Writing in Daily Maverick, DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s chief of staff and MP Geordin Hill-Lewis hit out at what he characterised as very poor reporting on Maimane’s Freedom Day comments.
He pointed out that Maimane’s speech had been twisted to make it sound as though he was comparing himself to Nelson Mandela, but that had never been the case.
Hill-Lewis wrote on Wednesday: “Driving into Cape Town the other day, I noticed the Cape Times headline on every third or fourth lamp post: ‘Maimane declares: I’m a mini Mandela’.
“This immediately struck me as odd, because I know Mmusi and he is not vainglorious. Perhaps a journalist had genuinely misunderstood him, I thought. So I did a search on Google and Twitter to find out exactly what he had said, and it confirmed all my suspicions. This was a completely fake faux pas.”
He explained that Maimane had in fact been attacking those calling Mandela a “sellout”.
“He was denouncing the abandonment of Mandela’s values in contemporary political debate, which is increasingly fuelled by vengeance, hate and division, rather than unity and reconciliation. In doing so, Maimane remarked that people have even started calling him a ‘mini Mandela sellout’ on social media as an insult.
“His point was clearly not one of boastful self-aggrandisement, but of dismay at how easily people are prepared to tarnish the name of someone as honourable as Mandela, to the point that his name is being used as a derogatory epithet.”
Hill-Lewis said the whole saga started with an SABC report on 27 April in which Maimane was shown, initially accurately, in a brief clip, as saying: “People phone me. They are on Twitter. They are on Facebook. They say ‘Mmusi Maimane you are a mini-Mandela! You are a sellout of our people!’”
However, this quote was later shortened, losing the crucial last part, in all subsequent media reports and a video clip started circulating on Twitter deliberately twisting it by also excising the final section.
Hill-Lewis wrote: “All of the journalists, senior editors and publications who jumped onto this story relied on these initial distorted reports. No one checked back to source. Their glee at the chance to hang Maimane out to dry trumped just about every journalistic rule. Not only was the story false, it seems to have been deliberately falsified.”
He expressed strong misgivings about the state of South African media and its ability to report fairly in the face of issues of “competence and capacity”.
“As it becomes harder to run a profitable news title in this age of digital saturation, and as the demands for content increase, newsrooms have become stretched to breaking point. Increasingly junior staff are given more and more work and responsibilities. Inevitably, mistakes creep in and standards plummet.”
Answering questions in parliament this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa also discussed Maimane’s Freedom Day comments, heaping praise on Maimane’s speech. He said Maimane had not only not said anything wrong, he had spoken the truth.