The biggest SA social media storms of 2013

2013 has played host to a number of social media storms surrounding some highly controversial events around the world – but right here in South Africa, we’ve seen Internet users take up their digital torches and pitchforks against individuals, companies and even our own government.

Whether it was Woolworths SA facing more allegations of plagiarism (which, in the end, proved not to be the case) or Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela’s damning (yet, provisional) report on President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla upgrades – Twitter, Facebook and other social channels are the go-to spaces online for South Africans to air their views.

Here are 5 of the biggest social media storms seen in South Africa in 2013:

Oscar Pistorius court
Oscar Pistorius court

Oscar Pistorius murder case

Undoubtedly one of the most prominent and heavy-weight cases to come out of South Africa, world-renouned paralympian, Oscar Pistorius, found himself thrust into not only the South African media spotlight, but also the global hot seat as he stood accused of murdering his girlfriend, Riva Steenkamp in February 2013.

Pistorius is yet to have his day in court, as the state is currently still dealing with its case against him – but that did not prevent the trial by social media from taking part all through the first and second quarters of the year.

Supporters and haters alike took to Twitter and Facebook to voice their anger, sadness, disappointment and words of hope to the athlete, as local and international media reporters amassed massive Twitter followings as the world clung on for any information about the high profile case.

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela

Mandela’s passing

When former South African president – and international icon – Nelson Mandela passed away on 5 December 2013, social networks across the world lit up with messages of sorrow, condolences and tributes to his legacy.

But even before his passing, Mandela’s health caused quite a stir, and created buzz across social channels for months – right from the point he was admitted to hospital for respiratory problems, up until his rather sudden death.

During his time in hospital, reporters camped outside for weeks, waiting for any news from within – while the South African government remained tight-lipped on the details surrounding Madiba’s health, asking for the world to respect his privacy.

It was only a matter of time before inaccurate reports and hoaxes started to make the rounds on Twitter and Facebook and other social channels, as reports that Mandela had died popped up, were refuted, were revitalised, and debunked time and time again.

Melissa Bachman
Melissa Bachman

The lion and the huntress

US TV host Melissa Bachman caused a global outcry when she uploaded an image of her smiling over a freshly-hunted lion corpse onto Twitter in November 2013.

Reaction was swift, with both local and international media bringing the story to light, inciting contrasting responses across the social world.

A flurry of negative reactions to the photo led to the creation of an online petition which asked the South African government to deny Bachman future entry into the country.

Sunday Times reported that Bachman deactivated her Twitter and Facebook accounts “within hours” of the start of the backlash.

Max Barashenkov and Montle Moroosi
Max Barashenkov and Montle Moroosi

Rape jokes aren’t funny

After being associated with the Jessica Leandra racism Twitter storm in 2012, men’s magazine FHM once again found itself in the spotlight of controversy this year – though a lot closer to home.

In July 2013, FHM dismissed its features editor and a writer for comments they made on social media relating to corrective rape.

Max Barashenkov and colleague, writer Montle Moroosi made the comments on a private Facebook account, which was then copied and pasted and spread around on Twitter.

Barashenkov jokingly proposed “correctional rape and sterilisation for any white person who twerks”, while Moroosi said “rape can be quite fun if executed in a romantic manner. Like saying ‘I love you’ before slipping a roofie in her Earl Grey tea.”

“Corrective rape” is a common hate crime, in which a person is raped because of their perceived sexual orientation. The intention of the attacker is to “correct” the victim’s behaviour.

Wayne Duvenage says no to e-tags
Wayne Duvenage says no to e-tags


A storm over 3 years in the making – on 3 December 2013, the highly controversial Gauteng e-tolling system finally went live after legal and civil challenges at every step of the process.

The system was met with massive protest and backlash – but nowhere were thoughts expressed louder than on social media.

Anger, frustration and sadness were some of the mildest emotions conveyed in thousands of tweets and posts, while news stories covering the court battles, prices and plans surrounding the system saw record reads.

Meanwhile, political and legal personalities took to the web to spread the words of opposition to the system – while its supporters in Sanral and the ANC attempted to quell the hate.

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The biggest SA social media storms of 2013