Don’t condone incitement to violence

OVER the past week debate has raged over the publication in the Sowetan of a column by Eric Miyeni in which he launched a personal and vociferous attack on Ferial Haffajee, the editor of the City Press newspaper.

 The Sowetan newspaper is an institution. Founded after the bannings of numerous iconic South African newspapers in the late 1970s, it has built itself up through the decades as a voice for the voiceless, and a fearless, reliable friend of the poor and the oppressed.

 The Sowetan is founded on the values of ubuntu-botho (humanity, humaneness). It is a newspaper which fought for, and is committed to the nurturing of a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa as enshrined in our constitution.

 As we asserted last week, the Sowetan newspaper is committed to free, fair and robust debate. We have also pointed out that Miyeni expresses robust views shared by many South Africans.

However, the expression of these views should not be accompanied by the promotion or incitement to violence against those who hold differing views. In his latest column Miyeni crossed the line between robust debate and the condonation of violence.

The necklacing of people during the dark days of apartheid was condemned by all progressive forces in our country. If there is something to be ashamed of in the history of our country and the struggle against apartheid, it is the senseless, abhorrent act of necklacing.

In his column Miyeni condoned this act. The Sowetan newspaper cannot and will not allow itself to be a party to the condonation of such acts.

To do so is to allow our fine and noble newspaper to take the first steps towards what happened in Rwanda in 1994, when media outlets were used to incite people to violence. We are proud that the editors of the Sowetan, led by acting editor Len Maseko, swiftly and decisively discontinued this column.

Maseko has been acting editor of the Sowetan for just more than four months. He has done a sterling job in stabilising the newspaper.

Maseko was not at work on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday before publication of the Miyeni column, and did not see the column. However, Maseko has accepted full responsibility for the publication of the column and has resigned from his position as acting editor of the newspaper.

 We have accepted his resignation.

 We have appointed Mpumelelo Mkhabela, currently editor of the Daily Dispatch, as the new editor of the Sowetan with immediate effect.

 We have instituted disciplinary proceedings against those who allowed the column to appear in the form that it did.

 We acknowledge that as the heated debate over the Miyeni column continued we did not respond publicly. For this we apologise unreservedly.

Our readers, and the public, deserve to know. We commit ourselves to ensuring regular updates.

 Finally, deep hurt has been caused not only to Haffajee, but to the wider South African public by the publication of this column. For this we apologise unreservedly to Haffajee and to all South Africans.

We value debate, but do not condone incitement to violence.

 Justice Malala, general manager, Sowetan/Sunday World and Mondli Makhanya, Editor-in-Chief: Avusa Newspapers

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