words: Jade Kennedy
Since the Zheani Sparkes/Die Antwoord allegations surfaced a week ago and the ensuing video of ‘evidence’ emerged on March 18th, I have been watching the story with a mix of mild fascination and abject horror.
In case you missed it: a Brisbane-based 25-year old called Zheani Sparkes wrote a ‘diss track’ aimed at the South African Zef hip hop duo known as Die Antwoord.
Zheani had around 300 likes on her Facebook page when the video dropped on Monday; Die Antwoord had around 1.1 million.
So this is no Machine Gun Kelly vs. Eminem battle. Zheani is essentially a nobody from Brisbane (in fact, she’s not even originally from Brisbane – she’s from a tiny town called 1770 and lived for a time in Bundaberg – both tiny Queensland towns). So sure, her calling out DA for these alleged abuses is a pretty big claim – one she seemed to be able to back up, for the most part – and despite rumours about her being triggered by DA’s impending Splendour In The Grass announcement (which we still cannot confirm or deny) could well be an attempt, at least in part, to kick start her rap career.
Yo-Landi addressed the track on her Instagram account before the video was released on Monday. That was the first many people – including myself – had heard of Zheani Sparkes.
Surely, then, that would be the end of it? Yo-Landi has made a statement; the claims aren’t true, end of.
Well… no. You see, once Zheani’s video came out with screenshot upon screenshot of text conversations, Ninja put out a video addressing the whole situation with his side of the story. Good, yes, we needed to hear that. And on the basis of the story alone, it made complete sense: girl was a fan, she was hot, he bought into it, flew her to South Africa, she didn’t live up to his expectations but they still had sex and spent a few days together, because obviously, he’d just flown her to Africa… and let’s not get into a male entitlement debate.
Aside from the screenshots we had seen showing Yo-Landi commenting on Zheani’s Instagram asking for her email address and screenshots we had seen of an email from Yo-Landi’s account to Zheani’s, most of it was explained (or could be explained) by Ninja’s video account of what happened.
But then he edited the video to add a sinister little ‘PS’ and included links to nude images and videos of Zheani apparently received by a Die Antwoord fan posing as a ‘client.’ Because, as with many thousands of girls in 2019, Zheani is now (or has recently been) selling adult content online for money.
Now, let’s check the Cambridge English Dictionary for one second. Revenge porn (noun) is ‘private sexual images or films showing a particular person that are put on the internet by a former partner of that person, as an attempt to punish or harm them.’ Just for good measure, the Merriam-Webster definition: ‘sexually explicit images of a person posted online without that person’s consent especially as a form of revenge or harassment.’
These images were sold to someone in a private exchange. This person then either sent the screenshots directly to Die Antwoord or uploaded them to a Google Drive/Imgur in an attempt to clear DA’s name, or show them ‘what kind of person’ they were dealing with. I’m not sure what their exact motivation was, however they are now readily available all over the internet without the consent of the girl depicted.
I Googled punishment for revenge porn and it said, ‘posting “identifiable nude pictures of someone else online without permission with the intent to cause emotional distress or humiliation” is a misdemeanour carrying a punishment of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine,’ (www.securingtomorrow.mcafee.com article from 2013).
So technically, then, not only did Ninja send nudes of Zheani and possibly other women to his co-workers on the set of Chappie years ago (the proof of which we saw in the email screenshots in Monday’s video); he’s also committed the offence of revenge porn – as has the person that originally uploaded the photos to the internet (who identifies themselves in the Google Drive files being shared left, right, and centre) and now Yo-Landi, who posted a piss-taking video of herself (with Ninja weirdly blurred in the background) and another video on Facebook with several links to Zheani’s nudes.
This is where my mind begins to boggle.
Die Antwoord is a well-known act with a massive international fan base. Collectively, they have never shied away from controversy and have never been apologetic for it. They are all about being weird and accepting people’s differences. They pride themselves on their ‘Zef’ counter culture style. We understand that about them. Generally, we accept that about them.
Why, though, would they bother bullying a young girl from Australia who is bereaved (her grandmother passed away last weekend) and potentially mentally unstable? What do they have to gain? They have millions of fans across the globe – this girl isn’t going to destroy their career.
Oh, and before anyone questions my use of the term ‘bullying’ – ‘bullying is repeated verbal, physical, social or psychological behaviour that is harmful and involves the misuse of power by an individual or group towards one or more persons,’ according to the Queensland Government’s education web site.
This shit is being taught in our schools as being not okay, we tell our kids it’s not okay – but we let it continue online because someone famous is doing it to a girl who sold nudes on the internet?
The video from Ninja linking the posts. The video from Yo-Landi linking the posts. The video of Yo-Landi mocking Zheani’s allegations. This is repeated behaviour, it is harmful and involves the misuse of power by a group towards one person – two, if you include Zheani’s ‘dumb boyfriend’ Yo-Landi refers to in one of her videos.
So the question now becomes where do we draw the line? When does bullying become okay? Is it okay because the victim is now or has recently been a sex worker? Is it okay because the people perpetrating it are celebrities? Is it okay because ‘she brought it upon herself’? At what point do we, as a whole, say enough is enough? Is it going to take a girl taking her own life before we condemn these actions?
Yes, for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction. Die Antwoord had every right to present a defence against the allegations Zheani raised. But do their actions now constitute a fair retaliation? Or are they going overboard? Is that because there’s something to hide?
I honestly don’t know the answer to any of it. I don’t think we know the full story from both sides; at least not enough to play judge or jury. All I can say is, I hope it doesn’t get to the point of losing a life.
If you or anyone you know is suicidal, you can call Lifeline in Australia 24/7 on 13 11 14 or text 0477 13 11 14. Free sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling is also available 24/7 by phoning 1800 Respect on 1800 737 732.