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Julius: Defining the line for freedom of speech

04 April 2012, 19:30

The news about Julius Malema's suspension once again put everyone's favourite woodworker in the public eye - and like most of his recent public spotlight moments, he didn't come off well.

To some people, myself included, who have come to see Julius as the political equivalent of the monster under the bed, the news came as a welcome reprieve. The man has become the poster child for racial intolerance in the new South Africa - interestingly enough replacing Eugene Terreblanche in that role in my mind - and to see him silenced provides some measure of hope, on some levels.

To others, who have supported his rants and fallen for the false promise of a quick and easy walk to economic freedom, this latest development comes as a blow.

To them, I would like to say that while I understand that losing the one person who seemed to care about your plight is hard - but that I don't think Julius ever really cared. He wants power, and he will say anything to get it - like most politicians. Unless I am very much mistaken, he's been playing you while he chuckles into his Johnny Walker.

The good news is that if this is the end of Julius for good - if the false prophet is gone - then it opens up a space where a true leader, dedicated to the plight of the poor rather than their own bank account, can rise up.

But that's all just background noise right now.

The fact is, what we've all been watching is a reminder of where the line is drawn on free speech.

Everyone loves to claim free speech as theirs. We like to remind people that we live in a 'free country' and can say what we like.

We're lucky too. For now, that's partly true, and in that sense, we're a lot better off than a lot of countries out there.

But free speech has limits too.

Free speech and freedom of expression are rights granted to people in certain countries, that allow us to say things that are on our mind in the political and personal spheres of our lives.

However, there comes a point where freedom of expression crosses boundaries. In the personal sphere, the result is slander, or crimen injuria - saying something not proven to be fact, that's intended to harm another person.

Julius has crossed the line in the political sphere for the second time this time.

First, there were the court rulings that confirmed what we all knew (even if we only knew it deep down and didn't want to admit it) - that Dubul Ibhunu crossed the line from free speech to hate speech - which is illegal.

This time, Julius has crossed the line, some could say, from freedom of speech to treason. His latest rants have, in some cases, been tantamount to attempts to stage a coup.

It remains to be seen what the ultimate end game will be - for the ANC and for Julius - but what we should all take from this is the reminder that while we do enjoy free speech, and can air our views, there remain laws and niceties to be observed.

Remember that with a right, like free speech, there comes a responsibility. In this case, Juju had a responsibility to the organisation he represents, and he chose to ignore that responsibility.

All the political wrangling aside, and as much as JZ may be an ineffectual president etc etc, the ANC have finally made the right decision. The only one that could restore some modicum of credibility to them. Because the bottom line is, Juju, in thinking he was bullet proof, did this all to himself.

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