June 20th 2018 will be remembered as the day free speech died in South Africa. Most applauded the death, not knowing that they were witnessing a tragedy, whilst others smugly spoke of progress and of victory from the table at the media briefing.
This is the back story. Shashi Naidoo is a beautiful South African model. She is known to be of kind heart and of sensitive disposition. She is a socialite and TV personality who is loved and revered. Or was until she made the error of defending Israel on social media. In a series of Facebook posts, Naidoo questioned the behavior of Hamas and dared to suggest that the responsibility was not that of Israel alone.
It took a few hours for the force of the storm to hit and in no time at all she appeared before the nation visibly broken and shaken. She apologized for her error, claimed that she clearly didn’t understand the situation in the Middle East and let it slip that she has received no less than 10 death threats. Shashi Naidoo is not a fighter. She loves to be loved. And loved she was, until she offered a view that is the alternative to that prescribed by many in the country.
She looked like a prisoner who had been forced to make a confession. Who admitted guilt. But who had been abused until she did.
And that wasn’t enough for BDS South Africa. Tuesday night June 19 saw an announcement that there would be a significant media briefing the following day. Major news agencies were invited to attend. And instead of questioning the treatment of the woman, they did what they were told and carried the briefing live.
Again, Naidoo, flanked by BDS generals appeared weak and submissive. Her family might have been there to support her, but it was very clear that she was not in charge of this event. The BDS Generals thanked her for apology, pretended that she had come to this revelation all on her own and announced that she would be attending a “Fact finding” mission to Israel, or rather Palestine in the near future.
#ShashiNaidoo trended for the day on Twitter without one of the media outlets questioning why she had been intimidated and bullied into silence. Instead they played the role that was expected of them and on their hands remains the blood of the constitutional right of Freedom of Expression.
Shashi Naidoo reminds me of the story of the Little Mermaid – in the fairy tale Arial is beautiful and had the gift of a magnificent voice. But she is not a real woman as she has no legs. She needs to make a decision to choose between her voice or having legs. She can be beautiful but she can’t be vocal and be a woman. This is her curse and this is the horror that she is forced to deal with.
Shashi Naidoo made a choice. And one can hardly blame her. Her livelihood and her emotional stability depended on it. Anyone who witnessed the media briefing would have seen that. Rather, the responsibility lies with those who forced her into silence. It lies with those who claim to value free speech but who won’t allow anyone who disagrees to have one. It lies with the South African media who have missed just how important this story is.
The Naidoo story is no different to the Messi Argentinian one. It is no different to the Johannesburg City Councillor was suspended for saying that the city is a friend of Israel. It is no different to the brutal pressure placed on performers who choose to visit Israel as it is to anyone who has a view.
We live in dangerous times. The voices that scream loudest and with the most aggression are the ones that are heard. We need to be aware that the conflict has entered into a new phase and that it is not only South Africa that is at risk.
June 20th will be the day that South Africa silenced Arial.