Sipho Hlongwane
Sipho Hlongwane

SpeakZA: Bloggers speak out on free speech

South Africa faces many challenges as a country. We have one of the worst crime rates in the world, unemployment continues to hinder progress and the government faces an uphill battle with corruption within its own ranks.

What we have enjoyed so far since the advent of democracy is a free press. Those who drafted our Constitution recognised that a healthy democracy is inseparable from freedom of expression and media freedom. As Thomas Jefferson once said: “Our liberty cannot be guarded, but by the freedom of press.”

It is therefore with great consternation that I observed the ANC Youth League’s latest trend of threats, intimidation, allegations of spying and outright spying on journalists perceived to be “enemies” of the youth league and its president, Julius Malema. Malema and his crony, Floyd Shivambu, seem willing to stop at nothing to protect their political and personal interests.

Curtailing media freedom is often one of the first steps despots use in asserting their might and imposing totalitarian rule in their countries.

That is why I decided to initiate SpeakZA, a social media protest against the ANCYL’s jackboot tactics against the media and journalists.

The response to my request was astounding. In just under five days (spanning a weekend), more than 75 people wrote in to lend their blogs to the protest or to express support and encouragement. I am truly humbled. This is also testament to the fact South Africans from all walks of life support and uphold constitutional freedoms like freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Every blog that joined the protest will carry a message (reproduced below) to the ANC and the ANCYL. I am fully cognisant of the youth league’s attitude to the media and I don’t expect a response (if SpeakZA does get one, I doubt it will be a hearty slap on the back), but that does not stop me and everyone else who cares about our freedoms from speaking out.

The conversation has already started on the interwebs (hashtag #SpeakZA), so if you’d like to add your voice, feel free to reproduce the message on your blog, or just lend SpeakZA a single tweet or Facebook link.

“If journalists are persecuted, imprisoned or killed, society as a whole is the victim,” a quote that emerged during the recent World Press Freedom Day.

Read more about SpeakZA on The Daily Maverick.


Bloggers for a free press

Last week, shocking revelations concerning the activities of ANC Youth League Spokesperson Nyiko Floyd Shivambu came to the fore. According to a letter published in various news outlets, a complaint was laid by 19 political journalists with the secretary-general of the ANC, against Shivambu. This complaint letter detailed attempts by Shivambu to leak a dossier to certain journalists, purporting to expose the money-laundering practices of Dumisane Lubisi, a journalist at City Press. The letter also detailed the intimidation that followed when these journalists refused to publish these revelations.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the reprisals against journalists by Shivambu. His actions constitute a blatant attack on media freedom and a grave infringement on constitutional rights. It is a disturbing step towards dictatorial rule in South Africa.

We call on the ANC and the ANC Youth League to distance themselves from the actions of Shivambu. The media have, time and again, been a vital democratic safeguard by exposing the actions of individuals who have abused their positions of power for personal and political gain.

The press have played a vital role in the liberation struggle, operating under difficult and often dangerous conditions to document some of the most crucial moments in the struggle against apartheid. It is therefore distressing to note that certain people within the ruling party are willing to maliciously target journalists by invading their privacy and threatening their colleagues in a bid to silence them in their legitimate work.

We also note the breathtaking hubris displayed by Shivambu and ANC Youth League President Julius Malema in their response to the letter of complaint. Shivambu and Malema clearly have no respect for the media and the rights afforded to the media by the Constitution of South Africa. Such a response serves only to reinforce the position that the motive for leaking the so-called dossier was not a legitimate concern, but an insolent effort to intimidate and bully a journalist who had exposed embarrassing information about the youth league president.

We urge the ANC as a whole to reaffirm its commitment to media freedom and other constitutional rights we enjoy as a country.

Blog Roll

  • Hlabirwa

    At the risk of sounding to endorse Floyd’s boyish attemp at “invetigative PR” I find the protestations from the media fratenity self serving. Why is it that on this occassion we ask if any of the ‘mighty’ pen wielders have skeltons in their closets? Should they not follow the same route as the rest of us and report these matters to the press ombudsman? Or is it a case of them knowing something we are not privy to in the efficiency of that institution?

