Andile Mngxitama and Athi Joja have every right to criticise Jared Sacks for his piece on Mamphele Ramphele and Steve Biko ("Biko would not vote for Ramphele", March 15), but it is downright unethical for Mngxitama to threaten Sacks with violence – and to incite Sacks to resort to violence too – because Mngxitama did not like what he wrote.
According to a post on Mngxitama's Facebook page: "real bikoists out there, whenever we see that white little bastard called jared sacks, we must beat the shit out of him. they now pissing on biko's face. they can diss mamphele all they want, but to insult us like this? when i see jared, he must beat me up. that's the deal." He also responded to a response on his page by saying: "jared will pay for this."
We accept that it is in the nature of Facebook for people to express themselves bluntly as it is not a completely public forum. But there must be accountability for what one says, even on Facebook, particularly if one is a public figure. People often "friend" people such as Mngxitama because of their public profile. To settle a political dispute through a physical fight, which is what Mngxitama calls for on his page (accessible to more than 5000 people) is a terrible message for a public intellectual of Mngxitama's stature to communicate.
There is already too much violence in our politics. Public intellectuals have a responsibility to denounce violence as a method of resolving political disagreements, not encourage it.
Such threats can be profoundly intimidating to the person they are directed against. Even if they are not meant literally, others may take them so. They also have implications for the Mail & Guardian and freedom of expression more broadly, because people who approach the paper to publish their articles may be put off if they fear being subjected to similar threats.
Anyone who wishes to put their views into the public domain should accept that others may disagree, at times fiercely, but they should not fear for their safety when they do so. This will lead to self-censorship.
Mngxitama comes across as a bully who can win arguments only by policing the boundaries of the discourse on black consciousness through intimidation, rather than robust argument. It is important that the M&G speaks on this issue as well, denouncing Mngxitama's threat of violence, to protect the freedom of its contributors and communicate a clear message that such threats are unacceptable. – Abahlali baseMjondolo, Zackie Achmat, Bheki Buthelezi, Jane Duncan, Jacques Depelchin, Nathan Geffen, Kenneth Good, Marie Huchzermeyer, Vashna Jagarnath, Ayanda Kota, Firoze Manji, Aubrey Mokoape, Michael Neocosmos, Thembani Onceya, Richard Pithouse, Unemployed Peoples' Movement