What is a particular sort of white person in South Africa to do if it’s hard to find a black person who says things you like and agree with?
Well, just create your own black person!
That appears to be what has happened in the case of at least two Facebook profiles that have been receiving more than their fair share of Facebook admirers and even, ultimately, media attention.
I was browsing my Facebook timeline towards the end of last year when a rather curious article popped up in my timeline, from the Facebook feed of one “Chris Mapasa”.
It started with the words “Dear black people, There is no kind way to put this, so gird your loins and swallow hard. If you are black, and support our ANC led government, you are racist.”
Huh? I thought. Now that is certainly not the kind of thing you read every day from a black writer. Mapasa’s full Facebook post is very long (it deals with how black people who support the ANC and policies of affirmative action and affirmative action are apparently black supremacists), and my original plan was to embed the whole Facebook post, but it has now been deleted. This website, though, was very impressed with Mr Mapasa and republished his post in its entirety, so you can still read it here.
It ends with the writer signing off with: “By Chris Mapasa, Former black Racist, (also former ANC Member)”
Fascinating as it is, it’s mostly just a plagiarised, ripped-off version of a well-known 2013 article by Gillian Schutte, titled “Dear White People”. The sentiment in Schutte’s letter to white people was the exact opposite of Mr “Mapasa’s” literary efforts. You can read that full letter here to compare.
Mostly, Mapasa just replaced the word ‘white’ with ‘black’ and then adapted the rest of the post to match the anti-ANC message.
I contacted Schutte to ask her if she had seen the thing, and she said she had but didn’t know what to do about it.
“Yes … something needs to be done …. especially the use of black face to hide a white agenda,” she wrote back. Clearly she, like me, believed there was no Mapasa and a white person had just made the whole thing up.
Mapasa, though, is small fry. Compared to the Facebook profile of one “Menzi Solomon Shange”, Mapasa’s profile has a long way to go.
He sprang into existence on Facebook on July 21, 2014.
On a blog post on a website calling itself The Truth About South Africa, titled ANC – Stench Of Death, you can find the earliest supposed profile pic of Shange, but that simply turns out to be a stock image from Gallo.
Shange is probably most well known for writing an open letter to President Jacob Zuma in April 2015 calling on government to do something about farm attacks, along with many other things that normally worry mainly white people.
Here’s an example of a mainstream website that republished that open letter in full, though there were many other websites last year that did the same thing.
Everyone at the time just basically accepted (based on Shange’s Facebook bio) that this guy is some sort of businessman who works in the mining industry and is black (“of Zulu heritage”, he helpfully explains). It doesn’t appear that anyone bothered to properly verify there really is such a person.
Keep in mind this is a guy with nearly 5 000 fans on Facebook, many of them white. He is also part of a Facebook page called South Africans 4 Change, which has nearly 50 000 likes.
According to another person “of Zulu heritage” one of my colleagues got in touch with, the Zulu phrases Shange uses on some of his Facebook posts are gobbledygook … almost as if someone took English sentences and translated them into isiZulu on Google Translate…
When you take those same “Zulu” sentences and translate them back into English using Google Translate, they come out as almost perfect English, though there are some mistakes.
It’s cold in Canada
I’m STILL waiting for Chris Mapasa to get back to me, but I did get a response on Facebook from Mr Shange. What followed was a strange series of exchanges over two days in December.
He turned down all my invitations to prove he’s a real human being (more pertinently, a real black human being). He explained he was on business in Canada (I suggested we could Skype, but he wasn’t interested). At one point, he even implied I might be trying to kill him and that someone had apparently tried to kill him before.
The bottom line was that he was not willing to send me a photograph, an ID book, allow for us to have a phone or Skype call, or do anything else that might prove Mr Shange’s physical existence – such as him arranging a meeting for me with one of his colleagues in “the mining industry”.
Meeting Shange himself in the flesh was clearly out of the question.
Here’s the first part of our exchange on Facebook Messenger if you’d like to read it:
My further attempts to prod him into talking to me led nowhere until I eventually had to tell him that I would probably write an article suggesting he might not be a real human being.
He responded cryptically and a little ominously: “This will be a defining moment in your career. Thank you, and have a good evening.”
I tried to prod some more, but that was the end of it.
I eventually found this picture on another blog post claiming to be of Menzi Shange. A Google reverse image search didn’t clock any hits, so this may be Menzi, I have no idea, but I’d be very surprised if it is. He comes across in his posts as a churchgoing man, so it’s possible this really is him.
Menzi, if you are real and you’re reading this, I’m not trying to kill you. If you’re back from Canada, let’s go have a coffee.
Not one to give up easily, I got in touch with one of the people he named as a reference, the blogger and author Delores “Laura” Oneale, because I was curious to see how she would be able to verify Shange’s existence in a more believable way than he could himself.
