second Term—-> Second Looting Round."
Diakanyo first came to my attention in December 2010 when he wrote a contentious piece on the M&G's Thought Leader website titled "We are not all Africans, blacks are!" In the piece, Diakanyo argued that "whites who had lived in South Africa for countless generations, after many years of considering themselves Europeans during the apartheid years" now proclaimed themselves Africans. "When white Afrikaner supremacists had signs saying 'Europeans' and 'non-Europeans' to enforce segregation between Africans and Europeans, there was never any ambiguity around the term 'European'. Almost all whites understood themselves to be Europeans, other than the few who stood on the side of Africans to fight for the abolishment of segregation laws and emancipation of the oppressed people." It was a blog that generated controversy; one critic even likened Diakanyo to the architect of apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd.
He does not blog as much anymore because "the things I used to blog about I now tweet. I haven't blogged in a year." Thought Leader's loss has been Twitter's gain.
Diakanyo is dismissed by some as being pro-Bashir al-Assad, pro-Robert Mugabe and pro-Vladimir Putin. These are, perhaps, the same people who would have called him pro-Muammar Gaddafi (he occasionally uses an avatar of the slain Libyan ruler). Author and Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela recently tweeted: "If being anti-West while [being] a closet English gentleman were an Olympic sport @Sentletse would face Mugabe in finals."
"For me it's simple," Diakanyo said. "There are certain principles, such as respect for sovereignty and international law, that should be observed." He added: "I am not pro-Assad. There is a government that's not democratic but was willing to talk to the opposition. The West told the opposition not to negotiate. The Syrians should be allowed to determine their own destiny." He pointed out the painful irony of repressive regimes such as the ones in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain calling for democratic reform in Syria while oppressing the citizens of their own countries. "Why can't these monarchs stand down?" he said.
Making a detour and moving to economics, his forte, Diakanyo said South Africa had to "focus on the things which we are good at. Why not establish Johannesburg as a financial hub? In terms of sophistication and products, we compare with New York and London. We should market the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and make it attractive for foreign firms to list."
How does he know so much, I asked. "I read this and that," said Diakanyo. Not a fan of fiction, he is a voracious reader of nonfiction. When I interviewed him he was reading Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology, a book by top Senegalese historian and Egyptologist Cheikh Anta Diop.
About Twitter, Diakanyo said: "Before, we had to write a letter to a newspaper editor to make our views heard. Now we have social media to express our views real-time to thousands of people." Something he does with wit and panache – as the multitudes who follow him would probably attest.
Follow @sentletse on Twitter.