#GangsterState: If you are going to burn a book read it first

On Tuesday night, Pieter Louis Myburgh was launching his latest best-seller at Sandton’s Exclusive Books in Johannesburg – except he didn’t. Instead a rabble stormed in, making a noisy nuisance of themselves before symbolically destroying a copy of his book.

It was straight out of the EFF playbook. The January before on the floor above, Kiddy Amin’s Teletubbies in their red onesies attacked mannequins because of retailer H&M’s alleged exploitation of workers and racist advertising. 

This though wasn’t the EFF, this was the ANC Youth League, apparently bussed in for the bash. Shortly afterwards, the ANCYL in the Free State, announced it was hosting a book burning on Monday night exhorting its supporters to bring as many copies of the book as they could. It wasn’t immediately clear if the books had to be bought before being burnt – or just alternatively sourced. The threat, with its 86-year-old echoes to Nazi book burnings, immediately sparked widespread condemnation and just as quickly the Youth Leaguers’ matches were doused by the ANC and the invitation rescinded, but not before Exclusive Books was so spooked that it canned its planned Cape Town launch for Thursday.

The ANC has a major headache on its hands with its secretary general Ace Magashule – and not just because of Myburgh’s book Gangster State, unravelling Magashule’s Web of Capture – but the great news is that he is no longer appears as powerful as he did the Sunday before when he was conflating church and state, issuing official party statements condemning the book, its author, and anyone else in his defence. Very quickly Magashule was told to fight his own battles, which ended up obviously with a rent-a-mob for the launch – which he then delightfully had to denounce officially in his role as ANC S-G.

None of the protestors had even read the book. They were protesting because they’d been told to. Some of the posters they were brandishing had been professionally made, down to the fake news rendition of the book’s cover mimicking the fonts to change the message to an ad hominem attack on the author. That’s more stratcom than anything we keep getting told is ‘stratcom’ – ironically. 

Social media might have democratised access to information, but it’s also dimmed any intellectual endeavour, the first part of which is to do the reading before opining. The Youth Leaguers aren’t alone, a couple of years back the Saturday Star was besieged by the anti-fur lobby – the polar antithesis of the ANCYL in class, creed and colour. 

Not one person had bought a copy of the paper. Someone had seen an advertisement, told the others and hundreds wrote to the editor. They didn’t even write their own complaints, they cut and pasted from a spray and pray hate mail template.

Disagree with Myburgh’s book by all means, but do him the decency of buying a copy first and the respect of actually reading it. Then you can burn it at your leisure – and film it. But if you do, do it because it actually offended you, not because someone told you it offended you.

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 13 April 2019.