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.