Former DA leader, Cape Town mayor, and Western Cape premier Helen Zille, now a policy fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), has argued that if the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) won their case against the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) this would, ironically, curtail media freedom.
In a column for News24, Zille expresses her view that “the media will have been complicit in curtailing a foundation freedom” if the case succeeds.
Sanef approached the court, in their own words, “in defence of media freedom and seeking protection of journalists against sustained intimidation and threats against journalists by EFF leader Julius Malema and his supporters.”
Their complaint can be read in full here.
Zille questioned whether the case saw journalists “claiming the right to exercise their freedoms (including to be hateful and hurtful, which they regularly are) while preventing others from doing so”.
“Given that Sanef and almost all the journalists who have brought the case are active commentating participants in day-to-day politics, rather than mere neutral observers, do they expect to be immune from blow-back?” she asked.
Elsewhere in the column, she suggests that Sanef and the five journalists who joined the case – Adriaan Basson, Pauli van Wyk, Barry Bateman, Ranjeni Munusamy, and Max du Preez – may be barking up the wrong tree in their interpretation of remarks made by Malema as hate speech. These utterances were made while addressing supporters outside the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.
“…Quoted in full context, Malema’s remarks, on which the case is primarily based, show that he specifically urged his followers not to use violence against journalists. A little bit of context, I have found, makes a lot of difference,” Zille writes.
Following initial publication of this article, Zille told The Citizen that while the content is accurate, the headline of this article “misses the point”. “I am siding with the Constitution, not Malema”, she said.
Zille has herself faced off against Malema in court.
Zille took Malema on back in 2012, suing him for defamation for remarks made in 2010 while he was still president of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), which included calling her a “racist little girl“, saying she was “suffering from Satanism” and suggesting she had sexual relations with her all-male cabinet.
In a settlement, Malema retracted the statements and agreed to pay legal costs.
Judgment in the Sanef vs EFF case was reserved last week.
Following this, the forum’s chairperson, Mahlatse Mahlase, told media that the organisation was confident it would win the case, and had successfully shown a direct link between utterances made by Malema outside the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture last year and threats and attacks which followed, from EFF supporters on Twitter.
Malema, however, disagreed.
“We are more than happy that the loudmouths have come to expose themselves here,” he added during an adjournment last Tuesday. “There is nothing this court will find against the EFF.”
UPDATE: This article has been updated with Zille’s comment, 11:10, Monday August 12.