On Tuesday evening, out of the blue, the Economic Freedom Fighters Gauteng provincial chairperson tweeted a bizarre attack on the Mail & Guardian.
“The Mail & Guardian readership and circulation figures are low and they are looking for gossip about the EFF. EFF members be warned. You’ll be asked all sorts of silly questions. Please don’t co-operate with journalists from the Mail & Guardian who are sent. We are at peace right,” wrote Mandisa Mashego. The tweet appeared to be endorsed by the party’s leader, Julius Malema, who tagged the M&G in his reply.
Baffled, the M&G’s editor-in-chief Khadija Patel tweeted: “An M&G reporter contacted you because she was planning to do a walkabout in a ward which the EFF had done very well in. We plan to visit the area to find out what’s driving support for the EFF there. We had contacted you to help guide us through the community. Nothing else.”
But the damage had been done. The M&G’s timeline was flooded with vicious attacks on the integrity of the newspaper and its journalists, calling our ethics and aims into question.
The EFF is free to answer, or not answer, the M&G’s questions. But it is disturbing that the third-largest party in South Africa’s democracy should adopt such a hostile approach to the fourth estate. It suggests the EFF will not welcome the enhanced scrutiny that comes with more responsibility.
But we will not be deterred. This is exactly why independent journalism exists: not to cheerlead or to flatter, but to ask difficult questions of those in power and to hold them accountable. Given the EFF’s successful performance in the recent election, it can expect many more questions from many more journalists in the weeks, months and years to come.