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Saturday, 19 December 2009

No More Dr Beetroot Slurs…

Related: A case of collective shame for the ANC

Gareth Cliff IOL reports that loudmouth 5FM DJ Gareth Cliff has been gagged from making any comments about Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's death on air after his Twitter remarks sparked widespread outrage.

The shock jock received a stern warning from the public broadcaster yesterday not to try anything on air.

SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago told the Saturday Star he had had a meeting with Cliff and told him they did not support his comments.

"He (Cliff) said he had not said anything on air and was not planning to do so. He gave us a clear commitment he would not," said Kganyago.

The furore began on Wednesday when Cliff responded on social networking site Twitter to Tshabalala-Msimang's death from complications relating to her 2007 liver transplant.

His first tweet: "Manto is dead. Good. A selfish and wicked bungler of the lowest order. Rotten and rancid liver - three of them..."

Many Twitter followers, bloggers and Facebookers called for him to be fired. The ANC Youth League and several politicians also added their voices.

But that didn't stop Cliff.

He posted: "Relieved about Manto. I was worried she'd finish all our phuza before 2010," as well as "getting a lot of heat about my Manto comment earlier: It's what I said while she was alive, and I'm not going to lie just because she's dead."

Later posts included: "Why do people think the dead deserve respect? They're dead... Even the law is unequivocal: dead people have no rights," as well as "That woman - Manto - and her policies on Aids sent many thousands of people to their graves early. She added no value to SA."

Yesterday Kganyago said Cliff was a freelancer and did not work only for the SABC.

"He has his own show on MNet. Why should the SABC be the only one to answer?" he asked. "It was not done on air. People should be outraged at Twitter. He did it in his personal capacity in a public forum, away from the SABC."

He admitted that the SABC had "become worried" and decided to speak to Cliff.

"He gave us his word. It is his view and we can't take it away from him. He has used a public platform. From our side we can't say he can't express his views on a public platform."

Cliff's manager, Rina Bloomberg, said Cliff was at several functions yesterday and his popularity on Twitter had shot up "by a couple of thousand".

She referred to his latest statement on his website, where he says: "My opinion of her in life was not a particularly favourable one and I am sure she might have thought the same of me - but this is of no import. Now that she is dead, it would appear I am required to put up the pretence that I am sad. I'm afraid I can't be quite so pious."

While he sympathised with her family, Cliff qualified his tweets, saying: "Minister Tshabalala-Msimang presided over the most disastrous policy decisions in South African medical history."

He quoted from the Los Angeles Times that she had been directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of about 300 000 people.

"These are the facts. The opinions, caricatured all over the world, were much harsher: 'Dr Beetroot' was hardly a figure of universal love and devotion," he said.

Cliff joked about ANC Youth League president Julius Malema running to the media over his comments, instead of just calling him, as he had his phone number.

"I couldn't help wondering why so much valuable time and space is given to a simple tweet. Some of us will agree... and others will agree to disagree. Great minds don't always think alike. But what we have to agree on is the power of Twitter. Who would have thought a little twit could evoke such a reaction?"

But this is not the first time Cliff has shot off his mouth. In 2004 he was wrapped over the knuckles by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission for making derogatory statements about mentally ill people.

The same year he was suspended for two days when he held a mock interview with Jesus Christ when the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ was being screened.