One would expect a postgraduate student of political sciences to check his facts before publishing a near full-page article in a paper. One would also expect of an informed editor to intervene when he realises that his paper is misrepresenting the truth.
Unfortunately none of these expectations were met when Beeld published an article on 25 February 2014 entitled “Hateful Symbol Indefensible”. In the article AfriForum and Solidarity are singled out and accused of defending Nazi traditions. AfriForum, specifically, was accused of employing “selective morality” because the organisation had chosen to take a stand against Julius Malema and his use of the “Shoot the Boer” song, but defended students at the Puk after Beeld had revealed so-called “Nazi practices” at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University.
Firstly, no representative of AfriForum or Solidarity had at any point defended any Nazi practices. Nazism is abhorrent and both AfriForum and Solidarity oppose it in the strongest possible terms. Allegations that these organisations defend Nazi practices may very well be construed as slander and the writer and the paper could potentially face legal action in this regard. Exposing a decades-old tradition, which lasts approximately two minutes and during which the right arm is raised for about half a second, on the front page of Beeld as a “Nazi salute”, is absurd.
The editor of Beeld, Adriaan Basson, took a screen shot of this moment and tweeted it with the words: “Nazi Germany? No, Potchefstroom…” He went on to suggest on Twitter that someone should lay a hate speech complaint against the students. If this is not overstepping the bounds of journalistic ethics, there are no bounds to journalistic ethics.
Any criticism of Basson’s actions, which had humiliated hundreds of identifiable and innocent students, by dubbing them as Nazis in the public domain, is simply swept off the table by stating that criticism is merely an effort to defend Nazi practices and that AfriForum is guilty of selective morality because the organisation had taken a stand against the “Shoot the Boer” song, but is not willing to condemn students at the Puk.
Meanwhile it is quite clear that the writer is neither familiar with the court papers in the Shoot the Boer case nor with the applicable legislation. Basson, who had attended the court case, made no move to correct the factual mistakes published on his watch.
Here are the facts:
- Hate speech is prohibited in terms of Section 10 of the Promotion of Equality and the Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act. In lay terms hate speech can be defined as the communication of words, based on one or more prohibited grounds (race, sex, culture, faith, etc.) which may reasonably be construed as demonstrating the intent to hurt or harm, or to incite hatred against a particular group. I am curious to know whether Basson or the writer of this article believes that the greeting of the Puk first years can reasonably be construed as to demonstrate the intention to propagate hatred.
- What is described by Basson and company as a Nazi salute, was a portion of what is known as a “primaria greeting” – a greeting of the head of the student committee in a residence. The intention is to build a sense of belonging amongst first years and, of course, to show respect to the Chair of the residence (the primaria). The intent with “Shoot the Boer” was completely different. During the hate speech trial about the song, Malema declared repeatedly that he sang the song with the intent to incite people. He declared publicly that the song was sung to mobilize people to stand up against the enemy. The enemy, according to Malema, was “white capital” represented by a system of repression which should be eradicated by waging war on it. Singing this song, and other struggle songs, was his idea of calling people up to war, he said to the media. Big difference.
- Another difference is the political climate within which these expressions took place. While “Shoot the Boer” was yelled from podiums, the reality was that farmers were murdered, and are murdered today. As witness in the trial against Malema I testified on behalf of AfriForum that the reality of the murders lent weight to Malema’s rants, and that we might not have objected so strongly to the song if farm murders were not such a big issue. Context is important. Coming back to the Puk, I am not aware of any indication by, for instance, the Jewish community that the actions of the first years had incited hatred. On the contrary, to date the only complainants are basically Basson and the reporting team, who had invaded the campus disguised as students to ask like-minded individuals for comments. They, and the Minister of Education who had jumped at the chance to transform the campus, of course.
- Another strong argument supporting the hate speech accusation against Malema was the fact that he had been informed (by AfriForum) that minorities and Afrikaners in particular, regarded “Shoot the Boer” as hate speech. Instead of suspending the use of the song, Malema purposefully continued to use it. He even threatened me personally and said that a repeat of the so-called Shell House Massacre would take place if AfriForum should campaign in front of his office against the use of the song. This strengthened the argument for hate speech. At Potchefstroom the opposite happened. Quite a while ago the rector explained to the students that the traditional greetings could be interpreted (erroneously) as hurtful. Thereafter these greetings were not used again. Beeld offered old information as fresh news, which proves that it is supporting an activist agenda to discredit the university.
Basson likes to point out that Beeld is a newspaper and that its function is to publish news, whether you like it or not. This is true. Neither AfriForum nor Solidarity ever requested Basson to cease the publication of news. Our contention is that he stopped publishing it. Taking half a second from an old video, publishing it out of context and jumping to the conclusion that students are practicing Nazism, and publishing some twenty articles on it, is bullying activism and definitely not objective reporting. If any action is objectionable, it should be stopped. This applies to any objectionable practice on a campus. But it would be regarded as worthy of a local campus paper. Basson’s tactic was akin to blowing up a fly with a nuclear device.
Basson’s actions can easier by compared to Malema’s when he insisted on singing “Shoot the Boer” than that of the Puk first years.
• Ernst is Deputy CEO of AfriForum Follow him on Twitter at @ernstroets