As South Africans saw the news that Port Elizabeth has a new name, local Google searches for how to pronounce Gqeberha surged. Minister of…
Update, 20 April: The Huffington Post has revealed Marius Roodt, a white man from Johannesburg, as the man behind the blog. Roodt says he was concerned with “the lack of fact-checking in South African journalism” and used the blog to prove a point. He had also submitted it to The Daily Maverick, who didn’t respond.
Roodt asserts he did not mean to target anyone, and doesn’t think “white men are under attack.” His mission was merely to see how far he could push South African journalism.
“I didn’t want it to cause the storm that it did,” he said.
Original article: There are a ton of thinkpieces being released on the scandal that shook South African journalism this weekend, but if you spent the Easter weekend tech-free you may be slightly confused. Here’s a rundown on the series of events.
Thursday, 13 April
The Huffington Post posts a blog entitled “Could it be time to deny white men the franchise?” The blog, ostensibly written by a woman named Shelley Garland, is uploaded to its “Voices” section.
The post argues that white men still hold too much power, and were the guiding force behind retrograde movements like Brexit and the election of US President Donald Trump.
“Although this may seem unfair and unjust, allowing white males to continue to call the shots politically and economically, following their actions over the past 500 years, is the greater injustice,” the post concludes.
Friday, 14 April
US right wing publication Breitbart picks up on the blog post and writes on it. The article goes viral, pulling in 5700 comments as of writing.
The surge in popularity allows The Huffington Post a great deal of traffic, and head of blogging division Sipho Hlongwane tweets that “the corrections email inbox is a nightmare.”
— Tommy (@tciccotta) April 16, 2017
HuffPo’s South African editor, Verashni Pillay, responds to this growing popularity in a blog post that defends the publication of Garland’s piece.
“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,” she writes.
“The point of our Voices section is to invite a wide array of voices and views. We hope, as reads continue to rack up on this blog, that those who are tempted to fire off an angry email to us would first engage with the underlying analysis in Garland’s blog.”
Amidst the popularity, though, Cape Town writer Laura Twiggs is questioning whether the original post’s writer even existed.
Twitter user @garland_shelley (since deleted) is claiming she had written the piece, but the account has five followers and was created five hours before Twiggs discovered it. For someone claiming to be an activist, this absence of online record is perplexing.
— Laura Twiggs (@laura_twiggs) April 14, 2017
— Laura Twiggs (@laura_twiggs) April 14, 2017
Unrelenting, Twiggs pushes at Garland’s account, and calls for a response from Pillay, as well as HuffPo founder Arianna Huffington.
Eventually HuffPo responds, this time removing the post entirely.
Saturday, 15 April
HuffPo posts its second response, detailing why the article was removed.
“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,” Pillay writes.
She promises that the company will no longer be working on a “good faith” basis with its contributors. She also assures that the article has been voluntarily sent to South African Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe “for his analysis of the opinion [it] carried.”
“We apologise for the oversight,” Pillay writes.
Public outcry is still going strong, with “The Huffington Ghost” trending on Twitter.
DA MP John Steenhuisen calls for Pillay’s resignation.
— John Steenhuisen MP (@jsteenhuisen) April 15, 2017
Sunday, 16 April
The HuffPo post its third response, this time from South African editor-at-large Ferial Haffajee.
“When I read the column by one Shelley Garland arguing for the disenfranchisement of white men, I balked, and thought she was stupid because her facts were wrong,” Haffajee writes. “And I was dismayed at her argument for targeted racial classification because apartheid was a system of targeted racial classification.”
“Our country is not helped by cheap platitudes and our journalism is not helped by click-bait blogs.”
There are plenty of theories about who the real Shelley Garland is. Some blame HuffPo for writing it themselves in the name of clicks.
But one man comes out declaring himself the perpetrator. Going by the name Nick Shannow, a Johannesburg man reveals himself on CliffCentral’s The Renegade Report.
“She is a pseudonym used by myself, a white South African male, to show that one can write absurd racist and sexist hogwash, as long as the target is the right one,” he writes.
“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.”