When I was a young reporter with the Eastern Province Herald, I remember brazenly walking into an Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) meeting in Port Elizabeth.
Being the only black journalist sitting next to white colleagues and covering a far-right, racist, whites-only gathering did not perturb me.
The only thing the pro-apartheid messiah Eugene Terreblanche and his burly men could do was to hurl insults at me in Afrikaans, not knowing my elementary Afrikaans was then perfect for me to hear their racist message without translation.
What the men in camouflage uniform with a swastika-like insignia lacked were the guts to physically throw me out of the meeting.
It was within my rights as a journalist to cover the story for its newsworthiness.
The AWB was not a political party but its rhetoric of hate speech, subscribing to self determination for what Terreblanche use to call “die kinders van God” (the children of God) was enough to attract massive support from poor whites.
Today, we live in a constitutional democracy that enshrines press freedom. We have such great instruments as an independent judiciary whose work is complemented by the Equality Court and the Human Rights Commission.
The past week has seen the media taking a beating, from the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) commander-in-chief Julius Malema to Minister for Women Bathabile Dlamini, who ordered an eNCA news team out of an official government media briefing.
The events have left the Fourth Estate not quite sure how best to deal with the situation.
Columnist Max du Preez wants the footage and recordings of all future EFF events to “be viewed and fact-checked, stripped of incendiary talk and wild defamation – before they are broadcast on radio or television”.
“We as journalists should guard against acting as publicists for the EFF’s theatrics and publicity stunts,” said Du Preez.
“If we don’t fall for their politics of spectacle every time, they will have to come back to earth and practice proper, issue and policy driven politics.
“When the EFF makes blatantly racist statements, we should report it as we do right-wing racism: as an exposé of racism and with commentary, rather than as run-of-the-mill political statements.”
While I strongly disagree with the EFF’s rhetoric and unwarranted attacks on journalists, I would find it hard to wish the party away. I think the time has come for the media to assist South Africans – especially in the run-up to the 2019 elections – by exposing the thinking of political leaders.
As much as it is unpalatable and unacceptable when Malema refers to fellow journalist Pauli van Wyk as “Satan”, how else do we help the South African electorate make an informed decision about the EFF if we do not reflect on exactly what they say?
Time calls for all of us to use our instruments of constitutional democracy when aggrieved by insults and hate speech by standing up for one another.