Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Why does Julius fear the media?

“We not playing here. We dealing with racists … step aside or we will crush your prolapsed vagina.”

This was the message sent to journalist Karima Brown this week, after Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema published her telephone number online. At the same time, he told his supporters that Brown was sending her “moles” to an EFF press conference. It was an obvious effort to incite his supporters to take action against Brown — and it worked. Brown received multiple threats of physical violence, including many of a graphic and sexual nature.

Nobody should ever be on the receiving end of such messages.

To suggest that Malema did not know exactly what he was doing is to do him a disservice: he is a smart political strategist, and his inflammatory tweets represent a deliberate and cynical attack on a journalist who dares to criticise him. The commander-in-chief, for all his pseudo-military bluster, appears to have very thin skin.

This time, however, he has stepped well over the line. In Section 8(c) of the Electoral Act, it states that parties and candidates “must take all reasonable steps to ensure that journalists are not subjected to harassment, intimidation, hazard, threat or physical assault by any of their representatives or supporters”. There can be no doubt that Malema is in contravention of this law, and should be sanctioned accordingly.

The attack on Brown is not an isolated incident. The EFF’s recent history is littered with other examples of attacks on journalists. These include the assault of a News24 photojournalist by the party’s deputy president, Floyd Shivambu, and the insidious false allegations that journalists Thandeka Gqubule and Anton Harber were Stratcom agents who had worked for the apartheid security services.

But the EFF’s behaviour does not just concern individual journalists. The reason this is so important is that there is a broader principle at stake. These form part of an attack on the institution of journalism itself. By baselessly undermining individuals, the party is contributing to a culture of fake news and hastening the declining credibility of media in the public space.

This is an existential threat to South Africa’s democracy. After all, this is a country where journalists have been at the forefront of exposing corruption and holding up truth to power. Without journalists, no one would have known how the Gupta family had captured the state, or the scale of the rot in state-owned entities such as Eskom and SAA. Without journalists, Jacob Zuma would probably still be in power.

In a Mail & Guardian story published online this week, broadcaster Eusebius McKaiser notes, astutely, that Malema’s attack on Brown “is designed to make other reporters, talk show hosts, analysts and commentators think twice about criticising the EFF. A less experienced or not-so-tough journalist may not respond the way Brown is by continuing to do her work, fearlessly.”

This leads to the question: What exactly is Malema so scared of? Is he trying to hide secrets? In going after journalists so brazenly, Malema is revealing weakness, not strength. He has also fundamentally misunderstood how journalists work and what motivates them. One thing is for certain: if there are secrets to be found, South Africa’s journalists will find them.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Zondo commission: 10 unanswered questions

Zuma went to jail rather than testify. Some who did told blatant lies. Who decided Cabinet appointments and how much money was carried out of Saxonwold?

Local elections: Water tops the agenda in Limpopo’s dry villages

People in the Fetakgomo Tubatse local municipality, who have to collect water from Motse River, are backing independent candidates because they’re tired of parties’ election promises

More top stories

Conservation boosts cattle farmers

By adopting sound grazing practices livestock owners get access to markets in a foot-and-mouth disease red zone near the Kruger National Park

COP26 touted to resolve long standing issues on climate debt

Only 16% of losses in South Africa from weather-related disasters in the past four decades were covered by insurers, leaving governments and communities unable to build back

Most climate science is written by white men

In deciding how the world responds to the climate crisis, policymakers rely on research that tends to be written predominantly by men in the Global North

Zondo commission: 10 unanswered questions

Zuma went to jail rather than testify. Some who did told blatant lies. Who decided Cabinet appointments and how much money was carried out of Saxonwold?

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…