28 October 2007

Urban legend: government to replace Christian public holidays

Yesterday a friend sent me an e-mail petition against an alleged government plan to change Christian holidays in South Africa.

This is what it said:
ATTENTION ALL CHRISTIANS! It was announced in this mornings Beeld that Government wants to change all Christian holidays e.g. Christmas and Easter, as Christianity has too many public holidays and it is therefore discrimination against other religions.

They no longer want Christian names for these holidays. So if you are prepared to stand up for your faith, please sign the form to say that you are against this proposal.

We WILL stand up for our Lord!

As this had all the marks of an urban legend, I thought I'd check up a bit.

What actually happened was that Mathole Motshekga appealed to the Commission on Culture, Religion and Language to make some changes. He did this back in April, and it was reported in Beeld back then. It wasn't in today's Beeld, nor in the issue on the date of the forwarded e-mail message I received.

So the petition is based on a lie: it is not something that "the government" wants. It is something that Mathole Motshekga wants.

So who is Mathole Motshekga?

He is a lawyer and a politician.

He replaced Tokyo Sexwale as Premier of Gauteng, but didn't last very long in that post, and his tenure was somewhat controversial. He is now director of the Kara Heritage Institute, which appears to promote a new religion of Dr Motshekga's own devising, a rather eclectic religion based on a mixture of gnosticism and African traditional religion.

I heard him a few times on the morning talk show on SAFM radio, hosted by Xolani (or Cwelani, I've heard it pronounced both ways) Gwala giving his views on that subject and others.

To judge from what he said on the radio Dr Motshekga's knowledge of history seemed to be even more wildly inaccurate than that of The de Vinci code. Xolani/Cwelani Gwala appeared to be a fan of his, and Dr Motshekga was on SAFM nearly every day, so that his religion was getting more exposure on the SABC than any other. Eventually I switched to Classic FM, and no longer listen to SAFM.

I have no objection to Dr Motshekga having his own religion, or even speaking about it on the radio. What annoyed me was the lies and distortions about other religions that he was propagating, and the fact that he seemed to be being given a monopoly to do it by the SABC.

But that is no excuse for some Christians to spread lies and distortions about Dr Motshekga's views on public holidays, or to spread urban legends that have no foundation.

A good comment on this is Christian holidays and press responsibility by Amelia Mulder, in which she concludes that:
  1. people no longer pay attention when they are reading
  2. they believe what they want to believe
  3. especially when it has to do with the government's conspiracy against Afrikaners
  4. the press exploits this shamelessly
  5. it makes a person wonder how much you can believe of what you read
Concerning the last couple of points there was another example recently in reports of the arrest of the editor of the Sunday Times, which several journalist bloggers anticipated by writing headlines that implied that the arrest had already taken place, and then later used the rather feeble excuse that it would have happened if they hadn't said it had happened. So if you want to prevent something happening, say it has already happened, even when it has not -- a rather swivel-eyed concept of responsible journalism and media freedom!


Steve Hayes said...

I'm glad to see that Christians aren't the only ones that send out these weird chain e-mails with urban legends and unreliable information.

Hat tip to Religion & Society: Rules for Jewish chain emails for the following advice:

So, here is my easy two-step guide to forwarding interesting Jewish emails. Before you send, make sure you can answer "yes" to all of the following three sets of questions. If you can't answer yes to all of them, please don't forward the email!

(1) Is it timely and accurate? Have I done due diligence to verify the authenticity, timeliness, and accuracy of this email and the claims made in it?
(2) Is it worth imposing on my friend or family member's inbox? Really? Am I sure?
(3) Is it a day of the week that doesn't end in the letter "y"?

Magotty Man said...

Hah - I like no 3 there! But in all seriousness, I've seen so many of these things. As a matter of ptactice, I don't forward these "please forward" emails. Period. Remember the Proctor & Gamble "Satanic church" one? And what about Maretha Maartens publishing "facts" from "The Onion" on Harry Potter as truth? That last one was especially telling - a well known Afrikaans devotional writer not being able to see that "The Onion" is a satirical website.

But "educated" people will surprise you. I rmember well a PhD manager of mine, years ago, who refused to number a specific set of samples as batch 13 - the next batch. So there was no batch 13. Of course, batch 14 was a total flop....

Steve Hayes said...


Just a few weeks ago there was a "tornado" one. It was sent out by Netcare (a private ambulance service), saying there would be a storm with strong winds and to be careful driving.

It mutated into a tornado that was coming at 5:00 pm, and hundreds of people left work early, causing traffic jams.


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