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The EFF is tapping into vile sentiments in its attacks on journalists but free political choice is fundamental

10 March 2019 - 00:03 By ranjeni munusamy

'Can you cook?" a politician asked me a few days ago. I considered saying yes but realised the truth would be easily established if he decided to invite himself to dinner. I cannot be bothered to fake cooking skills - or anything else for that matter.
My inability to conjure up spicy marvels in the kitchen is just one of the things that conflicts with the stereotype of who I am supposed to be.
Recently I bumped into a schoolteacher of mine.
The conversation did not go well - nothing like the heart-warming stories most people tell about their encounters with their old teachers.
"Oh hello. I thought you would be locked up by now," he said.
"What? What's that supposed to mean?" I asked.
"Nothing … I saw you on TV the other day … at the [Zondo] commission."
"I'm reporting on it, not appearing as an accused in state capture," I scowled.
"I know. Still …" he trailed off.
It would be mortifying if I had been a conformist in a House of Delegates education system in the apartheid state. Being cheeky and contemptuous of authority that was meant to produce cultured and compliant South Africans of Indian descent made me a misfit, which I suppose I still am.
So it was quite startling to read a message on my Twitter timeline this week that said I was not worthy of being raped because I am Indian.
This was in the midst of the furore over talk-show host Karima Brown being threatened with murder and rape after her number was posted on Twitter by EFF leader Julius Malema.
Malema accused Brown of "sending moles" to an EFF event after she accidentally posted a message meant for her colleagues on an EFF WhatsApp group.
Women journalists like me, who have also been attacked and threatened, have been drawn into the uproar to illustrate there is a pattern of intimidation from EFF supporters.
Malema and the EFF have refused to accept responsibility for their actions and said in a statement that Brown "is not a journalist, but an openly admitted ANC operative".
Brown has since opened a case of intimidation against the EFF with the police. She also wants the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to remove the EFF from the May ballot for enabling the abuse and threats of violence against her. The police are likely to ignore her complaint as they have done with previous cases of assault and intimidation that journalists have reported.
While remedies are limited, I am uncomfortable with Brown's campaign to stop the EFF participating in the election. She has argued that a political party that threatens journalists and incites sexual violence against women should not be allowed to be part of a constitutional democracy.
Brown is correct that the EFF is in contravention of the Electoral Code of Conduct. The code compels candidates and parties to take "all reasonable steps" to ensure that women are free to engage in any political activities and that "journalists are not subjected to harassment, intimidation, hazard, threat or physical assault by any of their representatives or supporters".
Confronted by reporters about the threats against Brown, Malema said no individual should be threatened with rape and action should be taken against those who do so. However, neither he nor his party have made any attempt to stop the harassment of journalists.
In December the South African National Editors' Forum lodged an application in the Equality Court to interdict Malema and the EFF from intimidating, harassing, threatening or assaulting journalists; expressly or tacitly endorsing such actions; and from publishing our personal information. I am one of the applicants in the matter based on the threats and harassment I have faced.
It is deeply troubling for my colleagues and me to be made political targets, face vitriolic attacks, and be subjected to racist and sexist abuse.
It places restrictions on our work, where we go and how we live.
The EFF is tapping into vile sentiments in our society to create enemies, fuel populist rhetoric and maintain its brand of rage politics.
But I do not believe it is the media's role to decide who should be allowed to participate in our democratic system. Our job is to provide the information and knowledge, including political commentary, so that voters may decide for themselves who they want to represent them.
Our application to the Equality Court is petitioning for protection so we may continue to do this.
Demanding that the IEC remove the EFF from the ballot, in effect, endorses Malema's accusation that certain people in the media are his opponents.
I certainly will not conform to the EFF's preferred mould of journalists as mindless transmitters of their messages - or anybody's attempt to define me differently from who I am.
Democracy is hard, especially when other people's freedoms are harmful to us, when it allows hatred, violence, racism and misogyny to triumph, and when it erodes basic human decency.
Yes, there must be consequences and accountability but free political choice is also fundamental...

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