Malema calls on followers to protect journalists

31 August 2011 - 02:16

Known for his love-hate relationship with the media, Julius Malema has showed a change of heart when he tackled his violent supporters for attacking journalists and the police.

Thousands of Malema supporters descended on the area around Luthuli House, wreaking havoc and injuring at least one policeman and five media people.

Carte Blanche cameraman Dudley Saunders was struck with a rock, leaving a bleeding gash on his forehead, and a policeman was hospitalised for head injuries.

A Sapa photographer, Werner Beukes, and two eNews journalists, Belinda Moses and Cathy Mohlahlana, were also pelted with stones. The windows of an eNews satellite van were broken, as were several shop windows in the area.

Malema begged the defiant crowd - who throughout the day hurled insults at journalists and photographers, calling them "agents provocateurs" - not to attack the media as they were merely the "messengers".

"You cannot throw stones at journalists because journalists are just messengers ... if you attack journalists, you will lose public sympathy," he told the crowd at Beyers Naude Square, who were chanting "Juju! Juju" and shouting, "the president" and "the future of our country". Said Malema: "The police are not your enemy. These are the people employed to protect you."

Malema told his supporters that the ANC alliance leaders needed to be respected. He warned his supporters against the burning of the flag. "That is who we are ... we cannot burn ourselves, especially the black, green and gold. You are here because you love the ANC. We must exercise restraint."

Rubber bullets and teargas were fired several times during the day at Malema supporters, who broke off pieces of concrete barriers, cut through yellow tape used to cordon off streets and set dustbins alight.

National Press Club chairman Yusuf Abramjee condemned the violence against journalists, saying it was "totally unacceptable".

"It is a direct attack on South Africa's hard-earned freedom of speech and of the media, indeed on our entire democracy and our constitution. The press club and I am sure the entire media fraternity, finds this extremely disconcerting. It is disrespectful to every South African who values the principles contained in our Constitution."

Abramjee said Malema's call for calm was "unfortunately too late".

"What is more, this sends out a very negative message about South Africa to the rest of the world - a country that is supposed to be a model for democratic values and human freedom.''