That led me even further down the Facebook rabbit hole. I learnt she runs an amateur news website called South Africa Today and made headlines in 2013 for reporting on the death of Nelson Mandela nearly six months too early, causing at least one international news outlet to misreport the elder statesman’s death.
She maintained for months that Mandela really was dead and government was lying about it, until the point that he was discharged from hospital, whereupon The Star reported she “wrote another article, backtracking her original story by saying there was a possibility that Mandela was still alive”.
The Star said she was a “financial manager from Joburg, who describes herself as ‘proudly South African’ and ‘about to make her mark on the writing scene'”.
She also writes science fiction/fantasy stories about Zulus on a parallel Earth who travel to hell to retrieve a “star pearl” from Satan. No, really. On her Facebook profile she says that she is “Passionate about the Truth!!”
She responded to me within a few hours on Facebook, and at first Ms Oneale seemed quite willing to help me get in touch with and even meet Menzi Shange, but as the conversation progressed, it became increasingly obvious that wasn’t going to happen.
She seemed amazed I could even question the man’s existence and held forth about what a real person Menzi is and how he “cares about the South Africans”. Apparently he later told her he doubted whether I was a real human being.
This continued for pages more and got incredibly weird. She advised me to contact Menzi’s friend Chris Mapasa to find out more about Menzi. I told her I was pretty confident Mapasa was not real, and even if he was, he was a terrible plagiarist.
I asked her if she had created the Facebook profiles in question and was writing all the posts.
She denied this and wanted to know: “Why do you think I created characters? I do not have time to get up to mischief. I would not know if [Chris Mapasa] is fake. I have only corresponded with him through messenger, just as I am doing with you.”
Clearly all of this was taking me nowhere, and I thanked her for her time and explained I’d be writing this article and that I suspected she had not been entirely truthful with me. But who knows? Like I said: weird.
The bottom line is I really have no conclusive proof that Menzi Solomon Shange or even Chris Mapasa are not real people. If they are, though, they are very strange real people. Despite reasonable efforts to prove my suspicions about all this fakery wrong, I simply wasn’t able to, so I’m still quite inclined to believe that neither man is real.
When you start digging through the South Africans 4 Change page, it gets even stranger. The page collects the views of various people, almost all of them black, and publishes these views with their profile pictures. The things that are published are often critical of other black people. When you try to find the Facebook profiles in question, though, many seem not to exist, and those that can be linked to profiles don’t seem to be saying those things.
However, one person did get back to me, and said that he had been quoted accurately – so, once again, I don’t know. But what truly boggles the mind is how someone on social media clearly seems to have a lot of time on his or her hands…
Why do this anyway?
Facebook is crawling with fake profiles and allegations have often been made that fake profiles of white people have been created to have them say racist things in the hope that news websites will be lured into reporting on this racism, perhaps in the hope that the “next Penny Sparrow” has been found (online-journalism gold, you know).
But I suspect the same is being done with fake profiles for black people.
Why would anyone do this? I don’t know, I can only speculate.
Here are some theories:
- Hiding behind a fake profile of a black person possibly allows a white person to publish the sorts of statements and ideas that would probably be criticised as “racist” were it coming from a white person. But if it’s coming from a “black person” then it’s “honest self-criticism, introspection and a challenge to other black people”.
- But no matter how you look at it, if you are doing this, it’s fraud.
- Similar to the first point, but slightly different: it allows the white person to be a troll in disguise.
- It may help to create the idea that there are a lot of black people with a particular viewpoint who are going against the status quo. The hope may then be that an example is being set for other black people to follow, and that some real black people may in fact really start to share these concerns and ideas.
- Obviously all black people don’t think the same way, and I would never suggest that they do (after all, we know at least one black man joined the AWB years ago), but if you are brave enough to speak out against the ANC, then you should be brave enough not to hide too.
- The ANC doesn’t send its detractors to the gulag or the gas chambers, so there’s no reason to be anonymous or impossible to get hold of as a social critic in South Africa.
- But maybe it’s just fun to think that you are fooling everyone.
I’m sure there are other reasons for why this might be going on, but I think I’ve made my point.
Which brings me to the “3 easy steps” for creating your “favourite black person” if you happen to be a particular sort of white person (and by that I mean a racist fraud) who’d like to see a black person say some of those things you like – because so many of them are saying a lot of things you really don’t like.
1. Start a fake Facebook profile and populate it regularly with “pro-African”, pseudo Pan-African content. Maybe throw a few phrases into Google Translate so it looks like you can speak isiZulu too.
2. Write a few posts slamming the ANC and black people in general. If you need inspiration, just “borrow” from the writings of Gillian Schutte and replace the word ‘white’ with ‘black’.
3. Sit back and wait to go viral.
– Additional research by Tsholofelo Wesi, who was the first to point out Mapasa and Shange’s profiles smelled a bit fishy.