Yesterday, in South Africa, Manto Tshabalala Msimang died from a liver complication that had been plaguing her for some time now. She is a former health minister, and her time spent in that role was fraught with controversy because of her seeming lack of will to embrace ARV’s to treat HIV. Because of this stand, she has been accused of causing the death of thousands of South Africans. Some have even suggested she should be charged with crimes against humanity.

I think it’s important to note, especially in a South African context, that feelings about her were held by a cross-section of South Africa. The debate was fully inclusive and representative.

Yesterday as the news of her death began to seep into the media conversation (both non-non-traditional and non-traditional) Twitter began to heat up. There’s some speculation as to where it started? Just Curious does provide a view of the time-line and the heat generated by 5FM radio jock Gareth Cliff.

To get a view for yourself, see the search for ‘Manto’ on Twitter. Click here.

However you re-construct it, I was hit by some of the following:

  • Death is a human thing. It’s not owned by one culture or one people group. Who dares to say that one group does it better than another? It’s very human. It reminds us all that we too one day will enter into it’s domain (www.we’ Showing death some respect, and compassion to the family of those who have lost is not only right, it’s human.
  • When someone dies, I find it pretty difficult to say anything to anyone. Silence seems to be not only an appropriate response, but the most gentle and caring. A hug, a gesture, just simply being present in the space of those who have just lost, seems to work best. It’s awkward, and it’s clumsy, but I find it works.
  • If you do decide to speak, what words are sufficient to speak into what has just happened? You can’t do it in a sentence. So you end up bumbling along making a whole lot sound like not much at all.

So when the news broke on Twitter, and some people put their views out there, it did become terribly messy. There was huge emotion surrounding Tshabalala Msimang when she was alive. Those emotions were all still there after she had died. You can imagine what people end up saying when all you have is 140 characters? It’s blunt, it’s raw, it’s so in your face. There’s no place to explain, expand only express and explete.

The conversation one day later is whether people were right or wrong to put their views out there? Gareth Cliff has become the poster child for who did it bad.

I do think the exploration should be shifted slightly. It’s not about whether people put their views out or not? That’s inevitable. It should rather be around the forums we use and the timing of our comments? Would it have hurt to hold a negative, critical view for a day or two in respect of the family (at the very least)? Is Twitter a good forum for putting out such strong and potentially damaging emotions and thoughts?

The forums we use and the timing to speak by are age old questions. But they do need to be re-discussed from time to time. Especially in a world in which communication channels and platforms are changing as fast as they are.

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