Is Ace Magashule a criminal? Is Solly Msimanga a failure? And is Geoff Makhubo a crook?
ActionSA thinks these questions should be posed. Very publicly. On billboards in fact.
But, there has been a little hiccup with the plan.
According to ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba, six media owners have refused to host a “seemingly controversial” billboard from his party.
Clearly this was not a Black Like Me billboard and in a statement, a seemingly furious Mashaba says his party is being “blocked and censored”.
He says the billboard attempts to highlight the party’s candidate election system whereby voters choose political representatives.
“Don’t like who parties choose?” the billboard asks above the faces of seven prominent and, in some cases, controversial, South African politicians.
Under each photo, ActionSA has added a specific question (scroll to the bottom of this article to see how the questions relate to the specific politicians):
- Ace Magashule – “Criminal?”
- Zandile Gumede – “Fraud?”
- Julius Malema – “Anarchist?”
- Solly Msimanga – “Failure?”
- Bathabile Dlamini – “Reckless?”
- Helen Zille – “Divisive?”
- Geoff Makhubo – “Crook?”
What happened with the billboard
According to Mashaba, media owners have refused to host the billboard for “fear of political reprisal, vandalism or defamation”.
“The aim of the billboard was not to target the individuals featured but rather to expose a political system that results in the selection of compromised candidates by political parties,” Mashaba said.
He adds that the party’s right to freedom of expression was being curtailed. “Let me be clear: ActionSA will not be silenced.”
According to marketing and communications strategist Clive Simpkins, the crux of the matter is not censorship.
“Imagine if someone put Mashaba’s picture on a billboard with ‘Xenophobe?’ next to it? Something of which he’s often accused in social media. He’s sailing dangerously close to the legal wind.
“He claims the ‘aim is not to target the individuals featured’. That’s disingenuous,” Simpkins says.
Simpkins adds he would not run the “divisive and crudely conceptualised campaign” and media owners are within their rights to refuse to do so.
“There’s nothing to stop ActionSA running a vigorous campaign across digital and social media platforms.”
Is it defamation?
According to media law expert Helene Viljoen, ActionSA is exercising its right to freedom of expression by creating the billboard and putting it out for others to see.
“The question arises whether they have done so in a way that unjustifiably infringes on basic human rights,” she says.
Defamation, she explained, is the publishing of a statement concerning another that has the tendency to undermine his or her status, good name and reputation.
“Such publication can be lawful or unlawful, depending on whether circumstances are present that legally justify the defamatory publication.”
By asking questions below each photo, it can be argued the party is not defaming the individuals but merely promoting public dialogue.
The politicians in question might disagree. If they were to take legal action, a court would have the final say.
Viljoen adds that the media owners have the right to refuse to place the billboard.
“Advertising companies may fear that repeating the billboard’s contents may land them embroiled in costly legal proceedings, or liable for defamation.
“Precedent dictates that anyone who reproduces the contents of defamatory material can be held liable along with the person who originally published it.”
Who’s who on the ActionSA list
First up is now suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule with the word “Criminal?”
Magashule has been charged with fraud, theft and money laundering among a raft of charges. He is out on bail.
Next is former eThekwini mayor and ANC KwaZulu-Natal legislature member Zandile Gumede.
She and her co-accused also face a rather long list of charges including fraud and corruption. Gumede is also out on bail.
ActionSA did not forget to include the EFF on the billboard and leader Julius Malema appears with the phrase “Anarchist?” below his photo.
It is old news there is little love lost between Mashaba and his former political party, the DA.
Former Tshwane mayor and opposition leader in the provincial legislature Solly Msimanga appears above the word “Failure?”. Msimanga led a DA coalition in Tshwane before being ousted.
Former DA leader Helen Zille appears alongside “Divisive?” Mashaba famously resigned as Johannesburg mayor after Zille was chosen as the party’s federal chairperson.
ANC MP and former minister Bathabile Dlamini appears with “Reckless?” below her photo.
She recently coughed up R650,000 in legal costs after the Constitutional Court found that she was “unreasonable” and “negligent” in the way she handled the social grants crisis.
Johannesburg mayor Geoff Makhubo has the word “Crook?” below his mugshot.
It has been alleged a number of financial irregularities have taken place in the metro under Makhubo’s watch and he appeared at the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture this week.
‘Seemingly controversial’ is it?
Mashaba’s statement comes across as self-righteous to say the least.
As the former chair of the Free Market Foundation he more than most should respect a business protecting its infrastructure and people.
ActionSA is not a victim in this saga either. It is not a seemingly controversial billboard. It is highly controversial.
Whether or not Ace is a criminal and Geoff is a crook is not for a political party to put on a billboard. It is for a court to decide. Once that has happened, the gloves can come off.
Yes, we should be having difficult conversations regarding the actions of elected representatives. But when we start throwing around accusations that have not been tested in a court of law, we are heading down a slippery slope. Fast.
Mudslinging is part of politics, sure. This billboard is something else.