Some high-profile South Africans on Twitter have taken on those calling for the blood of ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, following reports about his finances, with the posts quickly becoming inflammatory and aggressive.
Last Friday evening singer Simphiwe Dana and well-known blogger Sentletse Diakanyo fired questions at Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille on the social network, quizzing her about the funding of her party and the value of her personal property and asking if she knew for certain that Malema was guilty of corruption.
Diakanyo asked her: “How do you know Malema is receiving ‘illegal’ bribes? Or do you operate from the basis that blacks are criminals?”
Dana wrote: “It’s interesting that the DA has a policy of protecting their donors, but @helenzille [Zille’s user name on Twitter] and @DKB20 [DA spokesperson for police Dianne Kohler-Barnard’s user name] won’t let Malema do the same.”
In response, Zille argued there was “a big difference between illegal bribes to individuals and legal donations to a political party” and requested evidence for allegations they made, “instead of baseless assertions”. This was followed by a row on the platform between DA spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko and Dana about the questions put to Zille.
The spat quickly became racially polarised, with others suggesting a vendetta had been launched against Malema because of his race.
“Why don’t you just leave Juju alone? Cos he’s black and in power must he be a thief?” wrote one user.
“Malema you must never back down — you are worth a fortune. They are racist,” wrote another.
The war of words came in the wake of a series of reports on Malema’s finances published in City Press, which claimed that the youth leader received payments from unscrupulous business people for securing government tenders.
The vitriolic defence of Malema soon boiled over into the traditional media. City Press editor Ferial Haffajee was the subject of a scathing opinion piece by columnist Eric Miyeni in the Sowetan on Monday.
In the article — which has since been taken off the Sowetan website — Miyeni labelled Haffajee “an agent of white capital” for reporting on Malema and argued “in the ’80s she would have had a burning tyre around her neck”.
The column erupted into further debate on Twitter, with users slating media reports about Malema and calling for Haffajee to be fired, and even threatening her with violence.
“It’s ok for this woman to cry but she prints lies about Malema,” wrote a user identified as Andile Mjekevu.
Haffajee has said she is considering legal action against Miyeni, who was dismissed by the paper following the publication of the column.
Late on Wednesday Len Maseko, the acting editor of the Sowetan, who was reportedly on leave at the time the article was published, resigned.