Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores South African opposition politician Julius Malema's use of threats and insults against journalists and media outlets covering his party's alleged involvement in an embezzlement scandal, and calls on the authorities to condemn his attempts to intimidate the press.
The leader of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), South Africa's second-largest opposition party, Malema has stepped up his threats and invectives in recent weeks. Naming five journalists on 20 November, he urged his supporters to "deal with them decisively" while adding to "never be violent with them." The five journalists named by Malema - Max du Preez and Ferial Haffajee of News24, Ranjeni Munusamy of the Sunday Times, Peter Bruce of Business Day and Palesa Morudu - had pointed out the contradiction between the strong anti-corruption stance that the EFF has taken for years and the fact that it is now suspected of illegal funding. On 27 November, he suggested his party to "stop the invite" of these journalists to avoid situations where they "don't feel safe".
"Inciting hatred against journalists is unworthy of a political leader, and irresponsible, because it encourages actual physical violence," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "The sole aim of these intimidatory methods is to deflect public debate about the matters of general interest revealed in the media. It is essential that the South African authorities condemn these dangerous comments and send a clear signal to any politician who resorts to insults and threats in response to facts exposed by the press".
A report entitled "The Great Bank Heist" about large-scale fraud and corruption at VBS Mutual Bank was widely covered by the media on 10 October. It revealed that the equivalent of more than 120 million euros of this mutual bank's funds had been illegally diverted to around 50 people including a person linked to the EFF. The Daily Maverick online newspaper's special investigative team, called Scorpio, reported ten days later that the EFF had received the equivalent of 833,000 euros from VBS Mutual Bank and that Malema was directly involved.
Malema responded with a tweet telling Scorpio reporter Pauli Van Wyk to "Go to hell Satan." The same day, he reacted to a column by News24 journalist Adriaan Basson about his use of insults by calling Basson a "racist thing" and a "white young boy."
History of insults
Malema has a history of directly targeting the media. Journalists who criticized EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu's racist attacks on a senior treasury official were called "house niggers" by Malema in June.
In March, he accused the TV channel eNCA of supporting white supremacy, triggering a wave of death threats against eNCA journalists.
He previously made the headlines in 2010 when he expelled BBC reporter Jonas Fisher from a news conference for interrupting him, calling Fisher a "bastard," a "bloody agent" and a "small boy."
South Africa is ranked 28th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.