“Let me tell you — before you are chatterig nê — let me tell you,” an irritated Julius Malema said as the room chuckled. ...“Go out! Bastard!, go out, you bloody agent,” Malema shouted as he waved his finger at BBC journalist Jonah Fisher.
Nearly a decade ago, the then leader of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) ordered a foreign correspondent out of Luthuli House for pointing out Malema’s own hypocrisy — something the now EFF president at the time described as “this thing’s” “white tendency”.
Looking back, Malema had then already set his tone with the media: play nice or else.
It’s hard to forget such incidents when the EFF argued its case before the Equality Court. Council for the party, advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, reminded the court of the red berets’ commitment to non-violence and resolving differences through ‘superior logic’. Ngcukaitobi had many examples, but for some reason — perhaps ‘superior logic’ — neglected to show Floyd Shivambu’s commitment to those values when he physically assaulted a reporter (there’s footage). Perhaps it was also ‘superior logic’ behind Ngcukaitobi’s reasoning that no one would take Malema’s rhetoric literally — even though every shred of evidence in the history of Homo sapiens suggests otherwise.
The EFF’s hostile behavior towards journalists notwithstanding, the events that lead to the case before the Equality Court speaks of a problematic relationship between the ‘darlings of the media’ (now possibly former) and those packaging their outrageous and often inappropriate statements into bite-sized trending-gold.
Malema has branded columnists and reporters who have complimented president Cyril Ramaphosa as his ‘defense-force’.
What he forgets is that, despite his conduct, reporters continue to queue for EFF briefings, which are mostly broadcast live in their entirety.
Despite the party getting more airtime than the PSL on SABC, Malema has never referred to any broadcaster as the ‘Economic Freedom News Network’. During these briefings, the firebrand leader vents endlessly — not about the EFF, but rather anyone else.
Follow-up questions then tend to focus on the ‘new revelations’ about the ANC or a minister. Not only is the question: ‘where is the evidence?’ often forgotten, in even rarer occasions is any proof offered, especially when it comes to questions about the red berets.
The EFF has much to answer for — not about which ANC faction will strike next — but the party’s own conduct. Questions such as: why is the party so furiously defending individuals with adverse findings against them? Why does Dali Mpofu, who chairs the EFF, argue cases on behalf of the public protector? Questions about Shivambu’s conduct towards Treasury’s former deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat, VBS, and the EFF’s tobacco friends? Was Fisher’s question about Malema criticising the Zimbabwean opposition for holding briefings in Sandton while he himself resided in a lavish suburb ever answered?
This is where the party grows intolerant. These questions are the ones being cited before the Equality Court, because the EFF rarely subjects itself to criticism, much less evidence-backed questioning. Rarely has a party’s interaction with the media been so inconsistent.
Perhaps former mayor and minister Mondli Gungubele defined it best during a debate in parliament.
“You have got no sense of self contradiction, and that is a serious problem,” Gungubele told Malema in the National Assembly. He cited many examples: the EFF’s support for Pravin Gordhan, only to turn him into the main villain; the party’s regret in supporting Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s appointment as public protector, only to become her fiercest defender; Malema’s past praise for Gungubele himself as mayor, only to describe him as an “intellectually challenged” minister (Examples go back to the early 2000s). “My conviction about you is that: anything that gratifies you is your position. Anything that speaks about you is your position. Anything that puts something in your pocket is your position,” concluded Gungubele.
As officials paid with tax money, the EFF has to explain itself, its own contradictions, double standards and misdeeds, and the onus is on the press to ask, repeatedly if necessary. This responsibility cannot be left to a small few, some of whom, such as Scorpio and anaBhungane, are no longer allowed to attend EFF briefings. Hate speech or not, the EFF, through its tone and language, repeatedly demonstrates its disgust with this watchdog, which underscores the duty to ask the hard question.
The answers won’t come easy, but to paraphrase the philosopher Karl Popper, democracies should have a right not to tolerate intolerance. This, I believe, should especially be the case when it comes to holding power to account.