Local blogger makes political waves in cyberspace

2010-04-03 00:00

AT 21, midlands freethinker Sipho Hlongwane has taken a giant leap that many of his peers wouldn’t dare attempt. He is probably the youngest blogger on the Mail & Guardian’s Thought Leader, and he has launched what The Daily Maverick blog describes as “the country’s largest-ever online protest”, mobilising overwhelming support on his SpeakZA blog in a quest to get the ANC Youth League’s assurance that it respects press freedom.

Hlongwane is a part-time law student with Unisa and has written extensively on almost every issue making headlines in the media.

His latest online campaign has been a magnet for more than 80 similar blogs and has drawn thousands of tweets in protest against the ANCYL’s alleged disregard for journalists and press freedom.

“I was overwhelmed,” Hlongwane said. “There was a point when I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope with the sheer number of people who were joining SpeakZA.

“There was also a lot of support from the media, which was very helpful. The response from people at large was also largely positive. Those who disagreed with my sentiments debated the issue, something that I welcomed. The irony of course is that SpeakZA was fighting for their right to disagree.”

In reaction to the campaign, the youth league’s spokesman, Floyd Shivambu, told the Mail & Guardian: “We have 800 000 members behind us and millions of other ANC activists; we will not be intimidated by ‘desktop activists.”

Although Hlongwane is studying law, he has strong views about the media and why their freedom should be safeguarded.

“The press plays a pivotal role in a democratic society. Besides its role as an independent source of information for the electorate, a free press often serves to shine a spotlight on abuses of power by the government.

“They [the media] hold us, as individuals and government, accountable. No one can abridge that responsibility through threats or intimidation, not the ruling party or any of its members, and especially not the government.”

Hlongwane, who was born in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, said his political consciousness was sparked in church. He told Weekend Witness,“I heard the pastor talk about Mandela, Mbeki and others, and I began to read newspapers to find out who all these people were. This was in early junior school, so a lot of it was extremely confusing. By the time I was in the 11th grade, I had already begun to develop political ideas.”

Hlongwane is an avid reader who “would read absolutely anything I could get my hands on.These days, I focus more on columns and shorter pieces, even though I still do crack the occasional book open.”

Of Julius Malema, Hlongwane said: “My perception is that he isn’t entirely the dimwitted loudmouth that the media would have us believe. The man was smart enough to get himself elected as ANC Youth League president. He’s also managed to become the most talked-about man in South Africa.”

As for South Africa, Hlongwane said he is sure the country has a bright future and “I count it as a privilege to call myself a South African.” But,” he adds, “we must never let the ANC become like Zanu-PF.”

Hlongwane’s blog can be accessed at thoughtleader.co.za/siphohlongwane


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