SA safe to express political anger on social media

– Duncan Alfreds, News24 –

Cape Town – Social media in South Africa offers a way for the public to increase engagement with politicians, and the legal framework adds protection, a social media expert says.

A YouTube user recently created a parody of Psy’s Gangam Style aimed at South African President Jacob Zuma’s upgrades to his Nkandla homestead.

The parody, titled Nkandla Style, garnered over 200 000 views on YouTube before it was shut down, following a copyright claim by Universal Music Publishing International.

“I think one of the beautiful things about living in SA is that we have the kind of press freedom that allows this type of parody to be made and aired. And no-one is thrown in jail because of it,” social media consultant for Afrosocialmedia Samantha Fleming told News24.

“If you’re number one, you get to drive the gravy train; if you’re number one you get to fly the Gupta’s plane,” says the track in a reference to the relationship between Zuma and the influential Gupta family.

Political discontent

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found that found that Zuma and his family improperly benefited from R246m in security upgrades that included a swimming pool, a cattle kraal and an amphitheatre.

The fact that channels like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are growing in popularity as channels to express discontent with politicians has prompted some countries like Venezuela, Turkey, Iran and China among others to ban content deemed offensive.

Fleming said that following the end of the apartheid regime, South Africans were more determined to act against corruption and disinformation which was widespread.

“There is a definite sense in mainstream media and social media that ‘social media citizens’ (ie those active on social media) have had enough of corruption,” said Fleming.

In the run-up to the national general elections, social media has changed the landscape in that the public can directly engage with politicians.

“In previous election periods, where social media wasn’t as prolific, there was still active debate on mainstream media – radio, newspapers, television. But social media broadens the debate – where any citizen with a phone can have an opinion,” Fleming said.

She added that despite the fact that the Nkandla Style video has been removed from YouTube, it indicates that SA allows vibrant debate on political issues.

“The Nkandla Style video on YouTube is a great example of this – the identity of the creator of the video is kept anonymous. And yet it has gained traction because of what citizens perceive as the truth of the message – and because they are tired of stories of corruption.”

Published on News24