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  • X Cepting

    This is what you get when you believe a bunch of communists when they tell you they can run a democracy. Comrade? Disobedience to the party? Corrective measures? – Pure KGB/Stasi/Gestapo behaviour. It is only logical for the pupil to copy the teacher, not so?

    Then, I quite agree and wholeheartedly support your protest, but, I would feel more comfortable with: “We urge the ANC as a whole to reaffirm its commitment to freedom of speech [for ALL South Africans] and [ALL] other constitutional rights we enjoy as a country”. It is more democratic.

    In fact, why don’t we insist that all of government study and swear to uphold and protect the constitution before we let them loose at “governing”.

    Obviously, all of the above will only work if the judiciary is truly independant from the executive (president included) and administrative arms of government, as has been pointed out by many people (notably H Zille) over the last year.

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  • mallencolly

    Sipho Hlongwane, well done. And well done to all the bloggers who join in.

    The reach of the internet is not that great in South Africa but a campaign like this (and those like eblockwatch’s “kill them with love and kindness”) will get people talking. Precisley what SA needs.

    Not many are as loud as the youth league but not even they can drown out the sounds of millions of voices quietly talking.

  • Po

    Wow, I am totally with you on this one Sipho. Free press forever.

  • Kitty Kat

    This has got nothing to do with freedom of speech but the workings of press. Media must be exposed to the same merciless and unfair scrutiny which the press itself has shone on many. This self-appointed guardian of truth cannot be above reproach when their own unsavoury methods are not contested. There is no doubt that this once wonderful trade has become extremely flawed by their bias, PR tactics and falsehoods. It has been proven that they have scant regard for balance, the grasp of the truth or just plain honesty. The fact that they find themselves being questioned about their news-gathering techniques when an ordinary citizen has no redress when something dishonest is written about them, smacks of smacks of the very same flawed approach they have to their responsibility to us as citizens

  • Kevin Fish

    It seems to me that the whole concept of Ubuntu and nation building is slowly going out the window and being replaced by a radical militant attitude. It is clear that these people have forgotten about the poor and only care about the noise which comes out of their mouths and how much they can line their pockets with. They are self absorbed and obnoxious. Debate such as what we see on this site is essential. It is time we start to pull together. There will always be negative, racist people from all walks of life. I say forget about these people and lets all start tackling the issues which face this country. I am married in a cross cultural relationship and face racism on a daily basis because of it. I refuse to let this get the better of me or my family. The way we approach life is all about our perspectives and how we choose to deal with each and every situation. The majority of us need a major shift in attitude and instead of seeking what we can do for ourselves we need to look at what we can do for others. I commend the creator of this site. Down with hate speech, down with negative attitudes. We have a choice!

  • Hmm

    The fact that the ANCYL is no longer denying the allegations made, but attacking the alleger is significant. Counter-allegations do not make the original allegations any less true.

    It seems that the allegations of impropriety on the part of the journalist is not meant to undermine the veracity of the report, but to silence the reporter.

  • Dave Harris

    Freedom of speech is a prerequisite to any progressive democracy. Didn’t we only get freedom of speech for the first time in South African history, after the ANC liberated our country in 1994? So why would the ANC want to do away with this freedom that is already protected under our Constitution?

    However, this incident between the ANCYL and some media reporters has more to do with the gutter politics propagated by our DA and their cohorts in the media – the politics of personal attacks and division calling for “lifestyle audits” Couldn’t the ANCYL also claim, just like the proponents of “lifestyle audits”, if you have nothing to hide, what are you afraid of?

    This incident could be easily predicted from the paparazzi behavior of some in our media, while ignoring the REAL issues of racism, educational and wealth inequities, land reparations, AIDS…that stalk our country.

  • sipeto mduba

    hai! i for one believe this is a storm in a tea cup.Its unfortunate that by expressing a different view, one will automatically be clubbed with the shibambus of this world. The South African Media is not holy. Its important to remind each other that Journalism is a profession, and like any other profession it will, from time to time find itself populated by undesirable elements bent to exploit their vantage points to enrich themselves. Two things: serious allegations have been made against Lubisi as well as threats to colleagues refusing to publish them. I dont know Mr Lubisi, but i believe he owes it to his integrity to dispel the allegations against him. Unless if our journos, have anything to hide, but if I was them i will not take the threads by the League seriously.

