How comforting to say I told you so

Sbu Shongwe

Reading online news seems incomplete without directing the cursory mouse to the comments sections. And when one does, they soon realize they are reading other South African stories, in the plural, except of course, the other stories are told in a strongly-worded first person voice. The comments make an interesting read however, the voices are so close and so real and that scares me as a South African.

There is less I can do to change that hence I wrote this article to voice my discomfort.

I have, of late, found the comments sections very interesting than the stories that generate them. But more interestingly, that there are people who use the comments sections to become hostile to each other and feels like I am reading a movie script that struggles with continuation. It’s the kind of plot which never seems to find a hook.

Perhaps that is the story in itself. The manner in which commentators fiercely tap on their keyboards (or touch screens) to claw at each other, despite their distance, should be a matter of concern for any South African.

I am not going to start about Nkandla or Mangaung, or Marikana, neither will touch on e-tolling nor De Doorns and what of “Mother Monster” coming to South Africa and sending the church unions “Gaga-vanting” to the Union Building; not even on “passive” Motlhante. Yet, these are the kind of news that gets commentators in a war-zone frenzy ready for a words of war, leaving others hurt yet with no one taking accountability.

Here, the concept of “two sides in a story” gets stretched, too stretched if you may.

I recently witnessed this kind of words of war generated by a story on News24 about “a 7 year old boy who was left heartbroken after discovering that his dog (named Asjas, aka AJ), disappeared following a burglary at his family’s home in Roodepoort”. The story could have been about any boy in South Africa today but the article aroused mixed feelings: as expected, sympathizers poured their sympathy at the boy, keeping him strong by telling him to “hold, AJ will soon return home”. But it was the comment of motlalepula.sompane that had me pausing for a moment to consider the extent to which comments make news themselves other than the news they are commenting on.

The comment reads: “meanwhile in South Africa, cries over missing dogs”.

South Africa might be gearing for a war which can be easily avoided. It is nothing new that when injustice or cruelty is done to animals, and once they hit the media, the public will voice their opinions on the subject. Motlalepula.sompane’s comments were probably fair and honest from his/her point of view. It might be that she or he cannot understand the relationships between dogs and people in first place and as a result, she felt the story did not warrant any coverage. Given the South African reality, others would vouch for the killing of rhinos to be government’s top priority; others will always feel rape, crime, education and unemployment, amongst other issues, are just as crucial and seek the urgency of the government.

So what?

South African stories are either this or that, according to the majority of online-commentators – black or white, anti-this or pro-that – even better, this reveals to us foreseers who feel their predictions should be voiced before the prophesied events unfold. To them, it’s always comforting to say, I told you so.

There are already those who feel their predictions have proved right – these are the Marikana foreseers, the De Doorns foreseers, the Nkandla foreseers and the Gaga prophets (if refusing to do media interviews can be viewed as tragedy). I am a Christian myself and for the record, I believe in the God who is stronger than any existing evil.

Some of these commentators believe that the rise in food prices is the result of the Marikana strike, that the e-tolling saga has already taken an irreversible turn in court, and that the system under the ANC-led government has failed many people and, as a result, whites and their old money will continue to live better.

All these could be facts but maybe not at all true. These prophecies are normally followed by the uncensored racial attacks, thrown back and forth between commentators. They even go as far as proving how they are more intellectual than the other, calling each other names.

All is not well here.

As if the war of words cannot end on one story, it always continues to the next. The comments will seem at first innocent but when a differing comment is posted, that’s when the war erupts. It’s as if they are venting their previous anger from the last story. The focus of the story at hand is neglected and their opinions become the centre of the comments. It gets interesting but nevertheless scares me.

Here is Masibe.simon.sithole’s reply to comments made by the “anti-Zuma” commentators on a News24 story recently: “Biko celebrations must go beyond politics – Zuma”. He commented: “commentators in this article should stop playing the man and play the ball. The story is about Biko not JZ. You idiots have no political campus”. Sithole then continued to throw insults and calling other commentators names. When other commentators responded to him, they did it with more contempt and so the war of words continued, sendind shivers down my spine.

I find these kinds of comments threatening to our nation and sadly so because they happen as we are watching while we do nothing about it.

The comments policy seems to be like those terms and conditions fine-prints one finds at the back of contractual documents. Not many ever bother to read it until the day we are forced to familiarize ourselves with them. Most of the time, it is too late.

Our own doings.

As with nation, it is what we do today as a nation that shapes our future. Online media brings us closer more than before but our take on it has an unhealthy approach. Given the diversity of our backgrounds, we should be mindful and caring about each other’s opinions. We must take care not to hurt others in our national conversations.

We must bare in mind that we are writing history which will shape the discourse for future commentators and as it is, we are not doing well at all.

And that brings us to the basics of communication and its use on available channels. If we want to build a society that has respect for one another, we must begin at grass-roots level, by using social media responsibly. The online comments sections should be used as a tool available to making South Africa a non-racial, non-criminal, non-hate-based country as many of us envision it to be.

Online commentators must learn to post responsible, caring and nation building comments. Else, we will soon find online media daunting and eventually render it useless. Unfortunately for us, that would be missing out on opportunities to build our nation one word a day.

Sbu Shongwe

Any word equals life!
Follow me on twitter: @shosbu

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