Michael Francis
Michael Francis

SpeakZA: Can Jacob Zuma be called an apie?

I am echoing the old debate where Eugene Terre’blanche referred to a statue of Chief Tshwane as an “apie”. For the record, I do not think he is ape-like at all (Jacob, not Eugene; I find Eugene slightly simian). I actually do not even wish to talk explicitly about Jacob Zuma, but about freedom of expression and freedom to dissent. Despite his recent claim that there is a need to “look at how far the exercise of media freedom should go”.

There have been some disturbing events in South Africa that seem to show an increasing level of intolerance form the ruling elite — the detention of joggers for (aptly) saluting the president, blue-light bullying in general and I also see it in increasing calls from Thought Leader bloggers and commentators to ban flags, censor people for their utterances, lock up joggers and never insult the leaders.

I feel that people should be allowed to say what they like in their own personal capacity as long as they are not incitements to violence. So I am thrust into a strange position of defending the ilk of Julius Malema and Eugene Terre’blanche, not because I agree with him, but because he like everyone must be free to make his stupid remarks. I will return to Malema below where I see a need for him to be censored.

Freedom of expression is not without limits. A school teacher cannot be allowed to call students by racial slurs and people in authority positions must be called to task for racist utterances and for hate speech. If a judge admits to hating people of a particular hue then they should be fired as they cannot be impartial.

I am saddened and disturbed by the increasing calls to silence dissent. I am most disturbed that this is from ordinary people and not just the leaders. What kind of political culture is growing in South Africa that makes educated youth feel that they cannot question leadership and authority? The entire anti-apartheid movement was a questioning of authority as people refused to accept bigotry, hatred and inequality.

And it is in that spirit of silencing bigotry and hatred that Malema should be charged with inciting violence. A call to kill the Boer must be treated as a call to violence as the high rate of farm murders attests to. To simply recognise that it was a struggle song is to forget that parts of the struggle were horrifically violent and that struggle is over. A new future for South Africa must be charted that does not use apartheid race categories as signifying different rights and as a means to group and label. Malema can stand up and say I hate whites (he clearly does), but the call to violence must be curtailed.

So if someone wishes to stand up and say Zuma is an ape I will fight for him to be allowed to say it. If that same person wishes to stand up and say we should attack Zuma then he should be silenced.

Freedom is never easy and feelings may even get hurt and words may echo of the apartheid past, but they should never be silenced for fear of insult. The recent attempts to muzzle the media are part of a much bigger debate about the role of the media in society. It is to be a watchdog and critique of society not a praise-singer to the ANC.

But of course the issue is not about free speech, although related, but whether or not the media can report and investigate the political elite. While this does not bode well for media freedom in South Africa, the backlash to this does. The media will not be silenced easily. We will know we have a real problem when they no longer care what the media reports.

  • X Cepting

    To call Zuma an ape would be factually incorrect, and to which party the insult would be leveled debatable, but, anyone should be able to express such a viewpoint, I agree. We are not all equally in touch with reality it seems and should be patient with those who are not and who need a placebo to understand. I for one like apes, they have societies that actually work for them and with the rest of nature and it does not need a Constitution to enforce. What is really annoying about homo sap is their tendency to guestimate a person’s mental and spiritual worth from physique alone and then to generalise across a whole group these characteristics.

    One get leader apes and follower apes, big apes and teensy apes, grey apes, stripey apes, even orange apes. It tells one nothing about their individual contributions or not to their societies and their right to do so, which is the crux here, not so?

    Now, threatening a life is different, again, agreed, but surely this tactic has been used by the ANC since pre-freedom days, why are people shocked at this latest blackmail attempt to silence the media?

    It was farfetched and foolish of most of us (myself included) to expect that certain elements in the ANC would settle down and become nice little democrats, especially after the poisonous amounts of indoctrination most were subjected to to become good little party members and follow orders.

  • Benzol

    Do I worry about looks? Sometimes,when chatting up a bird !

    But if someone has climbed through the ranks, his looks are less important than his achievements.

    Yes, Pres Zuma does not look like a beauty queen. But how many politicians do??

  • Mkhulu

    “The media will not be silenced easily.” Nor should the people (including politicians) be silenced easily by media. Media have cried foul when their journos were exposed, hiding behind the meaning of public/private citizen. Malema (I’m not against his lifestyle audit at all)does not work for Goverment nor the journos in question, the difference is, one is popular and others are not. If SA media is serious about rooting-out all forms of corruption and expose it (by politician and everyone else) to general public it must also be prepared to wash-out its closets. We should not be led to believe that “Some animals are more equal than others”. Expecting the media to come out clean is not muzzling them, no amout of words descriptions would the hide the obvious and fair, to all, system. If there are journos recieving their information through wrong doings let them be exposed IN PUBLIC for everyone to know not through behide-doors-commissions. We expect to read fair and just reporting. Journos should not want the dirty laundry of other people to be hanged in public, yet hide theirs in the sake of public citizen.

  • Steve

    let people say what they like (hatespeech and incitement to violence excluded) and they will sooner (rather than later) show themselves up for who they really are.

  • Robard

    “I find Eugene slightly simian” Haha – good one. Isn’t it ironic how it is precisely those whites lowest on the evolutionary ladder who have the most racist attitudes?

  • Marianne

    calling people names is one thing ” sticks and stones can hurt my bones but words……….etc etc” but inciting to violence puts us right back in apartheid days. My overseas friends wants to know what has changed in South Africa, because they still see the violence, stoning, burning tyres, police with rubber bullets and tear guns. I dont know what has changed for the better. We are all free , but we still hate and mistrust across the races and Malema makes that worse, not to mention his Facebook Fan page, thats doing the rounds on email now. Frightening for all, white black coloured asian , promoting literally a civil war, aimed against white minority groups that would put this country into total upheavel. I think as educated adults, we should not resort to calling each other names at any level, but rather resort to an adult sit down indaba. We all have to live and work together, let us try and do it in peace and harmony.

  • http://thoughtleader.co.za/michaelfrancis Michael Francis

    @Mkhulu – Allowing journalists to have anonymous sources is vital for reporting. No one would come forward with leaks and insider information if the journalist was forced to show them.

  • RubinB

    @X Cepting: Just for info, “apie” is not an ape, it is a monkey. I think it is perfectly allowable to call the Government a bunch of monkeys. They are.
    Should Malema be allowed to sing: “Kill the Boer”?
    I don’t think so, but if he is, will I be allowed in future to sing “Bobbejaan klim die Berg” every time I see an ANC politician, especially Malema and Zuma?
    You see, insults can flow both ways. I don’t think one accomplishes anything by it.
    We should rather stop this nonsense, start working together to root out corruption and get service delivery functionaing again. If a bunch of shady characters, black and/or white, fall by the wayside, then so be it!
    And to pre-empt our resident lapdog, Dave Harris, let us forget about the past and concentrate on the present and the future. No more backward thinking!

  • http://thoughtleader.co.za/michaelfrancis Michael Francis

    On Eugene Terre’blanche death: Nobody deserves such a fate and I say this not only as a pacifist, but as a fellow human. I hated his politics and violent past, but he was victim of a hate crime and for that South Africa is that much poorer off.