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Haffajee takes Miyeni on — out of court

Instead of a court face off, columnist Eric Miyeni and editor Ferial Haffajee had their say in separate columns under the headline “The black snake debate” in the City Press on Sunday.

Haffajee threatened to take Miyeni to court after he called her a “black snake in the grass deployed by white capital to sow discord among black people” in a column published in the Sowetan on Monday.

The column followed the City Press‘s publication of a report on a trust fund allegedly used by African National Congress Youth League president Julius Malema to bankroll his lifestyle.

The report resulted in a criminal complaint against Malema.The Hawks are still deciding whether to bring corruption charges against him. Miyeni was fired.

In the column “Haffajee does it for white masters”, he wrote that in the 80s she would have had a burning tyre around her neck.

Haffajee later said she would not sue but would make a formal complaint to the Human Rights Commission or the Public Protector.

Explaining her decision in the City Press on Sunday, she wrote that the South African way was to accept an apology.

“The Sowetan’s was fulsome, so it would be churlish of me to file a lawsuit. I won’t. Eric Miyeni is out of work and I don’t have two court years to spare.

“But sadly, Miyeni and I have no outcome founded on the values of ubuntu.

“He believes it was his right to write; I believe he flirted with misogyny and engaged in inflammatory hate speech — it was a verbal fatwa.”

‘What have you built?’
In an accompanying column Haffajee wrote that all week Miyeni and “his patron” Malema had tried to paint a picture of her as a “traitorous woman uncomfortable with black advancement”.

She wrote of how she had helped the struggle and later influenced society, then asked: “What’s your story, Eric — beyond the anger and the vituperation? What have you broken and what have you built?”.

He had asked what was wrong with Malema having a trust funded by black business people who had made their fortunes from government tenders.

“What’s wrong with that is that it’s a textbook definition of corruption and cronyism,” wrote Haffajee.

In his column right next to hers, Miyeni wrote that he had been consumed with anger at what he believed was wrong with the South African press in the past week.

“And that is the constant and unending negative portrayal of black politicians and black businesspeople,” he wrote.

If there was one thing he had wanted to highlight in his column on Monday, it was that far more propellers were needed to push for the economic emancipation of the country’s largely black majority.

Black success
Miyeni believed the press could help by spending “at least as much time parading black success stories as it does black stories of failure and corruption”.

“To the effect that this argument has been heard, I am eternally grateful,” he wrote.

However, it was “tragic” that it had led to the loss of jobs for two more black people — himself and the Sowetan‘s acting editor Len Maseko.

“Is adding to the ranks of the black unemployed really the mature way for this country to handle disagreement?” he asked.

He was also saddened that the country’s response to an angry voice was to “shut it down without listening long enough to hear what the voice is angry about”.

“Given that it has not been long since we lived through a time when the sentence for the wrong tone of voice in the wrong direction could be state-sanctioned death or frighteningly brutal and barbaric mob justice, I hope that we will learn to be more open than we seem to be and more accommodating of opposing views,” he wrote. — Sapa

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