Editors rally around Haffajee as Malema, Miyeni team up

Eric Miyeni, the columnist fired from the Sowetan this week for penning a dramatic article sharply criticising City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, phoned into a live Talk Radio 702 interview with Julius Malema on Tuesday to voice his support for the ANC Youth League president’s call for economic freedom.

Later on Tuesday, the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) issued a statement expressing solidarity with Haffajee, with whom Miyeni had taken issue for presiding over City Press‘s investigation into Malema’s finances.

Miyeni called the radio station to talk to Malema during an hour-long broadcast during which listeners were given the opportunity to ask him questions.

Malema’s call for economic freedom was the single most important campaign since former president Nelson Mandela’s call to arms 50 years ago, Miyeni said.

“Please carry on, we can’t have this poverty,” Miyeni told Malema.

The youth league came out in support of Miyeni after the Sowetan discontinued his column because of comments he made about City Press editor Ferial Haffajee.

In a column titled Haffajee does it for white masters, which has since been removed from the newspaper’s website, Miyeni wrote that in the 1980s Haffajee would probably have had a burning tyre around her neck.

“Who the devil is she anyway, if not a black snake in the grass, deployed by white capital to sow discord among blacks?” he asked.

Haffajee said she took the comments seriously and planned to sue Miyeni.

More Erics are needed
Malema told radio listeners that he liked Miyeni’s courage.

“We need more Erics in this country,” he said.

Malema said Miyeni had criticised the league a number of times in his column and it had never called for him to be fired.

On Tuesday the league said it had asked to meet with representatives of publishing house Avusa and the Sowetan to demand an explanation for the firing of Miyeni.

“The ANCYL will soon seek a meeting with those who terminated the column to get an explanation on their application of principles, because they are simply out of line and abominable,” spokesperson Floyd Shivambu said in a statement.

During the interview Malema was asked why he wanted to stop the City Press from publishing an article about the Ratanang Trust, a trust that is in his son’s name and he has said funds charitable projects.

He said he did not want to stop the article from being published but rather had a problem with a few questions that were put towards him.

“With the rest of the story I said they were at liberty to write about anything. I was trying to stop the lies without proof about the bribe that was allegedly paid to the trust,” he said.

Later in the interview, he said he did not need to declare how much money the fund held.

“I declare to Sars [the South African Revenue Service]. I don’t declare to Ferial,” he said.

I’m no capitalist
A question posed to Malema in an email asked why he did not admit he was a capitalist.

“Look at the definition of capitalist then you’ll have an answer because I’m not one. Capitalists are the people who own the means of production. I do not own the means of production.”

The league leader did not want to talk about a R16-million house he is allegedly building in Sandton.

“I’m not going to speak about the house because I have never said I am building or not building a house. I think people should respect that.”

Malema also spoke about having bodyguards, saying he needed protection and support.

“You need people to assist you, not only from criminal threats that we receive but also from a possibility of being mobbed.”

On Tuesday, a person claiming to be Miyeni wrote on the social networking site Twitter: “Right now I am being crucified for telling the truth. Justice will prevail.”

Miyeni denied making the comments posted by @ericmiyeni and said this was not his official Twitter page.

The previous day, @ericmiyeni posted: “I’m not the editor of the Sowetan, nor do I decide what gets published and what doesn’t.”

“I will not by any means apologise for speaking the truth and expressing my right to freedom of expression,” he wrote later.

“At some point in life, one person has to stand up to this chaos! I don’t hate Ferial, but the truth must [be] spoken!”

Editors speak out
On Tuesday afternoon Sanef expressed its “solidarity” with Haffajee.

“This is not the first time that an editor has come under vicious attack, and it will also not be the last time,” said Sanef in a statement.

The forum said Miyeni was also not the first columnist to be fired over the “intemperate comments” and he would not be the last.

It noted that Miyeni’s column was discontinued and awaited the outcome of Avusa’s enquiry into “how the offending column made it into print”.

“As Sanef, we defend his right to write what he likes, with the proviso that it fall within the bounds of what the constitution allows.—Additional reporting by Sapa

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