Malema and the press

Andrew Donaldson says the EFF leader's Telytubby-thumping is not new



FROM time to time we are asked: Where exactly is the Mahogany Ridge? Sadly, the truth is that, if you must ask, we’re not going to tell you. This, of course, hasn’t stopped the speculation.

Many suspect our home from home to be deep in the southern Peninsula’s untamed baboon country, and some have in vain taken to Google for GPS co-ordinates so they may programme their land yachts and arrive here unbidden to soak up the sap. 

The late Christopher Hitchens, author and liberal studies academic, had however some idea about the place — and a muted reverence for its noble and endangered traditions.

“In every hellhole of the globe,” he wrote in 1996, “there is at least one hotel with a bar, and it is from this ‘mahogany ridge’ that many telling dispatches are filed. The Commodore Hotel in Beirut, the Europa in Belfast, the Sarajevo Holiday Inn — these are among the famous watering holes of hackery.”

Later, in his introduction to the 2000 edition of Scoop, Evelyn Waugh’s novel of journalism, Hitchens would add to that list the Meikles in Bulawayo, a hotel I happened to visit on the eve of the 2002 Zimbabwean elections. (The bar, I found, was indeed crowded with journalists who, as Waugh put it, “had loitered of old on many a doorstep and forced an entry into many a stricken home”.)

“Here,” Hitchens revealed, “is the stage on which reporters meet to fiddle their expenses, exploit the local exchange rate, bitch about one another and pick up hot tips from the sort of police informers and other riffraff who normally infest such places.

“The hardships of such postings include, in no special order, a shortage of eligible partners, the attrition caused by communications breakdowns, the indifference of the editors at home to the story at hand and the intense interest in it displayed by one’s immediate competitors. (‘Daily Mail man shot,’ read a cable once received by an Express hack. ‘Why you unshot?’…)”

Advances in communications technology have, of course, rendered the telegram and “telegraphese” obsolete — just as they have supposedly put paid to journalism itself. But we are getting slightly ahead of ourselves.

It was thanks to such technology — Twitter, in fact — that the address of Julius Malema’s Hyde Park, Johannesburg home appeared in news reports this week. 

The Economic Freedom Fighters were not pleased, and complained that this had compromised the security of their leader, his wife and her two children. The looters’ spokesperson, a particularly strident Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, went on to accuse the media of targeting the party. 

“We must warn all in the media,” Ndlozi was quoted as saying, “that we will not tolerate their unethical, double standard and obsessive attack on the EFF leadership. The invasion of the privacy of the EFF leadership and their families, all in an attempt to discredit our revolution and its objectives, cannot be tolerated.”

Public interest in the luxury residence is justified. It belongs to alleged tobacco smuggler and Effnik blesser Adriano Mazzotti, who leases it to Malema’s wife, Mantwa, for an amount that is said to be “market-related”.

Journalist Jacques Pauw, who first tweeted its whereabouts, had apparently felt that as it was in a high-security, guarded estate, publication of the address posed no threat to the family. Pauw has since deleted his tweet.

There is something quite laughable about a party of unrepentant thugs and hooligans accusing the media of “double standard”. Perhaps not as funny, though, are its continued warnings that it will no longer tolerate journalists who are simply doing their jobs.

In March this year, EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu, along with two heavies, was filmed attacking Media 24’s Adrian de Kock in an incident in the parliamentary precinct. De Kock had apparently taken photographs of Shivambu in an open place without his permission and had tried to ask him questions.

He later apologised for his behaviour, which he insisted was not an assault on De Kock or media freedom. “The EFF,” he said, “upholds media freedom‚ and freedom of association. As a loyal member of the EFF‚ I fully uphold media freedom and freedom of association‚ and the scuffle was not meant to suppress these constitutional principles.”

Such commitment was however found wanting following reports of the party’s involvement in the VBS Mutual Bank heist. True, they weren’t the principal looters, but they were nonetheless in there, at the trough.

Malema would later claim reports on the reserve bank’s investigation into the VBS looting had been manipulated for political gain. “The reason,” he said, “why [EFF member and Fraud’s brother] Brian Shivambu was mentioned was so they could silence the EFF.”

This was at the recent hoo-hah outside the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture as the party ramped up its efforts to unseat the public enterprises minister, Pravin Gordhan.

It was here that Malema identified by name the journalists he claimed had a pro-Gordhan, anti-EFF agenda and called on his supporters to deal with them decisively.

“These journalists,” he said, “are asking Pravin why is the EFF attacking you and not asking the question we have given them. Tiso Blackstar are hypocrites and from now on, we will not answer any questions from their publications.”

The Telytubby-thumping is not new. We can recall how, in April 2010, when he was president of the ANC Youth League, Malema threw the BBC’s Jonah Fisher out of a Luthuli House press conference, calling him a “bastard”, a “bloody agent” having “a white tendency”, and a “small boy” with “rubbish in his pants”.

That incident was a sad and shameful moment in the annals of South African journalism. Not one reporter there objected to the humiliation Fisher endured or spoke out in his defence. At the very least, they should have packed up their gear and walked out the presser in solidarity.

This bullyboy behaviour continues. EFF members and supporters went on the rampage, vandalising and looting cellphone stores this week, after veteran ANC politician and Corruption Watch chair Mavuso Msimang criticised the party during his address at the Vodacom Journalist of the Year ceremony last week.

Msimang had mentioned other organisations and individuals in his address, but it was his reference to the EFF’s recent actions — along with a projected image of Shivambu and Malema — as “nothing if not a blatant abuse of democracy” which resulted in supporters upcountry going postal and attacking Vodacom franchises.

The cellphone company’s management met with the EFF to discuss the vandalism. In a joint statement that smacked of nauseating appeasement, both parties said they had “resolved the issue”. It was, to say the least, a very Neville Chamberlain moment.

“Vodacom and EFF,” they said, in what could be the understatement of the year, “appreciate that the matter could have been handled differently to avoid the misunderstanding that occurred. 

“Vodacom and EFF encourage the right of freedom of speech and the free circulation of ideas. The parties also committed to engage on policy issues of mutual interest and consider the matter to be closed.”

Closed, that is, until the next time.