The watchdog that guards only its own tail

William Saunderson-Meyer on the media, Julius Malema and the EFF


The general election is creeping closer, now exactly two months away. But for the Economic Freedom Fighters it's been just another mundane week in politics, dispensing the usual menace and mayhem.

On Tuesday, EFF leader Julius Malema “exposes” Karima Brown, a prominent eNCA journalist, as a likely “intelligence operative”, who is spying on his party. He releases her cell number onto social media, fully knowing what will happen next.

The EFF rabble do not disappoint Das Führer. They unleash a barrage of filthy abuse, calling her “an Indian whore and bitch”, and make pornographically explicit threats of assault, torture, rape. and murder. There is no word of disapproval from the EFF leadership.

Almost  a full 24 hours later, the EFF Commander-in-Chief, as Malema pretentiously styles himself, breaks his silence. Radiating innocence, Malema says that people who threaten violence should be jailed, even if they are EFF members, which he — squinting earnestly at the television cameras — very much doubts.

The tweet, however, remains prominently displayed on EFF Twitter, with Brown’s telephone number clearly visible.

It's vintage Malema. Slip the leash from the hounds of hell and once they have done their worst, express bafflement and fake contrition.

Despite the media frenzy about Brown, none of this is new. It happens repeatedly and endlessly. The EFF's bullying is SA’s own non-cinematic version of Groundhog Day

On Monday, prior to the Brown incident, the Free State High Court interdicted six EFF councillors from assaulting a municipal manager, disrupting job interviews and pelting the other councillors with dangerous objects. The manager, Solomon Mashiane, had to be booked off sick after being assaulted and his laptop smashed, allegedly by these elected EFF public representatives. 

Criminal charges were laid but if past experience is any indicator, nothing is likely to come of these. Only Volksblad reported the matter and News24 didn't even bother to translate the report into English for their website. 

Here lies the nub of the problem. It’s not just that the EFF's fascist thugs threaten us with beatings, rape and genocide.

It is not just that they intimidate and incite. That they destroy property and terrorise the vulnerable. 

That is, after all, the nature of the EFF beast. It is a vicious and feral creature and all South Africans have known this from the day that this paramilitary, masquerading as a political party, was founded six years ago.

The real problem is that the EFF has been allowed to rampage with impunity. There is not a single state institution — not the police, the Human Rights Commission, Parliament, the Independent Electoral Commission, nor the African National Congress government itself — that has been willing to act to stop the EFF’s undemocratic and illegal behaviour.

Business, often the target of the EFF, is similarly supine. Last year EFF thugs trashed and looted H&M and Vodacom stores countrywide. No criminal charges were brought and both companies "resolved" the matter by cravenly apologising to the EFF for the apparent slights that had set them off. No courage here.

According to Daily Maverick, in the past year there have been at least 10 attacks by the EFF on journalists. None has reached the courts and in a number of cases, the police have not yet bothered to take witness statements.

Last year, the SA National Editor’s Forum (SANEF) approached the Equality Court for an interdict ordering the EFF to refrain from inciting violence against journalists, as well as intimidatory “hate speech”. The Court, whcih was set up to fast-track the judicial response to human rights threats, has only just decided which judge will hear the SANEF application. No urgency here.

The SA Human Rights Commission has been characteristically spineless. There have been scores of formal complaints against the EFF and its leader, some dating back three years, but with no discernible progress. 

When I challenged them on this, a year ago, the SAHRC replied that the complaints were “receiving attention” and that complainants would "in due course" be told the SAHRC's decision. 

No urgency here. No public transparency either.

Brown says she intends complaining to the Independent Electoral Commission. “We need to ask the IEC how such a party can be on the ballot box. It threatens journalists. It encourages its supporters to make rape threats and sexual assault threats. … How is such a party allowed to be part of a constitutional democracy? That’s the fundamental question.”

Brown’s “fundamental question” certainly deserves to be addressed but it’s a pity that it has taken so long for anyone in the media to ask it. We should not gloss over the fact that the sudden uptick in media criticism of the EFF corresponds with the EFF escalating its attacks on journalists.

Similarly, SANEF’s “shock and outrage” over the terror campaign against Brown. While SANEF's outrage is justified, its shock is unconvincing. 

When, in the past, the EFF flirted with calling for white genocide and did call for the extermination of farmers, there were no urgent demands from the media for police, parliamentary, IEC or government intervention. Aside from some half-hearted disapproving clucking, the media did pretty much nothing.

The South African media, the supposed watchdog of democracy, seems to growl only when its own tail is trod upon. Journalists should be ashamed of their profession — a real watchdog that performed so poorly would quickly be disposed of.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye