Sipho Hlongwane

Staff writer: Daily Maverick

Wordsmith. Columnist. Counter-revolutionary. Thus reads the Twitter bio of the UCT dropout turned social-media starlet. The 22-year-old's story is a metonym for the burgeoning power of social networking in South Africa. An avid online media consumer, Hlongwane first tried his hand at blogging on the Mail & Guardian's Thoughtleader platform in late 2009. But it was his grasp of working the social-media crowd that saw him shoot to prominence in March 2010. The then law student convinced a number of high- profile bloggers to publish the same complaint against the ANC Youth League for their assault on journalists, becoming the ultimate "desktop activist�, as youth league spokesperson Floyd Shivambu contemptuously described him. From there it was a hop and a cheeky email away from becoming a fully fledged opinionista on likewise cheeky news website the Daily Maverick. Since August 2009, Hlongwane has become something of a celebrated columnist. Given his age and lack of experience his takes on South African and international politics attract a remarkable amount of attention from a who's who of South African tweeters. And it's on that social-networking platform that Hlongwane, or @ComradeSipho, his ironic Twitter handle, has made arguably the biggest impact, with 3 532 followers at the time of writing. It may not mean much to traditional media professionals, but it's been his backdoor entry to attaining the profile in the industry that many hacks don't normally win even after years of work. "Social media has been virtually everything,� he says. But though he insists he has "nothing to prove� to critics who slam his lack of journalism credentials, the wannabe media star acknowledges he has a lot to learn. His career lowlight? "Every time I sit down to write a story and I realise I don't know enough to write to the best of my ability.��Verashni Pillay

Website: Twitter: @comradesipho