Simon Williamson

A South African on a news site

2011-08-05 07:35

Simon Williamson

We all ummed and aahed and shook our heads earlier this week when Sowetan columnist, Eric Miyeni, dared say something disgusting about Ferial Haffajee, respected (by most, I would think) City Press editor.
Miyeni, in what seemed like a fit of rage, penned a column in response to City Press’ continual investigation into ANCYL president Julius Malema’s accounts, his salary (which ranges from almost zero to a possible R50 000 per month, depending on who you ask), how he has paid (cash) for certain things (holidays and houses) and whether he is building a dwelling with a safety bunker in it in case Zwelenzima Vavi’s revolution or angry capitalists with guns come to donner him.

In the column entitled “Haffajee does it for white masters”, Miyeni said, as you have probably heard: “Who the devil is she anyway if not a black snake in the grass, deployed by white capital to sow discord among blacks? In the 80s she'd probably have had a burning tyre around her neck.”
Pretty rough.
While Miyeni’s statements may not be the kind of thing you’d say to your granny, he has a somewhat dodgy arguable right, which you all know very well is called “freedom of speech”, to say pretty much anything he likes that isn’t hate speech. I think many readers here at News24 and other media sites which allow comments in South Africa may know about it - it is the same right that lets a portion of y’all write disgusting things - under the illusion of debate - beneath just about any news story.

You know, the ones about how rampaging Aids, cholera and flu rates are nothing but an example of “survival of the fittest” (where what is actually meant is “survival of those with private healthcare nya nya nya”). The ones about Zuma, about Malema, about Max du Preez, about gays, about secularism, about Afrikaners, Christianity, about sex, about women, about Muslims and so on. Well, the right - correctly or incorrectly interpreted - that permits that portion to write heinous remarks about anything and everything aforementioned is the same one which let Mr Miyeni publicly defecate all over Ms Haffajee.

I will be the first to admit that I didn’t like the way Miyeni’s column was written, or descriptions about Haffajee’s jewellery, but if his editor had removed the fiery reference to a disturbing way of killing people, the debate about whether South African media is dictated to by its owners, the role of Malema and nationalisation should be allowed to continue. Miyeni will no longer be a part of that debate in The Sowetan as his column has been revoked (and, incidentally, his editor has gone too). Which should, if all is fair, mean that commenters on news sites should be barred from commenting if they cross the same greyish line that he did.
Take this article, for example, and look at how people offer to help kill Julius Malema. At least Miyeni had the politeness to be indirect about it.
If Miyeni is to be officially silenced though, then so should a good portion of people who abuse their own right to leave nauseating and offensive comments.
And what would you do at work, then?

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer. 

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