South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has described as "regrettable and unacceptable" the behaviour of Julius Malema, his party's youth leader, who this week verbally abused a BBC reporter, calling him a "bastard" and a "bloody agent."
In a statement released at a news conference held in Durban Saturday, Zuma also emphasised that a court order banning the singing of a liberation movement song referring to "shoot the Boer" needed to be respected, but insisted on the right of the ruling African National Congress to support an appeal against the order.
And referring to reports of heightened racial tensions this week, he said: "We should not be dismissive of such concerns, and should be prepared to engage in dialogue to address them. But we must acknowledge that South Africans remain united in their support for the Constitution, the values it enshrines, and the democratic institutions it has established." The full text of Zuma's statement follows:
Ladies and gentlemen of the media,
At the meeting of the ANC’s National Executive Committee last month, we spoke out strongly about the need for discipline among the members of the organisation and more generally for all to respect the rules of political engagement.
As the organisation’s leadership we were drawing the line, and that there would be consequences for anyone who crossed that line.
Matters relating to the conduct and statements of the ANC Youth League which are totally alien to the culture of the ANC have made it necessary for us to emphasise a few fundamental principles today.
This is an appropriate moment to do so, particularly since it is the anniversary of the brutal assassination of one of the outstanding heroes of our struggle, Comrade Chris Hani.
On this anniversary, we recommit ourselves to uphold the values and traditions to which he and scores of the country’s national heroes dedicated their lives.
We commit ourselves to continue working tirelessly to build a non-racial, non-sexist, united and democratic South Africa, founded on the positive values that are enshrined in the Constitution.
We urge all South Africans to work with us in achieving these goals.
But ANC cadres must lead in this process.
We also wish to underscore the following important points:
FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA
The country’s Constitution enshrines the principle of freedom of the media.
An independent and free media is one of the cornerstones of democracy.
It is an important barometer of the extent to which the people are freely able to express themselves.
While in a democracy there will inevitably be times of contestation between the media and other sections of society, the fundamental principles should be adhered to at all times.
We must accord journalists the freedom to do their work unhindered.
We should engage them professionally and with dignity.
Should there be a need to take issue with anything that is being reported, it should be done in a manner that promotes frank and open engagement.
The manner in which a BBC journalist was treated at an ANC Youth League press conference is regrettable and unacceptable, regardless of any alleged provocation on his part.
RESPECT FOR THE LAW
We place a high premium on order, stability and the rule of law in the country.
That is why the ruling party took the step this week of calling for restraint from all its structures and members.
Anyone who then goes against that statement is undermining the leadership authority of the ANC, and that cannot be accepted.
When the ANC has made such a statement, it is totally out of order for us to continue as if such a statement was not made.
Certainly there must be consequences for such behaviour.
We have done this because of the need to respect a high court ruling relating to a particular liberation song.
We also recognise that this song, in the current environment, could be misunderstood by those not familiar with the context and content of our struggle.
In making this call, we do not intend in any way to diminish the proud history of struggle against apartheid.
We do recognise that we have a responsibility to act in a way that reduces the potential for tension, and encourages unity.
Our Constitution enshrines the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
We must recognise the role of the judiciary as the final arbiter in disputes in society.
The dignity and decorum of the institution must always be protected and defended.
There are procedures that one should follow to challenge court decisions.
Defiance of these procedures should not be tolerated.
It would make mockery of our judicial system.
It should be noted that to appeal a court decision is not to defy it.
South Africa is a respected member of the international community.
The country has certain responsibilities and obligations in the regional and broader international spheres.
One of these is to facilitate the implementation of the Global Peace Agreement in Zimbabwe.
We undertake this task with the necessary seriousness and sensitivity, and have to ensure impartiality at all times.
We will continue to facilitate the resolution of the impasse in Zimbabwe and to treat all parties with respect.
We cannot and will not side with any one of the parties to the exclusion of others.
We received a report from the last round of talks held last week.
We will work with the parties again to take the process forward.
2010 WORLD CUP
The 21st of April will mark the 50 days until the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Initial research indicates that South Africa is likely to receive 450 000 international fans between June 11 and July 11.
South Africa remains ready to receive visitors from all walks of life and from all parts of the globe.
We are now putting final touches to our plans on security, logistics, hospitality, transport and others.
We urge international soccer fans to continue buying tickets and to prepare themselves to enjoy South African hospitality and experience the first African World Cup ever.
SOCIAL COHESION AND UNITY
Recent events have raised concerns in some quarters about social cohesion.
Some people have spoken of heightened racial tension.
We should not be dismissive of such concerns, and should be prepared to engage in dialogue to address them.
But we must acknowledge that South Africans remain united in their support for the Constitution, the values it enshrines, and the democratic institutions it has established.
South Africans are clearly committed to work together to address the legacy of our divided past.
Our history tells us that there is no challenge we cannot overcome.
Among other things this requires responsible leadership.
The ANC Youth League is not an independent body.
It exists within the umbrella policy and discipline of the ANC.
The organisation will deal with these matters internally as it deems fit.
We reiterate that leaders should think before they speak, as their utterances have wider implications for the country.
I thank you.