Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Must we create another monster?

So, the years of stirring are finally paying off. After spending aeons pissing off the members of the Mail & Guardian Forum, Sentletse Diakanyo has spread his wings and succeeded in knotting the knickers of half the known world.

How else to explain how one blog entry can elicit responses, not only from other Thought Leader contributors, but the always brilliantly funny and erudite Chris Roper and the Daily Maverick. Sipho Hlongwane, the author of the Maverick piece, was interviewed on 702 yesterday, so Sentletse’s influence is reaching even further into the heartland of the chattering classes.

I’ve never met Sentletse in person, but I knew his alter ego for years. MoAferika, as he was known, was a regular contributor on the Mail & Guardian Forum, and a persistent one, re-registering after multiple bannings for outrageous racist comments. Mo claimed that he drove a brown Peugeot 405 and lived in Diepsloot, where he was something of a Casanova. Offline, I befriended Mo, discovered his real identity, and exchanged cellphone numbers. At one point when we were exchanging SMSs (we kept missing each other) he was trying to sell his house at the Hartbeespoort Dam. Very north of the Shooter Curtain it has to be said.

Mo was a shit stirrer of note, and I always assumed that the opinions he expressed were tongue in cheek. He really was very funny back then. Now, it turns out, he actually does think that way. I’m disappointed, because he seemed to be a nice guy. I’m all for the expression of a range of opinions, but in the end it got too much, so I unfriended him on Facebook and blocked him on Twitter.

The marketing opportunity for Sentletse is clear. If he is clever, he will leverage the frenzied response to his kak arguments and position himself as a serious commentator whose opinion on the issues of the day should be sought as a matter of course. If he’s angling to become the new Christine Qunta, here’s his chance. Perhaps our ecosystem of public discourse requires a new figure to spout spurious pseudo-intellectual verbiage of the Afro-fascist kind. The right has Dan Roodt and Steve Hofmeyr, so we clearly need some balance. Julius Malema, he’s too easy to dismiss: 20% for woodwork and all that. Sentletse, on the other hand, has a whole range of apparently credible sources at his busy fingertips. I fully expect The New Age to recruit him as a columnist.

But I worry about all of the attention Sentletse’s getting, because the more coverage the media gives him, the more power he will accumulate — power he would otherwise not have. Look at Julius Malema: he might have a support base, but his opinions (and therefore his power) were amplified by the media to a degree that was out of kilter with the significance of JuJu’s actual newsworthiness.

Yes, it’s important to acknowledge a range of views, and it’s important that they be aired so that they can be challenged. But let’s be honest here: is Sentletse actually worthy of being quoted in the serious media, the Mail & Guardians and 702s of this world? He’s not an academic or a politician, and there’s no clear platform from which he speaks. What exactly is the source of his authority? I don’t see it. He’s just a blogger and (let’s face it) blogging is not the same as appearing on the opinion page of the Sunday papers.

All this media coverage is serving less to promote debate and more to create a potential monster. Knowing Mo, he is chuckling throatily right now, enjoying every minute of it.

Will we ever learn?