The scene was ANC headquarters (Luthuli House) in April 2010 when firebrand ANC Youth League President Julius Malema was addressing the media. He started talking about Zimbabwean nationals who complained about the state of affairs back home while cruising in the lap of luxury from Sandton apartments. Out of the blue a BBC reporter Johan Fisher interjected: “You also live in Sandton.” Malema retorted: “here you behave or else you jump.” Fisher laughed in reaction to Malema’s retort and the rabble-rouser lost control of his inhibitory senses. He screamed: “Get out…..you bloody agent.” This is probably the scene that set the stage for Malema’s elongated love-hate relationship with media practitioners.
In September 2012 household talk-show host Sakina Kamwendo was scheduled to interview Malema on Metro Fm when an instruction from SABC’s top echelons dictated that she cancels the interview. Kamwendo was infuriated with the decision but, had to comply. In 2013, a renowned columnist Onkgopotse JJ Tabane wrote a scathing article against Malema who had just launched a new political party subsequent to his expulsion from the African National Congress (ANC). Malema was Commander-In-Chief of newly formed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Tabane titled his article “Dear Con-mander-In-Chief…….Let’s Talk Frankly.” In the article Tabane spared Malema no punches. He labelled him a tin-pot dictator and a short-sighted populist. He continued to label Malema a con-man extraordinaire and lambasted him for going around the country instigating people to occupy land for which they did not sweat.
When Tabane joined talk radio PowerFM as host for a show called Power Perspective, he tried several times to invite Malema to the studio, but the EFF leader gave him the cold shoulder. Malema was probably still upset with Tabane following the scathing article.
EFF Spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi who had been to Tabane’s show several times, promised the Power Perspective host that he would deliver Malema to the studio. On 08 March 2018 Malema finally honoured the invitation to Power Perspective and gave Tabane an audience for three hours, sharing jokes and tea in the intervals. This time around Tabane correctly referred to his guest as Commander-In-Chief. Listeners could clearly feel that Malema had smoked a peace pipe with Tabane despite the earlier impious labelling. Suffice it to say, Malema did not harbour grudges against the talk-show host.
In the run-up to 2014 general election which EFF contested for the first time, South African Broadcasting Co-operation (SABC) had taken an editorial decision to limit EFF’s coverage on its television and radio stations. This revelation came to light when Acting CEO Jimi Matthews resigned from the public broadcaster in June 2016. He admitted to complicity in decisions that wreaked havoc at SABC. In his resignation letter Matthews apologized to people he might have let down by remaining silent when his voice needed to be heard. He elaborated, “In the process, the prevailing corrosive atmosphere has impacted negatively on my moral judgement and has made me complicit in many decisions which I am not proud of.” SABC news went further to ban parliamentary footage where Malema led EFF MPs in “Pay back the money” chorus which painted former President Jacob Zuma in a bad light. The same President that SABC sought to protect from EFF also went down in shame before his term ended. In February 2016 the red beret leader announced the party could no longer guarantee the safety of The New Age and ANN7 journalists and advised them to keep a distance from EFF’s events. This was largely triggered by antagonistic reporting that the two Gupta-owned media outlets dispensed towards EFF.
While still Editor at The Citizen, Steve Motale used to accuse Malema of keeping a corrupt circle of friends which included Adriano Mazzotti and Mikey Schultz . He further criticized the party for being directionless with no clearly defined vision. In November 2016 Motale was dismissed from the publication in a case which was later declared as unfair dismissal. He later moved to Sunday Independent where he was later forced to resign hardly twelve months in office. In the run-up to the 2016 local government election, General Manager of ANC’S headquarters Ignatius Jacobs reportedly approved a R5million anti-EFF media campaig dubbed war-room. After war-room was exposed, Jacobs was forced to resign while Shaka Sisulu who was the alleged mastermind also disappeared from social media space and television screens.
Dennis Pather is a journalist who attended the 2018 edition of Durban July horse-racing event. His mission was not to bet on a horse but follow Julius Malema around. He wrote an article which provided nitty-gritties of Malema’s demeanour at the horse racing event. He described how Malema wore a paisley tie and a grey suit. He counted the number of cocktails that the Commander-In-Chief had, and how he was daintily munching at canapes. Of all the high-profile socialites who attended the event, Pather made Malema a special project and concluded by labelling him a Gucci revolutionary. https://www.iol.co.za/news/opinion/i-followed-malema-around-the-durban-july-heres-what-i-observed-16024897
In August 2018 Onkgopotse JJ Tabane had another interview with Malema this time on SABC television show called “Frankly Speaking.” This is the interview that made SABC’s top brass pull the plug on Tabane after power-intoxicated individuals from Luthuli house made the call. Tabane’s sin was granting EFF’s Commander-In-Chief one hour interview running over two weeks. Tabane refused to do the same with ANC’s Head of Elections Fikile Mbalula. Comrades felt belittled by this incalcitrant attitude and the show was abruptly aborted.
Over the years journalists have labelled Malema pejoratively on television screens and newspaper front pages. Tabane labelled Malema a tin-pot dictator, Max Du Preez said EFF leader is a fascist, Justice Malala called Commander-In-Chief a mini Mussolini, Pather was comfortable to describe him as a Gucci revolutionary and so the list goes on. In all instances where journalists labelled Malema contemptuously, the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) never called for a meeting with journalists to rein them in. Sanef turned a deaf ear as Malema underwent character assassination from newsrooms.
In a bizzare turn of events, Sanef scheduled an urgent meeting with EFF and its leader Julius Malema after the latter labelled journalists and political commentators as Ramaphosa Defence Force. Those specifically mentioned as Ramaphosa Defence Force included Max Du Preez, Ranjeni Munusamy, Ferial Haffajee, Palesa Morudu, Nomboniso Gasa, Raymond Suttner and Pierre De Vos.
In 2016, EFF contested local government election from 0% base and accumulated 8,25% despite limited media coverage from SABC’s four television and eighteen radio stations. In the same period the red beret movement faced an antagonistic media campaign from The New Age newspaper and ANN7 news channel. ANC’s war-room also added its weight in de-camapaigning EFF.
It’s worth noting that many of those who at one stage or the other launched a hostile media campaign against EFF and its leader did not live to tell the tale. SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Jimi Matthews left the public broadcaster with their tails between the legs. JJ Tabane was taken off the airwaves, Justice Malala has disappeared after being on our television screens for a decade. Steve Motale’s name no longer appears on newspaper bylines. Ignatius Jacobs has since disappeared from the political radar. The New Age newspaper shut down and ANN7 news channel taken off DStv bouquet while EFF continues to set the political agenda.