Freedom of speech is a fundamental, inalienable, right enshrined in our Constitution. Many of us who have fought in the liberation struggle against apartheid made huge sacrifices to secure it in our democracy, together with all the other human rights that too many of us take for granted.
Some of us, like myself, spent years in political prisons, others like Solomon Mahlangu, Steve Biko, Ahmed Timol and Neil Aggett either died in detention or were executed by the apartheid regime. This freedom of ours was never cheap, it was paid for with the lost and broken lives of many of our people.
In the past few weeks, we have seen a vicious and deliberate attack on our freedom of speech by organisations that are funded by foreign money, and local white monopoly capital business people - the collective of whom are referred to as the Stellenbosch Mafia - under the leadership of their Don, Johann Rupert.
Taking the lead in this is the AmaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, using the misnomer of "investigative" to cover up their intolerant, and fundamentally undemocratic, intentions under the cloak of respectability. Ironically they claim that they dig dung and "fertilize" democracy, but in reality they are gnawing away at the roots of our democracy and produce stinking dung. I would have liked to use a different synonym which would have been more appropriate but is not acceptable for publication.
AmaBhungane has set their targets on social media, very specifically and exclusively on those WhatsApp groups that agitate for fundamental Radical Economic Transformation (RET) in South Africa. Like the apartheid security police of old, with whom they have much in common, they infiltrate spies/"moles" into these groups to see who are members and scrutinize every word that they post. They have a preconceived narrative that participants in pro-Radical Economic Transformation groups are manipulating social media, and literally "frame" us as doing so.
Their modus operandi is no different from the old apartheid security police, in that they relentlessly investigate members of these WhatsApp groups as well as those who post on Twitter and Facebook in favour of RET. They go to great lengths to reveal the identities of those social media participants, who prefer to remain anonymous and post under pseudo names/nom de plumes. Thus they deliberately project a practice, which is perfectly acceptable on social media platforms, into something "sinister".
In the first chapter of a series of articles that AmaBhungane is dedicating to "exposing" (their emotive language) those who express pro-RET views on social media, three of their journalists Susan Comrie, Micah Reddy and the notorious Sam Sole went to great lengths to reveal who was behind the "Superblack" Twitter account.
Their gripe is that in tweets by "Superblack" they were exposed as working on a Stratcom style propaganda story to tarnish the reputation of Numsa General Secretary Irvin Jim, because of his opposition to IPPs and the privatization of Eskom. "Superblack" fingered Reddy as being the AmaBhungane journalist-agent behind this story. Interestingly enough the same Reddy is now also one of the co-authors of their social media "exposé".
The language that the AmaBhungane spies use is straight from a training manual of the apartheid security police. They "tracked down" Shampene Mpaloane and "confronted" him about the #HandsOffNumsaCampaign as if he had been involved in some anti-social, or even worse, criminal activity. This is not coincidental. It is done deliberately in order to manipulate readers into believing that Mpaloane had done something terribly wrong, and ultimately to intimidate him. These are the tactics of cyberbullies.
In the case of "Superblack", they seem to have succeeded because after they bombarded and intimidated Mpaloane with "detailed questions"(their security police language again), the account was deactivated. This deactivation they now proceeded to turn into some admission of guilt, while it was actually as a consequence of their bullying and intimidation.
The past few days myself and other members of a small WhatsApp group called "Twitter Storm" were targeted with similar "detailed questions" by Susan Comrie about what we have posted there. The temerity of Ms Comrie, who calls herself an "AmaB Investigator", to think that she can subject us to security police-style interrogation is actually astounding.
I responded to her, not because I was under any obligation to do so but because I thought it necessary to confront her arrogance head on and to make it clear that I express my views openly, without fear, and will never be intimidated. I also wanted her to understand that I see right through AmaBhungane. The answers that I gave her, I have posted on social media and they can be read on my Twitter account.
Having read the "first chapter" of Ms Comrie et al’s Stratcom social media story, I have a few questions for AmaBhungane: Why are they solely concentrating on WhatsApp groups and other social media posts that are in favour of Radical Economic Transformation? They are certainly aware that there are numerous racist and white supremacist WhatsApp groups, where the most hideous racism and hate speech is openly flaunted. Are these not worthy of their so-called "investigations" and condemnation?
Instead, they concentrate on WhatsApp groups by and social media posts of black South Africans who are pro the economic empowerment of their own people - the majority of whom are poor and exploited by White Monopoly Capitalists. Surely this is blatantly racist?
Are they conducting their spying and "investigations", intimidation and downright cyberbullying on behalf of their bosses (as well as international and local funders) who are fearful that the successful promotion and implementation of Radical Economic Transformation will finally bring an end to their control of the South African economy?
These charlatans can try to deny all of this until they are blue in the face, but actually we do not really need their answers because the facts are crystal clear for all of us to see.
Ultimately the appalling conduct of AmaBhungane is born out of frustration and weakness. For ages monopoly capitalists (who in our instance are overwhelmingly white) have through their ownership of the traditional mainstream media (newspapers, television and radio) manipulated and controlled social narratives, and literally determined what information reaches people and how such should be interpreted.
Social media has finally, once and for all, destroyed that mechanism of control. Now all of us can speak out and mobilise. They hate it! Thus, social media and especially the committed voices of the poor and oppressed on social media must at all cost be discredited. However, the reality is that desperately as they may try, the proverbial genie is out of the bottle. They have lost control, and will never regain it. In this knowledge, we must simply forge ahead.
Victory is certain!
Liberation in South Africa was never meant just to be the achievement of the democratic vote for every South African, it was always meant to be the full economic liberation of the majority of black (especially African) South Africans. This will never be achieved for as long as White Monopoly Capital (WMC) is in control of our economy.
Those of us who are promoting Radical Economic Transformation (RET) as the official economic policy programme of the African National Congress (ANC) are simply proceeding with the liberation struggle that we have always been part of and which is not yet concluded because we have not yet achieved our full economic liberation.
We will proceed openly and without fear. I call on my fellow comrades who support Radical Economic Transformation (RET) never to cower, or to let themselves be intimidated by agents of WMC and the reactionary throwbacks of the apartheid regime, of which the racist AmaBunghane is a prime proponent.
Let us embrace our hard-fought-for democratic right to freedom of speech and claim without hesitation all that is due to us.
* Carl Niehaus is a veteran of the ANC and currently a member of the NEC of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), and National Spokesperson of MKMVA. He writes in his personal capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.