Defend Truth


How to become famous: just start shouting


In real life, Professor Balthazar is one of South Africa’s foremost legal minds. He chooses to remain anonymous, so it doesn’t interfere with his daily duties.

That's what Eric Miyeni did. Yet for all the crassness of column attacking Ferial Haffajee it's revealed some interesting attitudes. The SA media makes a lot of noise when it comes to protecting free speech. But the rules seem strangely different when one of its own is under fire.

South Africa’s chattering class – most of whom can be found lurking on Twitter – were in a froth on Monday when it emerged that the darling and heroine of the media industry, the immaculate, most chaste Ferial Haffajee had been blasphemed by a nondescript Sowetan communist.

Under the title “Haffajee does it for white masters”, Eric Miyeni had this to say: “Who the devil is she anyway if not a black snake in the grass, deployed by white capital to sow discord among blacks? In the 80s she’d probably have had a burning tyre around her neck.”

To make matters worse, this rabid column was in defence of the prince of the dark side, Julius Malema.

As you would expect when someone makes steak kebabs out of holy cows, there was much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Saint Haffajee came out swinging, threatening to sue and challenging Miyeni to meet her in the alley outside.

Then two then proceeded to have a long public argument, occasionally changing radio and television stations, while the twitterverse and other lesser social media platforms followed in awe. By the end of the day, Miyeni was fired, Haffajee’s halo was firmly back in place and Avusa’s honchos were buying another round at a Rosebank drinking hole. Malema was still a villain and success of black business people was still scandalous.

One tiny problem though.

Granted, Miyeni writes with all the class and acumen of a paedophile peering through a pre-school fence. Therefore, whatever point he intended to make about the media’s fixation with black people and their propensity to be corrupt was throttled by his crassness.

But the media industry cannot mount a massive free-speech campaign to counter proposed government curbs and then demand that a columnist be beheaded at dawn because he dared to express his ridiculous opinion.

We wanted a media industry where anything goes, right? That’s why we defended the right for the much-acclaimed Zapiro to draw the President unbuttoning his trousers to violate Lady Justice. Surely Jacob Zuma felt as aggrieved as Haffajee does at seeing that image. But when he opted to sue, the media fraternity was outraged, arguing that the cartoon constituted justifiable comment and that Zuma should have opted for the press ombudsman if he felt wronged.

Not so simple when the tables turn on one of our own though, no?

What’s more, if Miyeni had not been defending the wayward ruffian we love to hate and had not attacked a media luminary we all venerate, the column would have gone unnoticed like everything else he has written.

So dear friends, it is difficult to change the rules as you go along to suit the personalities in question – as we all discovered through the legal wrangle around the Chief Justice.

Can’t you just imagine Judge Sandile Ngcobo sitting in his chambers last week thinking “Hell no. Why am I putting my fate in the hands of this boorish bunch? I need to get out here before they mount a ‘Save Ngcobo’ campaign and drag me around singing bizarre songs and making me toyi toyi”.

And with that, South Africa loses a bright legal mind while the dull legal minds in the Presidency are still scratching their heads wondering what happened.

Now we wait in hope for Zuma to pull a rabbit of a hat and find another exceptional Chief Justice in two weeks. Might I remind you that this is the man who brought us Menzi Simelani. And Jimmy Manyi. But maybe there’s someone in the Constitutional Court who wants to be associated with that lot and will take the job.

Maybe Zuma will find a job for Miyeni in his office, perhaps chief of protocol. Then Miyeni can insult and offend foreign dignitaries and Manyi can explain why they had it coming. It would complete the circle of ludicrous, inappropriate appointments.

Come to think about it, has Zuma made any appointment recently that hasn’t bombed out spectacularly? The only one which he got right was Pravin Gordhan – and that wasn’t even his idea.

Mandela’s presidency was defined as the era of reconciliation. Mbeki’s championed the African Renaissance and then his own downfall. With Zuma, it’s the rise and rise of stupid.

We can’t even blame white capital for that. Or black snakes in the grass. DM


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