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@Sowellnomics an outspoken libertarian

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NICOLA MILTZ

For years, his identity remained a mystery in spite of numerous attempts by his critics to “out him”.

After he took his life in January his real identity became known by many of his followers. Political commentator Sherlin Govender, 30, was the man behind the highly controversial and prolific Twitter account.

He described himself on Twitter as a “Lover of liberty, free markets, innovation, the state of Israel and Arsenal FC. Dislike: socialism, Marxists and social-justice warriors.” For this, he was liked and disliked.

Benji Shulman of the South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) described Govender as “unique”.

“There is literally no one in South Africa on Twitter that has a combination of his reach, clarity of thought, and confidence of expression. He was a fearless thinker, someone who didn’t just think but acted and debated with the people he disagreed with. That’s rare.

“He was willing to stand up for truth, and the best way he saw it,” Shulman said. “He was prepared to take the punches to say what he believed. He will be missed for this.”

Political and social commentator Jonathan Witt of the Renegade Report announced last week on Twitter that Govender had died. “Very sad to have to tweet this, but the person behind the @Sowellnomics account took his own life last week. A really great guy with a thoughtful and inquisitive mind. Suicide is nobody’s fault, but the vitriol on Twitter often directed by big accounts didn’t help.”

This received more than 1 500 likes and was retweeted more than 500 times. It’s believed that @Sowellnomics had about 30 000 followers. Some said he had an auto-immune illness which contributed to his flailing mental health.

The name @Sowellnomics was in reference to acclaimed American economist and social theorist, Thomas Sowell, 89.

According to close friends, the Pietermaritzburg-born Govender, worked in the banking sector and kept his online persona totally separate from his real identity in a bid to protect himself and his family from numerous detractors.

A friend of his, Johannesburg advocate Mark Oppenheimer, told the SA Jewish Report that as a young person who had recently moved up to Johannesburg, Govender didn’t want to endanger his career and his livelihood.

“He spoke about free speech, free markets, the importance of non-racialism, and the idea that we shouldn’t judge people by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. He was good at pointing out which government policies were going to be detrimental to the economy and to the flourishing of all South Africans, and for that he was both loved and hated,” he said.

A lot of people said how much they loved him online but, said Oppenheimer, it was also clear that he had been targeted and attacked, and that there were moves to try and vilify him and make his life incredibly uncomfortable because of some of the views that he held.

“That kind of online bullying can have real-world consequences, and is a really important lesson for everyone. It’s clear that Sherlin was a person of principle, and a strong person, but I think the fact that he was so heavily targeted may have played a role in his mental state.”

Govender was a devout Christian and an intellectual, his friends said.

@Sowellnomics encouraged public discourse and open debate, often agitating his critics with his controversial political views on land reform and gun control. He often butted heads with left wing activists and politicians, ruffling feathers in government circles.

Govender was often seen sipping hot chocolate at kosher eatery Jozi Blue in Glenhazel, Johannesburg, engaging in active debate with his good friend, Sihle Ngobese, well known as @BigDaddyLiberty on Twitter.

Ngobese who is head of strategic operations at the Institute of Race Relations, told the SA Jewish Report that one of the highlights of Govender’s life was his visit to Israel last year.

“I get emotional thinking about how happy that trip made him. As a Christian, Israel was his spiritual home,” he said.

Ngobese described Govender as an “intelligent young man” who wanted to keep his online persona separate from his real identity because he attracted so much vitriol.

 “Many wanted to dox him,” Ngobese said. Doxing is a cyber-attack that involves discovering and revealing the real identity of an internet user so others can target them.

This weighed heavily on him, said close friends.

According to Ngobese, Govender was a classical liberal thinker and libertarian, which meant he advocated the protection of individual liberty and economic freedom by limiting government power.

@Sowellnomics, who grew up in a conservative, ANC-supporting family in KwaZulu-Natal, was interviewed by the SA Jewish Report last year on his return to South Africa from Israel. He affectionately described Israel as the “rainbow nation of the Middle East”.

Oppenheimer described his friend as “incredibly warm, passionate, and remarkably bright”.

He said, “He was a wonderful person to have at a dinner party. We had a few Shabbos meals together, and the last time I saw him was at a Chanukah dinner. He cared a lot about Israel, and held Jews in high esteem. He told me Israel is a remarkable place, and that describing Israel as an apartheid state was completely uncalled for.”

Shulman said that @Sowellnomics was always prepared to engage with people.

“He listened to their viewpoint, and had the emotional capacity to argue with people and take the fight, he never swore or insulted. He was an interesting guy who liked to think for himself and back up his opinions with logical argument.”

The Twitter account @Sowellnomics was closed last week. Whether you loved him or loathed him, @Sowellnomics, left his mark. He is survived by his mother and older brother.

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