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The mystery of South Africa’s VIP anarchist February 28, 2007

Posted by Andreas in anarchism, South Africa.
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“Anarchist doesn’t want to be fascist” declared the headline to a “Newsmaker” story about Paris Mashile the chairperson of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) in the Sunday Times Business Times section several weeks ago (January 28).

There was even a teaser on the front page of the paper: “The anarchist watching Telkom” , so you can imagine my excitement. It’s just not an everyday event for South Africans with as prominent a public profile as Mashile to identify themselves as anarchists in a national newspaper.

girl A

You can also imagine my massive disappointment when I realised that the article contained not a single reference to Mashile’s supposed anarchism. The only tit-bits we were given appeared in a small “In brief” box at the end of the article that contained the following: “Personal philosophy: I’m an anarchist” and the more circumstantial “Current reading: Noam Chomsky”.That was it.

The writer of the piece, Chris Barron, had not bothered to follow up on what was surely a surprising bit of information coming from an official figure. What did Mashile mean by anarchism? How did his being an anarchist impact on his private and professional life? How did he first get into contact with anarchist ideas? What relevance does anarchism have for South Africa today? Does he have an anarchist-inspired vision of a better future society?

smash the state

There were just so many pertinent questions to ask Mashile, but all Barron seemed to be interested in was trashing his performance as chairperson of ICASA. I’m sure many if not all of Barron’s criticisms were valid, but come on, wouldn’t it have been a real scoop to out someone of Mashile’s stature as an anarchist. Anarchists are, after all, part of the “far left” elements that Thabo Mbeki has been warning us about!

I suspect that Barron (or at least his sub-editor) was using the word “anarchist” in his headline and front page teaser in the popular, negative sense to further deride Mashile’s woeful professional performance.

I thought this story was interesting enough to try to follow up myself and so I fired off a sympathetic message to the general ICASA email address I found on the organisation’s website (info@icasa.org.za), expressing my appreciation for Mashile’s publicly declaring himself an anarchist and asking some of the questions I thought Barron should have posed.

I received an automated(?) reply to my message assuring me that the matter would be attended to. I heard nothing after that. I sent another 13 emails, but heard nothing more from ICASA. I know, that’s pretty pathetic, I do really have a life, I promise, but sending that email kind of became part of my daily routine.

I was about to post this rant on the blog last week when I finally got a more promising response: an ICASA employee, obviously getting annoyed by my constant emailing, informed me that Mr Mashile had been busy, but that he would forward my questions to him.

Yesterday morning I inquired whether Mr Mashile had had a moment to attend to my message and was told that

“Unfortunately Mr Mashile won’t be talking to you on this subject”.

And I’m afraid that’s pretty much all there is to it. So after reading my whole story on this matter, I’m very sorry to have to disappoint you as well.

long live A

The tale of South Africa’s highest-profile self-declared anarchist remains a mystery. Should I ever receive an answer to my questions, I’ll certainly let you know right here.

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