WHENEVER I encounter the incendiary statements people make in the media my default reaction is to hope the journalists have got it right and can prove their accuracy when challenged to do so. It comes with the territory.
Thanks to modern technology, reporters can worry less about the possibility of getting facts wrong and being sued successfully. Dare I say most of the shock these days comes from reading the vitriol spewed by the newsroom fax machine or the e-mail inbox?
I am thinking here of last week's widely reported offensive "advice" from the Umkhonto we Sizwe Veterans' Association (MKVA) to Kader Asmal to "go to the nearest cemetery and die". The struggle veteran had committed the cardinal sin of criticising the ANC in public.
While the nation reeled from the shock of MKVA's insensitivity, a hitherto unheard-of Free State ANC Youth League leader, Thebe Meeko, also announced his wish to have Professor Jonathan Jansen "shot and killed because he is a racist".
With so many death wishes you would be excused for thinking Charles Bronson was still among us.
I asked Kebby Maphatsoe, national chairman of MKVA, whether he felt as passionate about protecting the rights of those who publish his controversial views as he did about expressing them. I also conveniently anointed him the representative of the shoot-to-kill-from-the-hip brigade.
It turns out Maphatsoe and journalists would get on like a house on fire. He too celebrates the fact that we have a democratic and open society - by far the best on the continent. One that allows all to air their views openly and publicly without any fear.
But he finds no contradiction in encouraging Asmal to go and "die peacefully" if he prefers that to seeing Fikile Mbalula, Deputy Minister of Police, become ANC general secretary.
One need not be an Einstein to grasp this stuff. One phone call to Maphatsoe and I can claim to be clued up on the workings of the ANC's democratic centralism. It means that all but ANC members are free to criticise the party in public.
"Comrade Kader is a member of the ANC. He understands its constitution. He knows that if he has issues about a particular comrade there is internal democracy that allows him to raise the issues," Maphatsoe says.
He says there's a huge difference between ANCYL boss Julius Malema publicly calling for the nationalisation of the mines and Asmal accusing the ANC government of low-level political thinking for wanting to militarise police ranks.
Malema's statements are kosher because he wants to debate the ownership of mines instead of criticising the ANC for not wanting the government to seize them.
Democratic centralism dictates Asmal can express his views freely - as long as it is inside the ANC.
Says Maphatsoe: "People can air their views and debate them robustly in the organisation.
"You can disagree, but if the majority says this is a good idea we all adopt that view. If your view is defeated you cannot say that is not democratic and run to the newspapers."
I was pleasantly surprised by what the former guerilla said about protecting free speech, so I quote him at length:
"We fought for this freedom, for all these changes that we see. As MKVA, we must defend those gains. We want you as media people to express your views openly without any fear. We want to defend freedom of expression. People now enjoy the freedom they did not enjoy before.
"If you express a view against us it is your right. We will respond accordingly.
"We are for freedom of expression and of the media. We must defend them by all means.
"We must fight against corruption. We encourage the media to expose corruption. If a government wants you to hide the truth, what kind of government is that? Why be in government if you are corrupt?"
I hope I don't live to see the day when he will be required to put his money where his mouth is.