It appears that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) stand against not only economic freedom, but freedom of expression as well. You can usually tell whether someone believes in freedom of speech and media freedom (in a robust sense) based on how that person (or in this case organisation) engages with people and newspapers which may be critical of them. This weekend sees the EFF host its latest elective conference in Nasrec. The party took the decision to ban certain media organisations, such as Daily Maverick, from covering the conference.
While delivering the party’s political report, leader Julius Malema said that, while the party is for media freedom, this does not extend to those “whose proclaimed agenda is to destroy the EFF.” For someone who has advocated violence against his enemies and critics so often, this probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Instead of encouraging good debate where he could rebuff his critics’ arguments, Malema relies on threats of violence to try to suppress and control. The threat of violence against critics has been a consistent motif throughout the EFF’s existence. Threatening one’s political opponents and critics betrays a serious lack of moral credibility.
The EFF has np moral basis for its ideology. The party’s guiding ideology is socialism; socialism requires that the force of the state be used against the various enemies of ‘the people’. These enemies usually change as the wind blows, and serve as convenient scapegoats for the party to blame when it finds itself under pressure.
For the concept of freedom of speech to carry real weight, different views should be encouraged with the very important component that violence will not be used against people simply because some may disagree with them. You are neither truly free to speak, nor to act, when the threat of violence constantly hangs over you — if you step out of line, outside of the box deemed ‘appropriate’ by those in power, force will be used against you. One shudders to think what may happen if the EFF ever became the dominant political party in South Africa.
At the time of writing, eNCA made the decision to stop covering the EFF’s conference in solidarity with those organisations which had been banned. This is a great move, and should be applauded. It would have been great if other organisations had taken a similar route, but unfortunately this has not yet yappened. There should always be some kind of consequence when a political party shows such clear disregard for the manifestations of freedom — in this case media freedom.
True liberty in a society entails that everyone is free to think, and to speak. All political parties in South Africa should know that they stand on the shoulders of those who came before, who fought against state oppression of those deemed ‘gevaarlik.’
Should the EFF be free to ban certain organisations from its conferences? One could argue yes.
However ‘freedom of speech for me, but not for thee’ indicates a lack of ability to handle critique, robust engagement, and debate. The concept of freedom of speech means very little for liberty in South Africa if only certain ideas are allowed space, and others are suppressed based on whether they make others uncomfortable. It would be to the EFF’s credit if it allowed all broadcasters and papers at its conference, and then engaged with these and tried to rebuff them. But such a move would require intellectual rigour and forthright engagement, neither of which we’re likely to see out of the red berets any time soon.