Trolling for land

2013-06-02 10:00

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Phumlani Mfeka’s anti-Indian invective appropriates history to create a twisted vision of African ideals, writes Nechama Brodie

“The more I debated with them the more familiar I became with their argumentative tactics.”

“I have been researching [them] for the past 4 years, so I’m super knowledgeable about them & their tactics.”

The first quote above is from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, published in 1925.

The second is from last month, and was written by a man who goes by the name Phumlani Mfeka.

Hitler was writing about the Jews, Mfeka about Indians. But the idiom is uncannily similar.

Between May 12 and May 14, Mfeka posted hundreds of inflammatory statements on his Twitter account, including about 92 direct interactions with me.

Most had a strong anti-Indian sentiment, fuelled, possibly, by media reports following the Gupta wedding scandal.

Mfeka was clear. He wanted all African land to be returned to exclusively African ownership, and Indian land ownership in KwaZulu-Natal seemed particularly problematic.

In addition, claiming to represent an organisation called the Mayibuye African Forum, he demanded that Indians in South Africa lose their BEE status with immediate effect.

He called Indians “co-colonists” and told Indians living in South African on Twitter to “go back to India”. When a handful of (mostly white) tweeters took offence, he told them, too, to go back to Europe.

If you had to ask what was “an African”, Mfeka responded that you were not one. Being born in Africa and self-identifying as an African was irrelevant if you were not black.

Even then, there was room for exclusion: a person with mixed-race ancestry, tracing his roots back to the early Khoisan people, was initially admitted to Mfeka’s Azania, then rejected on the basis of identifying too clearly with “Europeans”.

Mfeka saw no issue with black migration within the African continent.

Although the bantu (black) migration only reached the southern tip of Africa in the 18th century, and the “first people” there – the Khoisan – had already largely been wiped out by the effects of white migration, or colonisation, he says: “My ancestors, whom I descend from, are in central Africa and rightfully own the land there.”

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s right-hand man and devout follower, wrote the following in 1936 about his leader: “He has the amazing gift of sensing what is in the air.

“He has the ability to express things so clearly, logically and directly that listeners are convinced that that is what they have always thought themselves.”

Mfeka employed his rhetoric with equal effectiveness.

When challenged with the pre-1948 and apartheid-era anti-Indian legislation that not only segregated races but also denied them economic opportunity (the very thing BEE legislation was introduced to redress), Mfeka would say we did not know history, that the histories we knew were propaganda.

That only he, the student of Indians and arbiter of Africanness, knew the truth.

“Research the Land and Colonisation Company and how it gave Indians land,” he told me, “proving” that Indians had benefited during British rule.

The Natal Land and Colonisation Company was formed in the late 1800s, and sold land to blacks initially and later to Indian farmers in the then colony. That it was divisive and unjust, was clear.

But that it was only employed by Indians is untrue.

Mfeka’s strategy was clever: a grain of truth, obscuring the bigger picture.

Similarly, he rejected the critical role played by the South African Indian Congress in the struggle against apartheid, saying that such efforts were merely self-serving.

He and his followers cited historical and anecdotal examples of Indian racism against black people.

Many must have – at least tacitly – agreed. In the 48 hours I engaged with Mfeka, I did not see a single black person on my feed enter the fray to challenge his views.

I found this unusual and telling.

With all the focus on ancestry and heritage, it also made me wonder where Mfeka had come from. I searched for information about him online and found things that surprised me. A newspaper story claimed he was a nephew of President Jacob Zuma.

When I asked him directly, he said this was correct, and that his father was Zuma’s younger brother.

Indeed, for a while it appears he went by the name Phumlani Zuma.

On his Who’s Who SA profile – which makes no reference to any presidential link but mentions an uncle who was in Umkhonto weSizwe and gives Mfeka the nickname of “The Ultimate”, which, the site says, was bestowed by none other than former president Thabo Mbeki.

Mfeka is the chairperson of Tweak Holding International; president of Tweak Leisure International Hotel and Resorts; vice-president of Mfekason Corporation; executive director of Lyzon Life International, Jeremy McAdams Associates, Belicoff Defence Systems, Phude Investments and Projects, and

Nu-Care Group; and a trustee of the Phumlani Mfeka Family Trust.

None of these, with the exception of Phude Investments, shows up on the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission’s website.

Mfeka’s Twitter bio also claims he’s the chairperson of the Young Business Society of Africa.

Although, this too requires moderation: his organisation is the Young Business Society of South Africa. The latter was launched in 1998 and is supported by leading firms like PWC, and has no association with the supposed chairperson, Mfeka.

In a 2009 interview, Mfeka (going by the surname Zuma) told a newspaper his business society was in negotiations with the Trump Foundation for funding, and that his enterprise was backed by businesspeople such as Sandile Zungu, Vivian Reddy and Dr Anna Mokgokong.

He later denied on Twitter any involvement with Reddy.

Whatever, or whoever, Mfeka really is, there is no doubt he is a savvy player who has become adept at spinning stories as they suit him.

Perhaps, in that, he has learnt from his perceptions of those he has devoted so much time to studying. “I hate what Indians have done in this country,” he wrote, “& how they have always battered [sic] for the winning side.”

» Brodie is a journalist and author of The Joburg Book and Inside Joburg

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