By Kameel Premhid and Thorne Godinho
“I’m robespierre (sic) I understand my fate … ” Andile Mngxitama, the controversial writer behind the New Frank Talk journal, recently tweeted this. This reference to the executed French revolutionary Maximilien de Robespierre followed the public outrage expressed by individuals when Mngxitama called on ”true Bikoists” to physically assault Jared Sacks, a journalist, for his forthright article on Mamphela Ramphele.
Sacks’ provocative title was “Biko would not vote for Ramphele”. Considering Ramphele and Biko were involved in the Black Consciousness Movement and were also romantically involved, Sacks’ title was a stroke of journalistic brilliance. The right amount of sensation pin pricked readers’ attention. Its simplicity posits a simple but fundamental question: Would the father of South Africa’s BC Movement vote for his own child’s mother? That question is best answered another time. Suffice it to say, Sacks thought the answer was a resounding no.
Regrettably it is only now when Mngxitama has violated the Constitution and incited violence against an individual for, ironically, writing what he liked, that the South African media has really paid attention to this deeply divisive man. Previously branded by the same media that now denounces him as a public intellectual and “human-rights activist”, Mngxitama has now finally found himself where he deserves to be: out in the cold. That it took the country’s self-appointed moral compasses Zackie Achmat, Jane Duncan and others to only take note of his haranguing diatribes is in itself a travesty. But the fact that they have finally used their voices to speak out against Mngxitama does deserve some praise. So we begrudgingly give it to them.
It is not that we do not support Sacks’ journalistic freedoms. It is not that we do not think they are right for criticising him as they have done. Rather we would have preferred the situation had they intervened earlier and not allowed Mngxitama to allow his invective to escalate to such worrying proportions. Mngxitama has a long and troublesome history of advocating a-part-hate. His racial tirades are well-known and are equally problematic for how hateful and intellectually inferior they are.
One could argue that the race question has so plagued Mngxitama that he has become paranoid over it. It is this paranoia that has led Mngxitama to talk of a “liberal assault” on his character. It seems from what he has tweeted he thinks this sudden media scrutiny and the fact that an article of his was withdrawn from the Harvard International Review* form part of a grand white liberal conspiracy to undermine him. No, it was not his tirades, his ignorance of human rights and his under-appreciation of the value of his fellow being that has brought this upon him. It was a great white liberal conspiracy. Imagine that the architect of this revolutionary black a-part-hate would have so much in common with the other apartheid architects: blame it all on the conspirators!
What must be the gravest sin is that Mngxitama, a self-appointed guardian of Black Consciousness, a mantel that was actively given to him by some for whatever purpose, savaged and undermined someone who is right up his ideological street. Okay, maybe not as extreme or on the fringe as Mngxitama but certainly within the BCM. Yes, that’s Sacks by the way!
The paranoid tweeting doesn’t end and Mngxitama continues to speak about being lynched and portrayed as a “cannibal” by the Mail & Guardian. But maybe Mngxitama’s paranoia hasn’t been unwarranted considering the current fallout. All this time journalists and editors have ignored the consequences of his hateful vitriol, publishing controversial opinion pieces that angered their readership and sold papers. Mngxitama has continued to be a go-to-guy when the papers need someone to say we need Zimbabwean-style land grabs. The critical evaluation of land reform, for example, was ignored for a shocking headline here and there.
Complicit in Mngxitama’s rise as a legitimate intellectual voice, the media has now been unabashed in their portrayal of his racist and violent rants. Unfortunately Mngxitama’s support for an anti-constitutionalist, leviathan vision of South Africa has never posed a threat to his continued status as a public intellectual. He has close links with Blackwash and the September National Imbizo (SNI), organisations that distributed leaflets during the height of xenophobic violence calling for black South Africans to instead turn on “the white settler elite” — the real enemies. The media did cover this story but Mngxitama was allowed to continue writing for several publications and grow his personality as a “Bikoist”.
Much like Malema, Mngxitama is the sizzle and the sass that papers need to make them seem as if they are balanced and well-rounded. Actually it is a shrewd business tactic that sells papers rather than actually contributing anything meaningful to the debate. It’s easier to find the village idiot screaming hate than it is the unassuming intellectual who has really thought about what he articulates. Mngxitama no doubt benefits from this persona the media has been complicit in creating for him. Nothing we have ever read by Mngxitama in our opinion would ever warrant him being published in as distinguished a journal as the Harvard International Review. But the media hype around pseudo-intellectuals allows them to spawn entire careers from their mediocre intellectual prowess. They are everywhere! Quantity of tweets and numbers of followers are a substitute for quality of tweets and substance of intervention. Mngxitama is no better. Sadly for him, much like Malema, the thing that allowed him to rise to prominence is now the thing that has also finished him: his big and uncontrolled mouth.
We are happy that Mngxitama has been exposed for what he is. He is an intellectual charlatan using a complicit media to drive his agenda of hate. He must be banished from public discourse and the publications that allowed him to start his rise must be sure that he never comes back.
Kameel Premhid holds a BA and LLB from UKZN and was recently awarded the KZN Rhodes Scholarship. He is based at the Helen Suzman Foundation before heading to Oxford later this year. Follow Kameel on twitter: @kameelpremhid
Thorne Godinho is an editor of the Pretoria Student Law Review. He is a freelance writer, student activist and the founder of the ChirpRoom — a liberal youth politics blog. Follow Thorne on Twitter at: @ThorneGo
*The authors requested Thought Leader to clarify a portion of their article. In our piece we stated: “Nothing we have ever read by Mngxitama in our opinion would ever warrant him being published in as distinguished a journal as the Harvard International Review.” We have since been informed that the article in question was not written by Mngxitama but published by him. The authors regret this error. It was as a result of the ambiguity of tweets that Mngxitama made in reference to the article. Mngxitama did not have an article written by him pulled from the Harvard International Review. We do think that the fact anything he has written has never received this accolade proves our point.