If there’s one thing South African politicians should know about social media, is that it’s a double-edged sword. When used correctly, it can add value to the party’s concerns. Think about the successful Twitterviews held by the ANC, the engaging Twitter Town Halls run by the DA and the highly publicised online Q & A sessions Julius Malema had with members of the public.
However, we’ve recently witnessed how politicians embracing these platforms have felt the consequences from poor politicking online. The ANC’s Visvin Reddy was suspended following some ill-advised remarks aimed at the South African Indian community. The DA’s Dianne Kohler Barnard was expelled after she shared a Facebook post that praised PW Botha. You would think other political parties would have learnt to show a little more care and finesse after these debacles. Not so much.
On February 12 Nel Sewraj, an ACDP councillor from the KwaDukuza municipality, shared a picture emblazoned with the ACDP’s logo on Facebook. The picture displayed a foetus being cradled in a hand with the following caption: “This is what we all look like at 12 weeks in the womb. Yet, legal to kill in all 50 states, including SA! Anyone think its (sic) not a person? Pass this along. It literally might save a life.” The post was shared on a few community Facebook pages and posted on the ACDP’s KwaDukuza Facebook page.
The foetus’s vulnerable, lifeless body makes for a moving picture and an obvious ploy for the anti-abortion petition Sewraj was promoting. There’s just one little problem (excuse the pun) with the picture. That isn’t actually a 12-week foetus as the ACDP implies but a miniature doll made out of solid resin by a pro-life artist called Donna Lee. The picture has been circulating on the internet since 2013 and has already been discredited by fact-checking website, Snopes.
The use of the picture by a representative of the ACDP is problematic for several reasons.
Firstly, the artistic representation isn’t all that accurate. This is what a foetus after 12 weeks of development looks like (warning: sensitive content). Sewraj should have posted an actual photograph like this which is easily available online. But, a shapeless, translucent mass is less emotionally manipulative than a developed, rosy-complexioned baby with fully anthropomorphised features. As a group of researchers within the field of abortion stigma astutely observe: “The destruction of an imagined, fully anthropomorphised being is easier to portray as violent, cruel and unjustified” (Kumar, Hessini & Mitchell, 2009: 631).
The veracity of the picture could easily have been assessed with a simple Google search. There’s also a matter of unoriginality. The caption accompanying the picture was copied verbatim from an online source and merely edited to contextualise it to South Africa.
The ACDP’s showings in the 2014 South African general election were bleak. Support for the party dropped nationally and across every province they contested. Chalk it up to a decline in Christian politics. Blame it on their homophobia or bouts of hypocrisy. Now add this lack of political finesse. Come the local election I will not be voting for the ACDP. I can’t trust a party that has nothing new and original to say. And I can’t imagine anyone else who would.
Kumar, A., Hessini, L. and Mitchell, E. (2009). Conceptualising abortion stigma. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 11(6), pp.625-639.