/ 26 March 2013

Opinion: Intellectual #fail – Mngxitama threatens violence

Opinion: Intellectual #fail Mngxitama Threatens Violence
Zwelakhe Dubasi has apologised over comments he made about white pupils who died when a bridge collapsed in 2019.

Two black consciousness commentators. One newspaper. A battle to the death.

If that sounds like something out of a movie it is because that is where it should be: in a scene where a Robert Duvall-like character could inhale deeply and exclaim: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning!”

Not, as it turned out, sprawled across an open social media platform, which is how well-known activist Andile Mngxitama made his threat to his fellow Mail & Guardian commentator Jared Sacks.

And not just any threat, mind you. In a post on his Facebook page, Mngxitama crossed the line between freedom of speech and stepped into that ugly territory barred by our constitution: incitement to violence.

"I don’t easily call for physical violence,” began the post in question. Which, you know is such a relief. It is good to know that Mngxitama has a certain protocol for how he gets people to punch someone in the face.

He goes on: “I believe if there are any real bikoists out there, whenever we see that white little bastard called jared sacks we must beat the shit out of him”. He was responding to an article written by social activist and independent journalist Sacks in the M&G on March 15 titled "Biko would not vote for Ramphele".

The post continues: “They now pissing on biko’s face. They can diss mamphele [sic] all they want, but to insult us like this? When I see jared he must beat me up. That’s the deal.”

It almost sounds like an invitation to a jolly bout of fisticuffs, doesn’t it? Almost. But there is no quibbling about such a statement: it is a real threat of violence.

On the face of it this is a terribly parochial matter for us at the M&G, concerning two regular contributors. But it goes deeper than that. What happened on Mngxitama’s page is incredibly disappointing.

Here is a man with a great soapbox at his disposal.

Mngxitama regularly writes for us and other publications and has even appeared on panels at our events. He could easily have called us up and written a response to Sacks's take on Biko and Mamphela Ramphele. Indeed, many of his followers on his page suggested that Sacks's points were interesting and they were genuinely interested in Mngxitama’s intellectual response.

Instead, he defaults to a physically aggressive response that is as frightening as it is intellectually lazy.

Now look, I have read lots of things that have made me see red. And I am not just talking about those SMS types who persist in spelling words like "time" with a "y" instead of an "I" (IT IS NOT SAVING YOU ANY CHARACTERS! What Is the point?)

But what you do not do is transform into an internet troll and go on some rampage like a crazed digital Saturn devouring his children.

Cartoon from Xkcd.com

In one rage-filled moment he destroyed years of work and led his followers into some dangerous territory. Which really, was so unnecessary.

Someone stole your Black Consciousness thunder? Oh the horror.

What is heartening, however, is that a number of rather respectable activists wrote a quietly angry letter to the M&G bringing the matter to our attention.

“Mngxitama comes across as a bully who can only win arguments by policing the boundaries of the discourse on black consciousness through intimidation, rather than through robust argument,” they said.

Indeed, among all his hubris it’s not clear exactly what Mngxitama is taking issue with in his Facebook rant. Is he angry because Sacks is white? Little? A bastard? Or because someone he has not sanctioned has written about legendary black consciousness co-founder Bantu Stephen Biko?

Whatever it is, it is incredibly disappointing. I have met Mngxitama and he was charming and warm in person. He has an important role to play in taking our discourse as a country over race and inequality forwards. Not, as he has done with this rant, backwards into a primitive space where violence is the only answer. I am just glad his words stand out as an exception in how we debate these issues as a country – not the norm.

Verashni is the deputy editor of the M&G Online. Read her weekly column and follow her on Twitter.