US President Donald Trump is not alone in his fight with certain members of the fourth estate: he has a partner in Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
Duelling with the media is often the preserve of weak leaders like Trump because often they have something to hide, such as corruption or leadership shortfalls. But when an opposition party frequently squares up against journalists, it raises suspicions that it, too, has a lot to hide.
The spat is more between some Joburg-based journalists and EFF president Malema and his deputy, Floyd Shivambu. Of course, the rest of the party’s so-called high command just follows what Julius says.
It is not difficult to find why the media have suddenly become their enemies. They are fighting back and have to kill the messenger after the media linked the duo to the VBS Bank looting. And don’t forget Malema’s alleged corrupt relationship with cigarette kingpin Adriano Mazzotti.
Malema is not used to criticism by the media. Instead, he uses the media to criticise other politicians. Think of his time as ANC Youth League president, when he lambasted anyone he believed was Jacob Zuma’s opponents.
As EFF leader, he still uses his gift of rhetoric to ridicule other politicians and has mastered the art of turning his media briefings into stand-up comedy shows.
He appears to have some access to secret information, probably obtained through friendly rogue elements in the intelligence community intent on exposing certain political individuals.
Using an enemy to fight an enemy is not uncommon in dirty politics. It is not unheard of for comrades to leak small skeletons of their fellow comrades to expose and bring them down.
Malema consistently targeted Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. Gordhan, as an anticorruption crusader, has several enemies inside and outside his own party who would rejoice at his downfall.
Similarly, Malema pointed his poisoned arrow at Nene over the funding activities at the Public Investment Corporation, of which Nene was chair. While Nene fell on his sword after he lied under oath at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, state capture advocates gunned for his head – and Malema led the onslaught.
Like a cobra, Malema squirted his venom against journalists such as Ranjeni Munusamy, Pauli van Wyk and those who reported without fear or favour.
The bulk of the problem began last year after certain journalists exposed glaring weaknesses in the EFF leadership.
It became clear that, to Malema and Shivambu, good journalists are those who only publish or broadcast wrongdoing by anyone else but the EFF. Their contempt for media freedom was demonstrated when Shivambu assaulted a journalist outside parliament in full view of the media cameras and other politicians, only to apologise later.
There had been relative media freedom in South Africa under ANC rule. Zuma unsuccessfully tried to sue some publications, including numerous failed lawsuits against cartoonist Zapiro.
Malema and his fellows, like Zuma, will try to muzzle the media but they, too, will fail.