26/06/2017 17:03 SAST | Updated 27/06/2017 14:20 SAST

Mantashe On Dead Esidimeni Patients: I Was Just Joking

Gwede Mantashe responds to criticism after calling the mentally ill Life Esidimeni victims "amageza".

Social media users were appalled and furious at ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe on Friday for referring to the 94 mentally ill patients who died earlier in the year after they were moved from Life Esidimeni Health Care by the government as "amageza".

When asked on Monday whether he did not feel that his tone and his making fun of a situation where so many people died was inappropriate, Mantashe told Huff Post SA he was making fun of the situation and not those who died.

"I was making fun of the situation the MEC found herself in, but politics is polluted, there is no space for fun," he complained.

When HuffPostSA pointed out to Mantashe how the tragic loss of lives in the emergency wasn't funny, he responded by saying: "A society that cannot laugh at itself, is no society at all."

Mantashe, who was speaking at the ANC Gauteng provincial conference on Friday, has been asked to apologise for the statement. But he said he would only apologise for speaking isiXhosa, and not for his use of the term "amageza", which many feel was derogatory and insensitive. The ANC's secretary general insists that there was nothing wrong with the word and that the problem was people's lack of understanding of the language.

"It is not derogatory and there is no other word than that," he said. "The problem is deep, people get agitated by their own language," he added.

Mantashe blamed the complaints regarding his use of the term to "postmodernism", and said people had no depth for the isiXhosa language.

"It's these model C's [-schooled people], they have no sense of the language," he said.

Although Mantashe insists on making this a language issue, some of the Twitter users who have called his use of the word derogatory and offensive are also Xhosa-speaking. They say there is a better and more respectful way for the secretary general to speak of not just the dead but the mentally ill.

Mantashe and his audience may have found this statement harmless and funny, but Twitter is not laughing, and neither are we.