It was the year of tweeting dangerously


Gareth van Onselen looks at 2015’s top deleted tweets, ferocious back-pedalling and those who tweeted themselves into a corner

WELCOME to 2015 Tweet of the Week Awards.

Here follow some of the more noticeable Twitter contributions over the year. The list is neither definitive nor comprehensive; it’s more of impressions, mostly from a political perspective.

With one or two unavoidable exceptions I have tried not to repeat any awards handed out last year. The theme for this year’s awards is “The deleted tweet”, and the emphasis on those who tweeted themselves into a corner or had to back-pedal ferociously, after putting out something controversial by mistake or design.

The Jacob Zuma award for homophobia

Winner: Coudjoe Amankwaa

Account: @coudjoeamankwaa

Citation: The “Specialist African Sports Producer” and “SABC Soccer Analyst” tweeted earlier this year:

“The mere fact that you cannot respond rationally on the issues of gayism shows that it,s (sic) a problem and abnormality.”?

Amankwaa apologised “for the harm caused by what was written on my Twitter account”, but here was much else besides, including that “some gays are weird” (true, some sport journalists, too) and a belief that gay men are “on a mission to convert straight men into their gay community!”

Luckily human rights don’t feature that much in soccer matches or his commentary would be as big a mess as his Twitter timeline.

The Donald Trump award for Muslim stereotyping

Winner: Marius Redelinghuys

Account: @MariusMR

Citation: While national spokesperson (he has since been replaced) Redelinghuys tweeted and put on his Facebook and Instagram accounts a picture of a woman on a bus wearing a head scarf and with a plastic shopping bag with the word “Boom” on it.

“I’m sure she’s questioning all her life choices right now,” he wrote.

The DA fired Dianne Kohler Barnard for her shared Facebook post waxing lyrical about apartheid president PW Botha; Redelinghuys, however, seems to have escaped any meaningful consequences for his tweet. At any rate, you can be pretty sure Donald Trump would have endorsed the sentiment.

The Ellen DeGeneres trending award

Winner: #feesmustfall

Citation: Widely acknowledged as the defining social media movement of the year, the hashtag took on a life of its own as thousands of students across the country rose up to protest against the proposed increase in university fees, before moving against the fees. Ironically, fees themselves have not fallen but all increases were done away with. The financial consequences for universities, which are already underfunded, are severe, but the hashtag captured a national mood and its power was immense. It beat #rhodesmustfall into second place and perhaps that was its greatest achievement. #feesmustfall was at least driven by real-world problems, as opposed to the demagoguery that defined its competition.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff award for trolling

Winner: Fikile Mbalula

Account: @MbalulaFikile

Citation: Another year of unrestrained egotism, relentless pettiness and general, largely incomprehensible, nonsense from the Minister of Sport and Recreation; all of which makes him the first two-time winner. So, well done. Ably supported by his spokesperson, Esethu Hasane, himself no stranger to social media gobbledegook, the pair spent most of year promoting the minister himself and bickering with detractors. At one point, the minister seemed to adopt some kind of gangsta rap persona, seen sporting gold chains and endlessly hanging around Hollywood celebrities. On current form, next year he will be competing for the “most selfies” and “most out of proportion self-image” awards. Mbalula continues to set the standard for online inanity.

The People Magazine empty threat award

Winner: John Steenhuisen

Account: @jsteenhuisen

Citation: We were promised so much dirt would be spilt by the Democratic Alliance chief whip, alas. Embroiled in an online spat with Kay Sexwale, Steenhuisen tweeted:

“I have an anonymous email in my inbox that details all your naughty liaisons, I will post it tomorrow”.

He never did. Not that one should encourage this kind of mud-slinging in our politicians, they are generally fairly covered in the stuff, but this isn’t anything new for Steenhuisen. Last year, during an online spat with John Jefferies he vowed to reveal all in Parliament: “Tomorrow is going to be like a coming out, all will be revealed.”

The next day it continued — “Standby today, you are going to be a star,” along with various other promises of scandal and intrigue. Again, nothing came of it. It’s just what our politics needs, more gossip and less substance. Not.

The Marie Antoinette detachment award

Winner: The ANC

Account: @MyANC_

Citation: To its credit, the ANC has done much to clean up its online reputation. Going into the year, there was no end to the number of ANC-affiliated accounts that spewed forth an endless stream of vitriol and hate. Many have been shut down. But the ANC’s main account remains formulaic and detached from the public mood, tweeting sections from statements and speeches without any real engagement. It got a massive amount of flak for tweeting, as students besieged Parliament:

“The ANC commends @parliamentofRSA for their speedy action in dealing with such hooliganism.”

The tweet seemed to perfectly capture the party’s authoritarian attitude to dissent inside and outside the House and the tendency to resort to force first, rather than argument.

Foreign Correspondent of Year Award

Winner: David Smith

Account: @SmithinAmerica

Citation: Smith, unfortunately, is no longer the Guardian’s SA correspondent and has been “redeployed” as the ANC would have it, to Washington. He did hold the position for most of the year, however, during which time he went under the handle @SmithinAfrica — and was simply excellent.

