Haffajee to sue Eric Miyeni over ‘white masters’ column

City Press editor Ferial Haffajee says she will sue Eric Miyeni over comments made in a column published in the Sowetan on Monday under the headline “Haffajee does it for white masters“.

In the opinion piece, which was removed from the Sowetan‘s website on Monday evening, Miyeni accuses Haffajee of being an agent for white capitalists, saying that ‘in the 80s [she would] probably have had a burning tyre around her neck”.

On Monday afternoon it was reported that the Sowetan had fired Miyeni as a columnist.

Haffajee said she would not allow Miyeni’s slight to pass unchallenged. “I think there are many elements of his column that are hate speech and are racist. I was going to ignore it but now I have decided if we all just ignore these things, it sullies our public space and harms non-racialism so I am going to sue him,” she told the Mail & Guardian.

Miyeni’s column labels Haffajee a ‘black snake in the grass, deployed by white capital to sow discord among blacks”, saying these views were formed during her time editing the M&G between 2004 and 2009.

“We know where she comes from. She was groomed by the Mail & Guardian, the same newspaper that produces the Jacob Dlaminis of this world, black people who say it was nice to live in the townships under apartheid,” Miyeni wrote, referring to writer and academic Jacob Dlamini, who writes a weekly column for Business Day and is the author of Native Nostalgia, and a contributor to the book Should I stay or should I go?, a collection of essays about living in or leaving South Africa.

Miyeni, meanwhile, was the creative director of advertising firm Chillibush Communications for a period in 2006, during which the company’s turnover dropped from R32-million to R18.5-million. Miyeni was held responsible for the drop in turnover and dismissed. A Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration hearing upheld his dismissal.

Miyeni is also the author of several books, though he has also worked as an actor, appearing most notably in a modest role in Cry The Beloved Country, and briefly hosted a talk show on SAfm — a job from which he was dismissed in 2008 following a fallout with management that was covered by City Press.

Since leaving radio Miyeni has busied himself as a film and book critic and writes in his personal capacity for the Sowetan.

His column comes in the wake of a series of articles published in the City Press calling
ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s finances into question.

The newspaper reported that a businessman had allegedly paid money into Malema’s Ratanang trust fund, named after his son, in exchange for securing government tenders in Limpopo.

In the most recent of these reports the newspaper reported that when buying his home in Sandown in 2009, the youth league leader had allegedly paid the R2-million asking price in cash.

On Monday, Haffajee confirmed that after seeking legal advice she would decide whether she would take the matter up with the Equality Court or file a criminal defamation suit against Miyeni.

“He was a real role model for many of us. I feel shattered and battered — but certainly not defeated.” Haffajee added.

Haffajee said on Twitter that she would take any proceeds made from the case and use it to form a bursary scheme for young columnists.

The Sowetan newspaper said on Monday evening that it had discontinued Miyeni’s column with immediate effect.

“Eric Miyeni expresses robust views shared by many South Africans. This is why he has continued writing a column in the Sowetan newspaper,” said Avusa editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya and Sowetan acting editor Len Maseko in a statement.

“However, the expression of these views should not be accompanied by the promotion or condoning of violence against those who hold differing views.”

They said that his latest column crossed the line between robust debate and the condonation of violence. — Additional reporting by Sapa

  • In a previous version of this story, we incorrectly stated that Miyeni was the chairperson of Chillibush Communications. This was not the case. He was its creative director. We have corrected the error and apologise for the mistake.

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