Kristin Palitza
Kristin Palitza

Sonke vs Malema

When ANC Youth League president (ANCYL) Julius Malema declared that charges of hate speech and discrimination brought against him by South African NGO Sonke Gender Justice were motivated by a racist and imperialist desire to embarrass black leadership, I was more than a little surprised.

Where the heck was this cheap accusation coming from I wondered? I have previously written about Sonke’s work in rural parts of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal and interacted with many of Sonke’s staff. Malema’s accusations certainly weren’t consistent with what I know of the organisation.

To set the record straight, here’s some background on the NGO Malema seems determined to malign and undermine with his call to boycott it.

Earlier this year, Sonke lodged a complaint against Malema in the equality court alleging his comments that the complainant in the Jacob Zuma rape trial “had a nice time” amount to hate speech and discrimination and contribute to already pervasive violence by men against women.

Sonke has demanded a public apology and called on Malema to pay R50 000 in damages to an NGO providing services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. But the ANYCL president, who admits to his statements, refuses to apologise unreservedly, saying he instead wants to “explain” his comments.

After Malema unsuccessfully tried to settle the case out of court, and it looks like he will have to face the music, he suddenly plays the race card. The case against him, he claims, is an attempt by South Africa’s white minority to ridicule and embarrass the ANC leadership.

“The black faces you see in front. Those are not real faces, they represent the whites who are opposed to African leadership,” Malema proclaimed outside of the court, which postponed his case until the end of August. “The imperialists and the whites who are still representing the past are using this organisation.” He promised never to succumb to pressure by a white minority and called on “progressive forces to boycott Sonke”.

By calling Sonke a Mickey-Mouse organisation, Malema clearly doesn’t understand the wide-ranging work Sonke does to support men and boys to take action, promote gender equality and end domestic and sexual violence. Sonke’s work was publicly acknowledged when co-directors Dean Peacock and Bafana Khumalo received the Men’s Health magazine “Best Man of the Year” award in June 2007 or when Khumalo was appointed by former president Thabo Mbeki for a second term with the national office of the Commission on Gender Equality, to give just two examples.

In true Malema style, the minute he runs out of valid points, he makes sweeping and completely unfounded accusations about an organisation which, unfortunately for him, has solid credentials and is filled with anti-apartheid activists, many of whom were actively involved in the ANC for many years.

In fact, contrary to Malema’s claims, the vast majority of Sonke’s staff isn’t white, and most of them — independent of the colour of their skins — have a long-term commitment to human rights, social change, political justice and gender equality. The Sonke board of directors is nearly three-quarters black, the management team two-thirds black and the staff 80% black.

Mbuyiselo Botha — Sonke’s senior programmes adviser — who brought the action against Malema, was an anti-apartheid activist. He was secretary-general of the Sharpeville Civic Association and shot in the head by security police in 1985. He has been left partially paralysed by the bullet, which is still lodged in his brain.

Sonke co-directors Khumalo and Peacock have indisputable social justice credentials. Khumalo participated in the 1976 Soweto uprising and was deeply involved in conflict mediation between the ANC and Inkhata Freedom Party in KwaZulu-Natal in the 1990s.

Peacock, on the other hand, was a founding member of the Pupils Awareness and Action Group in the Western Cape and participated in the End Conscription Campaign before leaving the country to live in Bolivia, Nicaragua and the US where, as a social activist, he challenged US interventionism in Central America and the Middle East.

To give a few other examples, Sonke coordinator Patrick Godana was an anti-apartheid activist in the Eastern Cape township of New Brighton throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He was a member of the ANC in exile and spent five years in detention. Like Botha, Godana carries physical scars from torture and security police guns as undeniable proof of this activism and courage.

Sonke’s national programme manager, Regis Mtutu, is a long-time social justice and human-rights activist from Zimbabwe who was involved in struggles for housing and a just constitution in his country. And Thami Nkosi was recently listed by the Mail&Guardian as one of the top 300 young South Africans to take out to lunch.

Looking even further behind the scenes of Sonke as an organisation brings similar results: its board of directors is made up of a variety of well-known, highly qualified and greatly respected professionals. Malema’s suggestions that they are imperialists is laughable.

The board includes Sisonke Msimang, executive director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, Kumi Naidoo, former Civicus secretary-general and recent appointee as global director of Greenpeace, Rachel Jewkes, director of the Medical Research Council Gender and Health Unit and Shamillah Wilson who grew up on the Cape Flats and is the founder of the Western Cape HIV/Aids Learners’ Network, to name but a few.

All would have reason to feel strongly offended and betrayed by Malema’s accusations of being figureheads for “imperialists and whites who are still representing the past”.

More than that, it is not only Sonke staff who should feel affronted — all South Africans should feel slighted by leaders incapable of formulating arguments based on substance and instead resort to what Botha referred to as “the race card”.

  • John

    Sounds like someone else we know…… Just can’t put my finger on exactly who…..

  • Sarah Britten

    The men of Sonke Gender Justice are exactly the kind of men South Africa needs. Julius Malema epitomises the kind of man we don’t.

  • Fritz

    Agree with you fully. Although there was no former doubt (in my mind at least), thank you for further illustrated Malema to be the unthought out-foot in mouth – buffoon, that he is.

