Media, Politics

Miyeni affair: Haffajee invites not-so-young-anymore lion into her den

By Ferial Haffajee 8 August 2011

Sacked Sowetan columnist Eric Miyeni has made an about-turn, saying City Press editor Ferial Haffajee has “integrity”. She gave his “unemployed self” space in her paper on Sunday to explain his views, but it’s not like they’ve kissed and made up. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.

Margaret Thatcher once said it pays to know the enemy, “not least because at some time you may have the opportunity to turn him into a friend”. City Press Ferial Haffajee might not have turned writer and all-rounder Eric Miyeni into a bosom friend, but she certainly used her street-wisdom and experience to disarm a man who seemed like the enemy a few days before.

In the City Press on Sunday, Haffajee wrote she would go to the South African Human Rights Commission or the Public Protector with the matter, after Miyeni called her, in his now-infamous Sowetan column, a “black snake in the grass, deployed by white capitalists to sow discord among blacks”, remarking she would probably have been necklaced in the 80s.

The column led to Miyeni’s axing and Len Maseko’s resignation as acting Sowetan editor (he’s now deputy again and Mpumelelo Mkhabela, formerly Daily Dispatch editor, is Sowetan editor).

Haffajee had decided to drop court action against Miyeni after a “fulsome” apology in Sowetan, and also because Miyeni “is out of work and I don’t have two court years to spare”.

But she said “sadly, Miyeni and I have no outcome founded on the values of ubuntu. He believes he was right to write. I believe he flirted with misogyny and engaged in inflammatory hate speech.” Which means Miyeni doesn’t get the fact that the way he conveyed his message was against the spirit of the Constitution, prompting Haffajee to explore the Chapter 9 avenues created by this, the nation’s supreme law.

Miyeni’s column came after revelations in the City Press over ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s trust fund to which black businesspeople contributed who had made their fortune through tenders, facilitated by Malema (Miyeni asked: “What the hell is wrong with that?”).

Miyeni wrote in City Press on Sunday: “Julius Malema once said: ‘We did not fight for freedom in order to be told how to speak.’ What this means to me is that we should not shut people down(sic) because we do not like their tone of speech or diction.”

Haffajee wrote she had spent the week “balanced on the trapeze between traitor and patriot”, but chose to be a patriot. She gave examples of the things she had done as editor to give blacks, women and the youth prominence. “What is your history, Eric – beyond the anger and the vituperation? What have you broken and what have you built?”

Meanwhile Haffajee also got support from on high, with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu condemning, “unequivocally”, Miyeni’s actions. “This is gutter journalism of the worst kind,” he said on Saturday at a Cape Town conference on women and justice. Political satirist Evita Bezuidenhout, who mentioned Haffajee and Miyeni in her show on the weekend, tweeted in response to Tutu, “again … gives freedom to speech… Thank you Arch my skat”. DM

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