The supporters of secretary-general Ace Magashule who thought they could silence his critics were put in their place, even by the SG himself, who said “not in my name”, and characterised their actions as political intolerance and against freedom of expression.
Those supporters of Magashule may have been called to order, but the very fact that the ANC Youth League in the Free State had created posters advertising a bonfire to be held on April 15, where they would set alight copies of Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s newly launched book Gangster State is deeply troubling.
The book burning was allegedly supported by the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) and the South African Students Congress (Sasco), which both had their logos displayed on the poster. And it was members of the Youth League and Sasco who had allegedly gone on the rampage at Exclusive Books in Sandton, Joburg, destroying copies of Myburgh’s book last week.
Had the book burning gone ahead, there is no question that the event would have captured headlines around the world along the lines of “Fascism rears its ugly head in South Africa”, or “ANC Youth League holds mass book burning”. The pundits, who like to say that South Africa is heading down a dangerous slippery slope, would have claimed vindication, and our moral authority would have once again taken a beating.
It is time for serious introspection, and to ask ourselves how we got to this point. What has all of a sudden made some of us so intolerant to the airing of ideas, alternative view points, or criticism?
The very idea that books could be burnt in the year 2019 suggests that there is a dangerous undertone simmering beneath the fabric of our society that seeks to silence critics and political opponents.
Those who are part of this undertone are directly threatening the right of intellectuals in our society to air their views and disseminate information. The fact that this element exists and is seeking oxygen is a direct threat to our democracy.
While we can in no way compare strains in current day South Africa with what happened in Nazi Germany, it is useful to examine where things started to fall apart in Germany in the early years before World War II.
It was Adolf Hitler’s chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels who said in 1933 that book burning “is a strong, great and symbolic deed”, that shows the intellectual foundation is sinking to the ground, but “from this wreckage, the phoenix of a new spirit will triumphantly rise”.
The books being burnt at the time were written by Jewish intellectuals, including works by Einstein, Freud, Mann and other leading intellectuals and scientists. The youth burning these books were members of the German Student Union.