The South African National Editors Forum’s case before the Equality Court against the Economic Freedom Fighters is an attempt to muzzle the critical political party from making damaging statements against Public Enterprise Minister Pravin Gordhan, EFF leader Julius Malema has said.
Addressing the media on Tuesday at the Equality Court, Malema said the editors forum known as Sanef – whether or not it was aware of it – was fighting Gordhan’s battle and seeking to silence the EFF from making statements “that would show Pravin for what he really is”.
“The matter is not between us and Sanef. The matter is between us and Pravin. They’re using Sanef to come and defend Pravin. We were speaking outside the commission against what Pravin is going to say in the commission and Sanef took offence,” said Malema.
Five senior journalists and Sanef approached the Equality Court, sitting in the Pretoria High Court, to interdict the EFF from intimidating, harassing and assaulting journalists.
This action was taken following statements made by Malema outside the Zondo commission last year – where he called for “heads to be cut off” journalists who were “enemies of the state”. These sentiments that were followed by attacks on certain journalist on Twitter by what was alleged to be EFF loyalists.
Advocate Thembeka Ngcukaitobi, representing Malema, pointed out that Sanef and the journalists had ignored the conclusion of a speech on November 20 last year, when the EFF leader urged EFF members not to kill the journalists.
He said: “Mr Malema told his supporters ‘do not kill them. Some of them are my friends on Twitter and I have their numbers on my phone. I communicate with them, but I just want them to be honest. Do not kill them, some of them are women.’”
Malema’s legal counsel also argued that journalist Ranjeni Munusamy at the time texted Malema after his speech and thanked him for urging his members not to attack journalists.
“Malema replied to the text and said: ‘I will phone you later.’ He indeed called and they had a discussion. I think the laying of the hate speech charges was an after-the-fact rationalisation,” Ngcukaitobi said.
He added that trolls using faceless and nameless Twitter accounts” were harassing the Red Berets just as much as they were anyone else.
But Sanef indicated that it was confident about the manner in which it presented its case before the Equality Court.
Sanef chairperson Mahlatse Mahlase told reporters that the editor’s forum managed to show a direct link between Malema and the statement he made outside the Zondo commission last year – where he called for “heads to be cut off” – that was followed by attacks on Twitter.
Malema has denied the allegations that he attacked journalists and said he couldn’t be held responsible for the actions of his party’s supporters.
On Wednesday, Malema said he was confident that he would be victorious in this case.
“There’s nothing that this court will find against the EFF. The problem that we have in South Africa is that those with money want to suppress political speech and we must guard against that,” Malema said.
Judgement has been reserved following two days of arguments from both parties.