Hlengiwe Mnguni

Express yourself

2010-11-11 13:10

Of all the rights that South Africans have exercised the most since we were declared a democracy, freedom of speech seems to be the one we like to abuse the most. And it goes without saying that the most atrocious abuse of freedom of speech happens on the internet.

Anonymous with a racial slant.

There are many legitimate reasons why a person would want to remain anonymous. They fear unknown information they are divulging might endanger their job, relationships or life. Perhaps they don’t want to have their name in the public domain because they are private people. But for many, internet anonymity has become a cloak from under which they are comfortable dispatching their most base thoughts.

While the hate-filled and paranoia-fuelled rantings one is more likely than not to find on (news) sites like this one and others is disturbing, far more disturbing is that these nameless people are real people who interact with others in the real world. Most have jobs or families or even children. What we dismiss as the ramblings of people with too much time and too little courage is already a part of our society.

Granted that some of the more radical views expressed might be unnerving and censoring those who feel the pressing need to see everything as influenced by the colour of the skin of those involved would make for more wholesome if not more sensible reading this would narrow an already narrow view of ourselves as a country.

Freedom of speech is about more than getting to say what you like or feel you must say (within limits of course). In the grand scheme of things it becomes crucial that as many varied views - childish and poignant - are expressed so that we are never mistaken about our seemingly perpetually polarised identities.

But "varied" is the key word. There are large sections of society across our country that never have a say in these pitched daily news forum battles. Statistics estimate that just under 11% of South Africans have internet access.

It is with this in mind that I hope the South African government, together with the communication industry, stays committed to ensuring that more South Africans have access to a medium that has become, for many individuals not only an information tool, but an outlet for expression.

I doubt that even in this Utopia of affordable internet access for all the commentary there will be less jarring that some of the choice bits we are served on a daily basis, but it will educate us more about the nation we are.

The internet is not here to save us and we don't all want to write letters to the editor, but even when prickly subjects do come up in our own personal spaces, it is unfortunate when sensible people retreat because politics is beneath (or above) them.

Every once in a while we vote politicians into government positions, but every day, by choosing to be either vocal or silent, we set the boundaries of what is normal for our society.

- Follow Hlengiwe on Twitter.

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Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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