In my tenure as President of the ANC Youth League, I have been a victim of vilification and disreputation by many South African leading newspapers. The newspaper nevertheless, which I believe encroached my personal space and undermined my integrity as an individual was the City Press. In a marathon of articles that lasted for more than six months, the City Press ran a public trial on me and my finances with very damaging undertones that I am the most corrupt politician in South Africa who unduly influence tenders in Limpopo Provincial Government and Municipalities even before the legitimate court of law found me guilty. The City Press was the first to report about SGL Engineering, and at some stage claimed that I am a recipient of a personal bribe from an unknown individual, who to this day has not come out to own up to the bribe he allegedly paid me.
Amidst all these allegations and innuendos, I have always made it a point that I meet with the leadership and editorial of the City Press to give my side of the story and lay official complaints on what I believed were overboard practices by some of their reporters. The City Press has still not admitted to the many mistakes that I said they have committed in reports about my personal life, so the views am expressing here are not about buying City Press' face or rewarding them for anything positive they have done for me. The views expressed here are about the fundamental need to protect the right of all South Africans to express different opinions and perspectives on any matter under the sun, because that is what our democracy entails.
Since the wrong depiction of President Zuma in a Vladimir Lenin posture with unzipped pants by an artist, the General Secretary of South African Communist Party Blade Nzimande, and oddly Secretary General of the ANC Gwede Mantashe called for the banning and boycotting of the City Press Newspaper by all peace loving South Africans. What they in essence meant is that all of us who love peace and stability in South Africa should stop buying the City Press Newspaper because the City Press is of a different opinion and view on whether the picture depicting President Zuma in a not so unusual, but unnecessary position should be removed from their website. If all of us who are called upon to boycott the City Press do so, the Newspaper will loose its readership and consequently revenue because advertisers, in particular the State will not continue to advertise in a Newspaper which is boycotted by peace loving South Africans. Basically, Secretaries Nzimande and Mantashe are calling for the closure of the City Press if this newspaper does not agree with what they believe to be the absolute truth.
Complete closure and banning of different views and perspectives to what leaders believe to be absolute truths can never be something to celebrate, particularly if such is done by the African National Congress leadership. This is what we cautioned against when the ANC Youth League was banned by the President Zuma and Secretary General Gwede Mantashe led ANC, who bluntly and completely refused to meet with the leadership collective of the ANC Youth League to express different opinions, but chose banishments and banning of its leadership as a best option to handle political differences. I'm reliably informed that even city press was banned without any meeting to try and resolved whatever issues between the two parties.
In one of the Press Conferences, I cautioned against this approach and said that some members of the media might be celebrating our banning and expulsion from the ANC, and said that they will be the next victims. Less than two months after I have said this, ANC Secretary General banned the City Press newspaper without mandate of the ANC leadership collective.
The banning, boycotting and calling of closure of the City Press does not only amount to media censure, it undermines the judiciary which is still in the process of determining the rightfulness and wrongfully of what the ANC believes are absolute truths as it relates to the depiction of President Zuma as Vladimir Lenin with unzipped pants. Why did the ANC approach the Courts about the City Press' conduct if it has so much social power and influence to could ban and banish its existence amongst peace loving South Africans? The ANC should have realized that the inciteful condemnation of the painting is what leads to instability, not websites postings, which even if the City Press is banned, many South Africans will continue to have on their cellphones, twitter, Facebook pages, blogs and personal websites. That the ANC could send the ANC National Disciplinary Committee Legal Advisor to go and represent a person who was criminally charged for defacing a painting proves that the ANC embraces the anarchy and criminality that is a direct result of its inciteful condemnation of the painting.
Of all freedoms contained in the bill of rights, the right we should defend with our lives is the right to hold different opinions on how we view society and how we think certain matters should be handled. South Africa cannot be brass band society, singing the same dull tune and dancing to what leaders sing everyday. The plurality of views and opinions is what will safeguard our democracy because once we deny that space of plural views, we will be easily and forever chained to institutionalized mediocrity, which has no moral fibre to lead society towards a correct direction.
Our forefathers thrived for many years under difficult moments because they cherished free press and freedom of expression. As a Publisher of iLanga Newspaper, first President John Dube understood that freedom of expression had to be affirmed, even under very hostile conditions. As an Editor and Writer of different Newspapers, 4th President J.T. Gumede and 5th President Pixley ka Isaka Seme respectively understood that the freedom of the press is not about freedom that protects spaces that agree with us only, but protecting the space and platform where we all can express our opinions and views. Banning newspapers simply because we disagree with them and boycotting them on the basis of believing that our conception of truth is absolute really poses a real threat to our democracy. Even when we expressed utmost anger against a BBC Journalist in a Press Conference incident which we later apologized for, we never took a decision to ban the BBC or the Journalist from our Press Conferences, because we need to protect everyone space to disagree.
I normally do not read newspapers, but as a peace loving South African and a committed member, servant and supporter of the ANC, I think I should buy two copies of the City Press this Sunday as a sign of protecting the true values of the African National Congress. The ANC I know engages even the most hostile of enemies with the aim of winning them to a common agenda of nation building and respect for one another.
We should however be very worried that the voice of reason is disappearing and no one has the courage to stand up and speak against undemocratic and potentially despotic practices from within the ranks of the democratic movement. What happened to genuine leaders of the ANC who fought for all this rights? Are we ruled by fear or people are just scared to raise their views because of love for position and scared to be removed from all the luxuries? Once this voice gets silenced and remains silent, many will be casualties of the emerging intolerance, and such will be a sad day in the history of South Africa and the democratic ANC. The question we should now ask is Who is Next?
Commander in chief of Economic Freedom Fighters