Media24 announced on Sunday that it will be investigating how its web property, the Huffington Post South Africa, came to publish an article “Could It Be Time To Deny White Men The Franchise?” on Thursday. The article went viral internationally after members of the conservative media in the United States started linking to it on Twitter, and in online articles on websites such as Breitbart.com.
The posting of the piece was initially defended by HuffPost SA’s editor Verashni Pillay, however the article was pulled on Friday after it was established that the author, one “Shelley Garland”, probably did not exist. It was subsequently established that the HuffPost had fallen for a race hoax after the author – a self-described white male from Johannesburg who requested continued anonymity – contacted the Renegade Report on CliffCentral.com to explain how he had pulled it off.
In the article “Garland” claimed that white men had been responsible for various setbacks to the progressive cause over the past few years – including Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and the victory of the Democratic Alliance in a number of metros in last year’s local government elections in South Africa. “She” suggested one solution to the problem of continued white male influence was to deny white men the vote over a generation:
“If white men no longer had the vote, the progressive cause would be strengthened. It would not be necessary to deny white men indefinitely – the denial of the vote to white men for 20 years (just less than a generation) would go some way to seeing a decline in the influence of reactionary and neo-liberal ideology in the world.”
Having deprived white men of the franchise, Garland stated, it would then be possible to deprive them of their illegitimately acquired property and possessions, and punish them for the crimes they had committed over the past five hundred years.
“A period of twenty years without white men in the world's parliaments and voting booths will allow legislation to be passed which could see the world's wealth far more equitably shared. The violence of white male wealth and income inequality will be a thing of the past. This redistribution of the world's wealth is long overdue, and it is not just South Africa where white males own a disproportionate amount of wealth.”
The bio of Garland described “her” as “an activist and a feminist … currently completing an MA degree in philosophy. When she’s not gagging at South Africa’s unique brand of rainbow politics, she’s working on ways to smash the patriarchy.”
Initially this inflammatory article seems to have provoked the response that HuffPost SA’s editors were looking for. Sipho Hlongwane, the editor of the site’s blogs section, posted a tweet (subsequently deleted) boasting about the traffic being driven to the site by it, and laughing at some of the written responses.
After the article went viral Pillay wrote a piece defending its publication. In a subsequently deleted section she wrote:
“Garland's underlying analysis about the uneven distribution of wealth and power in the world is pretty standard for feminist theory. It has been espoused in many different ways by feminist writers and theorists for decades now. In that sense, there was nothing in the article that should have shocked or surprised anybody (or so we thought.) It would appear that perhaps much of the outcry derives from a very poor reading of the article -- or perhaps none at all.
Dismantling the patriarchal systems that have brought us to where we are today, a world where power is wielded to dangerous and destructive ends by men, and in particular white men, necessarily means a loss of power to those who hold it. A loss of oppressive power. Those who have held undue power granted to them by patriarchy must lose it for us to be truly equal. This seems blindingly obvious to us.”
However, questions were raised over the existence of an MA student called Garland – given the absence of any real online footprint for her - by Laura Twiggs, a Cape Town based writer. The HuffPost then pulled the article stating that “We have done this because the blog submission from an individual who called herself Shelley Garland, who claimed to be an MA student at UCT, cannot be traced and appears not to exist.” It also said that it would be referring the article to the Press Ombudsman for adjudication as to whether the article contravened the press code.
HuffPost SA Editor-at-large Ferial Haffajee also wrote a piece for the site distancing herself from the content of the article.
On Sunday the real author of the article reached out* to Roman Cabanac and Jonathan Witt of the libertarian online radio programme, the Renegade Report, explaining how he had pulled off the hoax. He added:
“Saying white men should be stripped of the franchise is absurd, as well as racist and sexist, and the Huffington Post should be ashamed for publishing such regressive tripe. White men, should not be ashamed of who they are, and nor should anyone else, no matter their race or gender.
However, white people in South Africa (and white people in other countries with histories of colonialism and dispossession) should be aware of their privilege. Us white South Africans also need to be aware of our horrific history and the pain apartheid, colonialism, and racial discriminatory policies caused our black compatriots, but we should not be ashamed of our race or gender, features over which we had no control (unlike Rachel Dolezal).
Let this be a lesson to publications like the Huffington Post (and others) to fact check articles, thoroughly investigate contributors (especially those sending through unsolicited work), and not publish absolute poppycock, just because it fits into a certain ideological narrative.”
On Sunday Media24 issued a statement quoting CEO Esmaré Weideman as saying that the post had damaged Huffington Post South Africa and Media24 brands. “Responsible journalism is at the heart of what we do; it’s the currency we trade in. When our systems fail, we’re not just alarmed, we’re outraged. This is a sad day for journalism.” Andreij Horn, the head of 24.com, said that the incident and the circumstances that made it possible in the first place, would be investigated thoroughly and the appropriate action will be taken to avoid a future recurrence.
* Update: In the Daily Maverick on Tuesday Ivo Vegter states that "As early as Friday, Ramon Cabanac of the Renegade Report, a podcast in the CliffCentral stable, confided in me that 'Shelley [Garland] is a figment of my very white friend’s imagination. … We are trolling Huffy Post by writing outrageous articles. We’ll expose them soon.'"
* Update 2: Ivo Vegter has added the following clarification to his article on the paragraph above: "After publication, Roman Cabanac sent me the following message: "My original message about 'we are trolling the Huffington Post' was made in error. My friend wrote the piece and unilaterally sent it without my knowledge. After I found out, we thought of doing more but the story got out of hand."