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OMRY MAKGOALE: Press freedom imagined under a Malema presidency

OPINION

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) had their second elective conference, which they called a national assembly, from the 13 to 16 December last year at Nasrec Conference Centre, south west of Johannesburg.

When the EFF - the third largest political party in the South African Parliament - barred certain media groups from attending its elective conference, this marked a watershed turning point under the country's new dispensation since 1994. It begs the question again and again: would there be media freedom under a future President Julius Malema at Union Buildings? All projections indicate that under EFF rule, there would be no freedom of the press. Selective media groups might be allowed conditionally at the Union Buildings and other media groups would be prohibited from attending press conferences.

We are reminded of 19 October 1977 when all black and liberal media groups - including newspapers such as The World - were banned by the National Party government of John Vorster. They were all bundled as communists. Now it would be a black party, the EFF, banning media groups on the grounds that they are working against the EFF and want to destroy it. According to the EFF's president, they will allow only "authentic" media groups at their events.
It feels like a throw-back to the past - the past of a racist dictatorship, acting solely in its own, exclusive self-interest.

The media groups Daily Maverick, Scorpio, Amabhungane and Rapport were barred by EFF from attending its elective conference, despite it being called a "national" assembly. In its dictatorial and racially exclusive drive, the EFF here is as "national" as the former National Party regime of Vorster.

According to Dali Mpofu, the EFF's outgoing national chairperson, these media groups support ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and they are against the EFF. In a similar way that the EFF barred the former NN7 television station of the Guptas from covering their events, they are stopping these media groups from covering its national assembly.
Political intolerance by any political party is worrisome. These are signs of dictatorship glaring at us.

Will we be like Uganda under Idi Amin, or Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe? Dictatorship starts with persecution of the media, using security services such as police and other security organs to harass the media and arrest journalists - and in the worst case, kill them. Journalists will be expected to be the praysingers of the dictator, or they will be labelled agents of imperialism and white monopoly capital.

When there is no media freedom, anything is possible and democracy cannot be guaranteed.

Leaders who ban independent media groups from their conference cannot be trusted to guarantee the freedom of the press. Media groups will only be allowed to attend EFF conferences if they do not criticise the supreme leader or his national command. We have all the reasons to worry about a President Julius Malema at the Union Buildings.
The freedom of the people is at stake.

We fought for the freedom of the press and we will not allow anybody to take it away. We must not allow the white dictatorship of the National Party to be replaced by black dictatorship of the so-called Economic "Freedom" Fighters. Whether press freedom is suppressed by white racists or black racists, it should not be tolerated.

The people of South Africa fought and died for the freedom to think and analyse differently, even under an EFF future government ruled by Malema. Freedom of the press is our constitutional right. We fought for it and we shall defend it all the time.

Voltaire, the French philosopher of the Enlightenment, had this to say: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." We do not need a country of robots.

Omry Makgoale is a rank and file member of the ANC. these are his personal views