Grant Walliser
Grant Walliser

SpeakZA: The free press will never die

The name Zanu-PF used to be synonymous with liberation as was the ANC. It used to stand for the high ideals of fighting oppression at great cost to those who lead the fight. Across the globe, liberated, free-thinking societies and the media institutions that represented their views stood by Zanu-PF as they have stood by the ANC and their struggle.

Without this global support, generated mostly by journalists, it is doubtful that the world would have exerted enough pressure on Ian Smith and FW de Klerk to effect any real change. The world would not have known or cared. Through brave and incorruptible journalism both here in South Africa and abroad, the plight of the people in these countries was made known and a groundswell of support forced foreign governments to act.

It has become apparent, however, that few of the freedom fighters actually seem to believe in the ideals that they stood for. In power, they now oppress and victimise, they steal and foster corruption and they fabricate truths. They are becoming those that they despised. Zimbabwe is at the bottom of virtually every human rights index and every standard-of-living index available and Zanu-PF has put it there. The country is a joke. It is a mess. It is the very model of liberation reversed. It has no official free press; its journalists expelled or imprisoned or exiled. Its people are suffering like never before.

The image of Zanu-PF across the globe has plummeted with that of the country that they misrule. Mugabe is laughed at by virtually every member of every advanced economy on the planet. Why? Because the free press that he tried to cull, lives on stronger than ever on the internet and through other media around the globe. Through that free press we see him for what he is and not what he tells us he is. Through that free press alone, the behaviour of Mugabe is somewhat moderated and the people of Zimbabwe retain hope that their story will be heard and change will come yet again.

You can close a newspaper office down, you can ban publications from sale and you can even murder journalists. You can’t stop the free flow of information on the internet. Blogging has created more journalists and social commentators than ever before. The free press will never die. A dictator could not even do it in Zimbabwe.

Let that be a warning to Floyd Shivambu, Julius Malema and their herd of sycophantic, amateur ANC anarchists here in South Africa. No matter how powerful you get, no matter how draconian your methods you will never squash the free press in this country. You may ban the internet here one day, sue all the newspaper cartoonists and close all the newspapers, but the stories will still be told all over the globe. For every journalist you shackle, ten will rise up. You are being watched, as the apartheid government was watched. You will be judged by the greater world as they were judged.

It is ironically apparent that Julius and Floyd have abundant aptitude to become the new oppressors. They are the new censors, the corrupt and the vile junior leaders that shovel the riches of a nation down their gullets while protesting that the poor have nothing. They do this with their boots on the neck of the common man. President Zuma seems to think they will mature into good, ethical leaders with the interests of the people at heart one day. That, logically, is a public admission of the fact that they are anything but ethical or good leaders at present. One wonders, therefore, why they have gone so far in the ANC thus far. One also wonders if this is honestly the best we can do. Do we one day have to see Julius Malema meeting with Obama? Can our nation not deliver a more worthy representative onto the stage of the world?

In cases such as this, it is possibly the sole responsibility of the free press to moderate the behaviour of these people. They will never be great and benevolent leaders doing great things for our society. That much is already apparent. They are populist thugs with their paws in the cookie jar. They are sound-bite, banner-waving politicians that rely on flash to hide the distinct lack of substance. Thanks to the free press we know this already. The free press will therefore help to keep them on the straight and narrow and get the best out of them that we can hope to. They will expose their failings, expose their corruption and broadcast it all to the world. The free press will conceivably be the only balancing force to their actions.

Floyd. Julius. The free press is watching you and we will never back down. Get used to it.

Thanks to Sipho Hlongwane for this crucial initiative at a crucial time in the development of our democracy.

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SpeakZA

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.

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