Malema’s horror of horrors

2010-04-21 00:00

I BLINKED. I cringed.

Then I felt icy mercury going down my spine. My whole body went cold. As I came to terms with what had just happened, for a moment, I wished that it was a bad dream. But it was not.

“Go out! Go out bastard! You bloody agent! Can you get security to remove this thing?”

Bastard, bloody agent, thing!

It was Julius Malema (you know who he is) booting out a BBC journalist (Jonah Fisher) from an African National Congress Youth League press conference that he was hosting.

I have lost count of how many hundreds of press conferences I have attended in different countries. From number 10 Downing Street to the White House, to the United States State Department, to the Pentagon and the Middle East, but I have never seen anything like this in modern political history.

It’s the stuff of legends. An academic friend of mine calls it “fascism of the worst kind”. I call it “horror of horrors”.

In fact, ever since the horror of horrors happened I keep muttering to myself: “It is time that we explain exactly where we are going as a nation.”

If it is explained then at least we know where we stand. But right now, I do not know.

I find myself constantly dwelling on the youth leadership that we used to have, who they were, what they did and how they did what they did.

These are the likes of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, an intellectual giant of a leader who led the then section of the ANCYL to form the Pan Africanist Congress. These are the likes of Anton Mzwakhe Lembede who, at Malema’s age, had taught himself through two Masters degrees. He author­ed the 1947 Programme of Action before he died at the young age of 33. Peter Molotsi also cut his teeth in the youth leagues of the time. He was a suave diplomat. A. P. Mda, A. B. Ngcobo, Nana Mahomo and David Sibeko are but some of the names that come to mind.

These individuals were strong, but dignified and stylish. They had resolve and yet were much more effective at what they did than what you see today.

The youth of the time looked up to them.

Let me pause right here.

What exactly happened at the press conference?

Three major wrongs were committed at the presser.

The first major wrong was committed by Malema himself. The less said about it the better.

The second wrong was committed by the BBC journalist, Fisher, while the third was committed by the army of journalists at the press conference.

And all the three wrongs are inexcusable.

When Malema lambasted what he called “popcorn political parties” in Zimbabwe, a reference to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), as waging their struggle from the “air-conditioned Sandton offices”, Fisher lost his cool and defended the MDC.

“But you also live in Sandton. So, they are not welcome in Sandton, but you are,” Fisher said to Malema. Of course, all hell broke loose from then on.

Now, what business did Fisher have defending a political party at a press conference that he was assigned to cover by his employer (the BBC)?

The ethical journalism position is that of neutrality and objectivity, and by exposing his support for a party political ideological line at a press conference, he blatantly crossed the line. He ceased to be objective, which left him wide open to Malema’s verbal abuse.

Openly taking a party political line at a press conference was way out of line. That’s just not done. Yes, Fisher was clearly irritated and disgusted by Malema, but he failed to maintain a professional distance. The key there was to ask the difficult questions in a composed and neutral manner. In other words, behave objectively.

Who is Fisher? Is he an MDC supporter? He clearly crossed the line.

The third wrong. When Malema booted Fisher out, the journalists at the press conference did nothing. They sat there cowering like sheep in a slaughter house, breaking a key journalism principle.

The principle here is that if the host boots out a journalist from the presser, all journalists walk out in protest. This is a powerful principle. It stops dictators from victimising journalists they do not like.

So those journalists failed Fisher.

But, what is worse, is that Malema challenged them to walk.

They did not.

What a pity! What a bunch!


• Sipho Ngcobo is the former deputy editor of Business Report and ex-managing editor of Enterprise Magazine. He has written for publications such as the Sunday Times, the World Paper in Boston and was employed by the New York Times group in the United States between 1989 and 1991.


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