Media are following EFF’s storyboard

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IOL st new eff INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS The Sergeant-at-Arms tries to persuade Julius Malema to leave Parliament. Photo: Jeffrey Abrahams

The EFF are fascist, out to cause anarchy, and the media should not be reporting it’s every move, writes William Saunderson-Meyer.

Johannesburg - It’s easy to forget that 94 out of every 100 voters in the May general election did not choose the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Dependent on the South African media, one would easily assume that statistical reality to be reversed.

Such is the media enchantment with the antics of the EFF. Such is their obsession with every move of its leader, the red-bereted, self-styled Commander-in-Chief Julius Malema.

Reacting to the accusation that this media publicity is aiding an organisation that is at its core anti-democratic and violent, the journalistic response is a stock one. They do not decree what is news, they merely cover it.

It’s not that simple. The media has become as dependent on Malema as he is upon them. The EFF is exciting: lots of colour, movement and sound. Malema makes for good sound bites and even better visuals. He preens, struts, rants and issues incendiary threats.

This works for a media that over decades has been dumbed down and starved of resources, that on the whole is better at the delivery of entertainment than it is at the interrogation of ideas. Passively, with virtually no introspection, the media follows an EFF-scripted storyboard.

The result is chilling: our politics is no longer about ideas, debate and social bargaining between competing interest groups. It is about making the loudest noise, the most dramatic gesture. The Official Opposition, the DA, with almost four times the vote, gets a quarter of the publicity because they don’t lay on a spectacle but plod away at the unexciting business of parliamentary process.

One can illustrate the secret infatuation of many journalists and commentators by means of a simple device. Superimpose over the features of Malema in our newspapers and television screens that of another pudgy crypto-fascist, the late and largely unlamented Eugene Terre’Blanche, head of the rightwing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB)

There are lots of similarities between the two: racist rhetoric, uniforms, spurious military ranks, violent threats, messianic delusions and fiery oratory. Like Malema, Terre’Blanche also railed against capitalism and promised to deliver his people from penury.

The tactics, too, are similar. In 1993, Terre’Blanche and his mob drove a truck through the glass entrance of the Kempton Park Trade Centre, where the pre-democracy talks were being held. They jeered and jostled the delegates, sprayed graffiti, and pissed on the furniture.

A month ago Malema and 300 of his supporters were evicted from the Gauteng legislature with teargas, batons and rubber bullets, after forcing their way inside to protest against their eight MPCs being evicted for wearing EFF uniform in the chamber. The EFF mob did pretty much everything the AWB did, including heaving rocks through plate glass, setting off fire extinguishers in the chamber, and smashing historical artefacts.

While it is not clear from the noticeably muted reportage of the incident whether the EFF, too, urinated on the furniture, there was an ugly sexual aspect to the buffoonery that outdid the AWB. A female mannequin, swaddled in a disposable nappy and labelled Zuma was paraded around. Photos on social media but inexplicably not in the mainstream media, show EFF louts making suggestive hand gestures at the mannequin’s crotch.

Terre’Blanche was given an appropriately torrid time by the media. In contrast, many journalists appear afraid of Malema and treat him with kid gloves. While Terre’Blanche was unanimously identified as dangerous if allowed to thrive, the attitude to Malema is indulgent, even approving. That at worst he is mischievous schoolboy – occasionally inclined to bullying, but essentially harmless.

Schooldays should have taught us all one thing: that bullies (and wannabe revolutionaries) thrive on such indulgence, seeing every civility as weakness. The only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them.

It does not matter much whether one subsequently loses the confrontation. It is a truism, but bullies are cowards. They mostly don’t want a bloodied nose or worse, not even in a scrap that they think they can win. Far better to intimidate one’s way to victory.

Malema’s antics in Parliament last week are part of a considered strategy. It’s high profile, low risk and it is against a target, President Jacob Zuma, who is loathed by most media commentators, although not by 62 percent of the electorate. Hence, predictably, a lot of the commentary has been of the “yes, but…” variety. “Yes, the EFF was outrageous but Zuma provoked them…”

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has been widely derided for his assessment, but he has it right: The EFF are fascists and are out to cause anarchy. As he said, it’s time to wake up and smell the java.

* Follow Saunderson-Meyer on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye

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