Media in the EFF’s crosshairs
A couple of weeks ago, in this column, I wrote in mildly celebratory terms about the state of the press in SA.
I suggested, at the time, that the news media, in particular, were riding the crest of a wave, albeit a relatively low wave.
A series of events last week and over the weekend suggested that I was wrong, or that I was simply deluded.
It is patently clear that journalists and the news media face quite possibly the greatest threat of the democratic era.
It all began, as it always seems to, with EFF leader Julius Malema – in his best imitation of Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist leader of the inter-war period, who labelled the media and specific journalists as conspiratorial crooks.
It is worth recalling that Mussolini, too, regularly threatened the press, and when a special judicial investigation threatened to reveal his financial corruption and complicity in criminal acts, Mussolini went onto the offensive against everyone.
Last week Malema identified specific journalists and accused them of protecting public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan.
He also associated individual journalists with the apartheid government’s “Stratcom” disinformation campaign and called the Tiso Blackstar group “hypocrites”.
Malema followed all this up with the statement that the EFF would no longer provide the journalists he mentioned with any access to the party’s information and spokespersons.
Not to be outdone, last Sunday ANC Women’s League leader Bathabile Dlamini, who is minister of women in the presidency, showed how deeply entrenched authoritarianism and anti-democratic tendencies are in SA politics.
Dlamini barred news outlet eNCA from entering the venue where she launched the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.
Dlamini gave specific instructions that only the SABC would be allowed to make audio-visual recordings of her because it knew the rules.
Here is a sense of the direct influence the ruling party has over what should be a public broadcaster.
While Dlamini’s statement is an aberration – there has been a more open relationship with the media since the departure of Jacob Zuma – Malema’s statements are cause for concern and pose a veritable threat to society.
Malema and his deputy, Floyd Shivambu, have a deep history of outrageous, offensive and quite tyrannical abuse of journalists and people they disagree with.
In 2010, Malema had a BBC journalist thrown out of a press conference and called him a “bloody agent”.
In 2012, Shivambu was forced to apologise for calling a journalist a “white bitch”.
Earlier this year Shivambu physically attacked a journalist outside parliament.
Then last week, following Malema’s inflammatory remarks, one of the journalists he identified was approached threateningly and mocked in public by strangers.
Malema ended the week by referring to another one of the journalists as satanical.
Malema is quite shrewd in his utterances.
He drops ideas in the minds of his followers, who act accordingly.
In the past he has said white people should be pleased that the EFF was not calling for a genocide against them.
This placed the idea in the mind of his followers.
Last week he was scathing of journalists and added that his followers should not kill them. Again, he leaves ideas hanging.
Over just the past 10 days or so, Malema has called Gordhan a “dog” that must be “crushed”.
Also last week, during the Zondo Commission hearings, he referred to an advocate, Paul Pretorius, as a “bastard”.
Add to this, his exhortations to cut the throat of “whiteness”, and getting people to prepare for war and bloodshed with statements like “there will be loss of life”.
The picture that emerges is one of tyranny.
Everyone who disagrees with Malema and the EFF is seen as an enemy who is to be drawn into violent battles.
“There are no roses in a war,” he told his followers, “There is blood in a war.”
In a statement the SA Council of Churches expressed its concern over Malema’s exhortations.
“We find it unacceptable that an elected public official can call a person, whether government minister or not, a dog; especially given the connotation of such an expression in African culture,” the SACC’s Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said late last week.
“Moreover, such name-calling by a popular political leader could easily incite followers to violent acts. It engenders an attitude in society that says other people do not matter.
“That is not ubuntu. This kind of talk, accompanied by sabre-rattling and talk of war and possible bloodshed, on the eve of electioneering, is deeply concerning.”
All of this brings us terribly close to dangerous times for the media and for individual journalists.
That cannot be good for society...