He tweeted live from many events, often when no one else seemed to and his reports, although sometimes not well received by the government, always made for good summaries of complex issues. His reporting and tweeting will be sorely missed, but for those interested in what is happening in Washington be sure to give him a follow.

The MP of the Year award

Winner: Not awarded

Citation: Enough said.

The Secret Service “gone rogue” award

Winner: Clayson Monyela

Account: @ClaysonMonyela

Citation: Monyela is SA’s head of public diplomacy. He won this exact award last year, making our second two-time winner and he continues to delete tweets at an astounding rate. Last year was spent belittling Nigeria, this year it was the turn of human rights. “No country conducts its foreign policy on the basis of Human Rights, btw. National interest is central … look around. #justsaying”.

Well, here is something else to just say: if human rights were a country’s main national interest, his point would be redundant. And that, really, gives the game away. From Omar al-Bashir of Sudan through to Zimbabwe, would seem to capture the nature of our attitude to foreign relations: friends first, principles second.

The Ben Carson award for scientific illiteracy

Winner: Zwelinzima Vavi

Account: @Zwelinzima1

Citation: The discovery of Homo Naledi revealed much about South African society and the deeply held religious convictions that run through it. Vavi made some of them overt when he tweeted:

“Science is materialism — it’s facts that can be proven. No one will dig old monkey bones to back up a theory that I was once a baboon — sorry”.

No need to be sorry old chap, luckily science operates independently of your private convictions, whatever they might be. You will, however, be glad to know that baboons have nothing to do with it. It’s all set out in a few good books, one by Charles Darwin in particular might be worth reading. Vavi’s sentiments were endorsed and repeated by others, including Mathole Motshekga suggesting SA has some way to go until science is better understood.

The Homer Simpson award for online strategy

Winners: #IamStellenbosch, Bic’s “Think like a man” advert, Marie Claire’s “In her shoes” campaign, and the Department of Women’s “Ziright Zigels” campaign.

Citation: What a year for poorly thought through, badly conceived and terribly executed online campaigns. Four winners are a reflection of that. No doubt the intention in each case was good, but each campaign quickly backfired to become a source of ridicule and mockery.

Bic’s campaign was probably the most egregious, simply because it is next to impossible to determine exactly what those good intentions were. How do men think, exactly?

The Department of Women, however, deserves special mention. It stuck its foot in its mouth on more than one occasion this year. At one point its Twitter handle asked: “What should be done with women who press charges and then later withdraw them?” Perhaps find out why they withdrew them? #justsaying

The Mmusi Maimane award for being Mmusi Maimane

Winner: Mmusi Maimane

Account: @MmusiMaimane

Citation: Following his election as the new Democratic Alliance leader, Mmusi Maimane set the Twitterverse on fire, trending worldwide as #AskMmusi become a global phenomenon. It didn’t all go according to plan. Twitter doesn’t take these things too seriously and very quickly it devolved into satire and ridicule as Maimane was asked any and everything. It was good for his name recognition though, and, as they say in politics, all news is good news. But really, that is all Maimane has had to offer this year. He tweets regularly enough, statements and politically correct cliches, all carefully constructed and well thought out. It’s very robotic. The great irony is that all the capital bought for him by the #AskMmusi event as an approachable person was soon replaced by an endless stream of political platitudes, calculating rather than engaging.

Political Reporter of the Year

Winner: Carol Paton

Account: @politicsblahbla

Citation: Carol Paton doesn’t tweet much but through her account you can gain access to a wealth of political reporting for the Business Day, on unions and parastatals, the economy and internal African National Congress politics that is, quite simply, superb. She has led the way this year with her reporting on both the nuclear deal and the developments at South African Airways, and she continues to break key stories, central to understanding SA’s fragile political economy. She is an invaluable part of the South African political landscape and sets a standard many would aspire to match.

Awards without citation

Missing the good old days tweet of the year

Winner: Lindiwe Mazibuko

Account: @LindiMazibuko

Tweet: With the election of Mmusi Maimane as DA leader, Mazibuko tweeted a picture of Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled queen from TV series Game of Thrones. Targaryen came back with much fire and brimstone in accompaniment as the Queen of Dragons; is this what Mazibuko was suggesting?

Zimbo-phobic deleted tweet of the year

Winner: Bo Mbindwane

Account: @mbindwane

Tweet: “Another Zimbo at the helm of JSE- isted company is at Lonim. MTN one has been dealt with.”

Authentically shocked deleted tweet of the year

Winners: The SABC and News24

Account: @SABCNewsOnline and @News24

Tweets: @News24: “JESUS CHRIST HOLY F**K RT @News24: Watch: Dramatic footage of plane crash in Taiwan”; @SABCNewsOnline: “R4 billion VIP jet for Zuma <<WHAT. THE. F**K!!!”

Racial Twar avoided deleted tweet of the year

Winner: Helen Zille

Account: @HelenZille

Tweet: “Why is it fine to mock white pronunciation of black names, but racist to mock black pronunciation of white names #justasking”

Award for most shade thrown, regretted and deleted

Winner: Fikile Mbalula

Account: @MbalulaFikile

Tweet: Mbalula Tweeted a picture of Caitlyn Jenner, with the tag “Nice glasses @helenzille”

With that I am going on leave. See you all in January next year.