  • phoenix

    This story is a bit old now. Wait till the court case resumes and the Judge throws it out how dare those opportunists use Malema for publicity.

    Hands Off President Malema, Hands Off

  • yunus

    its unfortunate, that we have julius as youth leader of a power organization as ANC.of which coverage is being so widely given to. the his utterances, i afraid where we are going. in ruwanda it was just “kill the cockroaches. we have a lot of youngster who may idolize iLema to such an extent that they will act on his garbage, his spewing day in and out. with the main organisation saying utterly nothing.

  • Sipho

    Mamela is not doing anything to heal the country that is deeply divided. I can Imagine how white people feel about this guy he is an embarassment to us blacks

  • John

    @ Sipho: He is not ONLY an embarrassment to blacks. He is a South African in a leadership position and is therefore an embarrassment to South Africa. It is not an ANC problem. It is a South African problem. Maybe, if we can see past this for once, we can approach this problem as South Africans, rather than as Black South Africans and White South Africans. Two “heads” are, after all, better than one.

  • Dee

    Honestly I’m still to make the connection between “she had a nice time” and hate speech. If anyone has an idea please share it with me.

  • Kenneth or Siviwe whichever you prefer

    It’s more the tacit implications of what he’s saying that amount to hate speech. It seems that it’s being inferred that the victim should have run screaming from the house instead of staying until the next day.

    In implying this, we are expected to believe that all victims should and indeed will respond in the same manner. In a country that sees babies raped daily and women and children exposed to unacceptable levels of violence, this is not the type of sentiment that should be expressed or in fact countenanced.

  • El Classico

    Why are you blinded to the fact that the woman who accused JZ of rape, LIED.She LIED in a court of law!
    Your context seems to be premised on the “fact” that this woman was an innocent angel, who now is being wronged Juluis!

  • Moss

    I fear Dee may be right. As deplorable as Malema’s comments may be, I’m not convinced he’s guility of hate speech. Zuma was acquited of rape, after all.

  • John

    @ El Classico:

    @ Moss:

    The fact of the matter is not whether Zuma is guilty or not. He isn’t. It has been established in a court of law.

    The fact of the matter is that Malema said that if a women stays until the morning and then ask for taxi money, that means that she cannot be raped. Sure, that might be a factor that should be taken into consideration, but remember, a husband can rape his wife as well. Does that mean if she does not leave, clearly she was not raped?

    What Malema said and what JZ didn’t do, is two separate issues.

  • Mike Ngomezulu

    viva president julius viva down with the forses of the countre revolotion

  • Rory Short

    Sadly it is quite possible for those in positions of political leadership to have got there out of self-interest rather than in the interest of serving the people. That they are not really interested in serving the people is often revealed by their readiness ‘to play the man and not the ball’ n other words ‘to mmuddy the water’ in contentious situations. Julius is a case in point.

  • 26, eng graduate

    Baseless, inflammatory and unfair his comments might be, but they (and other utterances) are politically very effective and it wins him significant popular support. While I think the situation Yunus describes is highly unlikely, the Malema-phenomenon is very concerning.

    Let the revolution continue…

  • Judith

    A little man who lords it over everyone is a sad preson. When he had his garage broken into and stuff stolen out of his Mercedes, he proved how manipulative he can be and how aggressive.

    Any man who is so un-understanding of women’s right and so arrogant around women is a danger to society given our rape and grievious bodily harm cases plus the family murders. it is about time the Women’s League censored him heavily, but, apparently, they have no self respect. This saddens me tremendously

  • http://YBEH office drone

    Why do we give Julius Malema so much coverage? He is the leader of the ANC youth league, so if you are not a member of that organisation, or more broadly a member of the ANC he is nothing to you.

    Mike and Phoenix, is your idea of intelligent debate the shouting of political slogans which a five year old could come up with?

  • Dave Harris

    I find it hard to believe that “had a nice time” would somehow hold up in any court of law as “hate speech”. Malema is probably correct in his assessment of prosecutions hidden agenda.

    Malema should however, be held accountable for his “kill for Zuma” speech which directly translated to the the harassment and intimidation of political opposition. On Jul 3, 2008 the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) backed down instead of pursuing justice according to the Constitution. What purpose does this toothless watchdog organization serve if they are so beholden to the government? That statement served to instill fear and quelled activity by political opponents at a crucial period before the elections! Seems like SAHRC needs to be overhauled in order to grow some teeth otherwise Malema and people of his ilk will never learn the art of diplomacy.

  • phoenix

    @office drone

    Your question should be why do we love Julius Malema so much??

    My Julius
    My Visionary
    My Beacon of Light

    Hands Off President Malema, Hands Off

  • Brent

    @mike (viva countre revolution)

    lets take a minute to digest your comment. Firstly you have taken the time to read this article. You have also found your way onto so for that i must congratulate you. I must assume that you are a man or some intellect. In saying that I think you should learn how to spell ‘counter’ and then understand that the ‘revolution’ has taken place. If there is a second revolution I hope you are referring to one in which Malema disassociates himself with politics altogether. Malema is a tyrant. open your eyes. Both you and him embody the racist-power hungry-uneducated-incompetent-destructive force that is dividing our magnificent country.


    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this
    post plus the rest of the site is really good.