  • obi

    @Kitty Kat. I think you miss the point. Media must be free in order to hold the government to account and reflect the aspirations of the people. Based on a media institutions or journalists ideologic beliefs, they may tend to report more favorably or negatively about an individual or political party. This is OK. There are journalists making excuses for the ANCYL and there are journalists criticizing them. There are journalists praising the ANC and there are those that criticize. The point is media should be able to criticize and praise without intimidation.

  • Ryan Peter

    I’ve added my own support and 2c for #SpeakZA at my blog —

    There have been some fascinating perspectives coming out at the Twitter feed. I rate this is an important conversation in more ways than one.

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  • Judith

    Well done Sipho! We do not want a Pravda which does not tell the truth as happened in the USSR. We want our strong reporters who keep the government as accountable as possible.

    Kitty Kat – go scratch in your dirt box dear! You do not understand democracy

  • Themba Zweni

    I do not agree with what Floyd Shivambu is alleged to have done but our actions as social media activists make us appear defensive and tring to hide what Lubisi is alleged to have done. When are we going to hear from him?

  • Rod MacKenzie

    Sipho – I am more than happy to lend/use my blog for this cause. Viva freedom of speech and a free press. That is crucial.

  • Nikolien du Toit

    Sipho Hlongwane, WELL DONE!!
    I will support you, and so will millions of other true South Africans.
    If we all stick together, there might be light at the end of the tunnel.

  • Thomas

    I will agree with many that the ANCYL has not given us any proof that there wasnt any irregularities in the tenders that Malema received. The media is olso duing the same. they dont disagree that the journalists are corrupt, sleep with politicians etc. All we hear are complaints and complaints. Why are there no denials? At least Malema is Denying the issues, whether he is lying or not is not the issue. Now journalists are allowed to be corrupt.

  • Mama A

    Kudos Sipho. South Africans who believe in our combined future have to, at some point, stand up and defend our country from these hate mongerers. Lets foster respect and good will and work on our problems together. It is not a pipe dream, it is what most people I have spoken to really want. The rainbow nation honeymoon is over, so lets start working on the ‘marriage’.

    Malema is a public figure, journalists are not, so he will be reported on, whether he likes it or not. One can say that without the press there would be no Malema, so it cuts both ways.

    It is up to reasonable people to stand up against these villians who would attempt to bully the watchdogs of our democracy. Journalists aren’t perfect, but the standards of the profession is high, and press freedom is something to defend with our lives, if needs be.

  • MLH

    Yay! Kevin Fish or Sipho Hlongwane for president! Actually anyone with reasonable standards would do…so don’t let’s get too picky!

  • amandzing

    you can add my name to your list.

  • Paul Whelan


    Obviously a useful initiative but with respect to you and TJ a free press alone cannot preserve our liberties. Anyone interested might like to look at:

  • liesl

    Well done to all of you. I am reading them one by one, and would like to add my support via the comments.

  • X Cepting

    @Dave Harris – “So why would the ANC want to do away with this freedom that is already protected under our Constitution?”

    My question exactly. Why don’t you ask your bosses and come and tell us why? At the same time could you please tell them to take their greedy hands of the Constitution least we lose what little rights we have left.

    Please stop blaming the DA and other opposition parties for everything the ANC does wrong. It is so lame. Real men, as promoted by our president, take responsibility for their actions, they don’t whinge and blame others for their mistakes, it is disgustingly cowardly. But then, what do one expect from a party where the only person who is prepared to take responsibility and accept blame is a woman (Barbara Hogan).

  • Sipho Hlongwane

    Hi Paul,

    Without a free press, our liberties would be meaningless.

    Without the platform to voice dissent, freedom of speech is meaningless.

  • Karooseun

    The choice for South Africa,is between having a democracy,or remain a dictatorship which is what South Africa has now,under the umbrella of democracy

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