SA is teetering on the edge of a rising tide of hate

America is reaping the bitter harvest of Donald Trump’s racism. The white terrorist who shot and killed at least 22 people in El Paso Texas last weekend published at least eight of the US president’s incendiary calls in his manifesto.

White terror is fast becoming the US’s most pressing domestic threat; more than 281 people have been slain in 251 mass shootings by lone terrorists in the first seven months of this year, but the White House appears oblivious to it and resolutely unwilling to curb the ease of access its citizens have to firearms.

Here in South Africa, we suffer from a similar myopia as we teeter on the edge, not the gaping black hole of Eskom sucking our economy into its vacuum, but the inexorable rising tide of hate.

The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) and the EFF were at the Equality Court this week, following Julius Malema’s unforgivable injunction to his followers last year outside the Zondo Commission to deal with journalists for allegedly siding with White Minority Capital (WMC). The five he named were immediately subjected to a vicious, faceless campaign of intimidation. 

Lest we forget WMC is a Gupta bankrolled ruse by PR firm Bell Pottinger to expediently play the race card to change the narrative in the face of mounting opposition to state capture by Jacob Zuma and his acolytes. It was a 21st century re-imagining of the Roman ploy to put on circuses to sate the madness of the angry mob that worked exceptionally well. 

Indeed, Zuma’s one-time arch foes, the EFF, promptly adopted it as their tactic and, alongside the feral fight back faction of the ANC, continued cherry picking journalists they most wanted cowed – especially female journalists. No one ever attempted to discuss the merits of the actual arguments, only the characters of those trying to.

No one says that journalists are perfect; many make mistakes and some abuse their privilege to pursue agendas. All must be held to account. Their truth must be tested against their accusers in an open, legal forum and judged accordingly – not witch-hunted at the end of a fork.

Legendary journalist and iconic former newspaper editor Ferial Haffajee perfectly described this desperate phenomenon in a poignant opinion piece for the Daily Maverick on Tuesday. I wept when I read it. That same day, Redi Thlabi came out guns blazing against the troll armies, daring them to take her on and vowing to wreak vengeance upon their heads – through the courts – when they overstep the boundaries that she has generously defined.

Haffajee and Thlabi are inspirational South Africans, who need to be heeded. The problem is the mob is deaf; it only hears what its leaders tell it, not just legitimising violence against the media but encouraging the most horrific, misogynistic savagery too.

When we start burying our reporters, because they dared to tell the truth to power; let us make very sure that those who made the call stand in the dock with those who pulled the trigger. Let the demagogues face the same consequences as if they’d killed them themselves.

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 10 August 2019.