Half-hearted EFF apology inadequate

27 January 2020 - 08:30
By the editorial
Image: The Times / Moeletsi Mabe

With the usual deluge of news, often sensational, that floods the headlines on all media platforms, an important story was almost swept out of sight.

The third biggest party in South African politics issued a one-sentence apology, which read: "In terms of the court order, we unconditionally retract and apologise for the allegations made against Mrs Thandeka Gqubule-Mbeki and Mr Anton Harber."

The two are prominent media personalities in this country and had taken the EFF to court for defamation in 2018.

It was in the aftermath of the passing away of Struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela when a video clip of a 2017 interview emerged in which she spoke about her treatment during apartheid and that Gqubule and Harber, through the now-defunct newspaper The Weekly Mail, "actually did the job for Stratcom".

The EFF released a statement saying that there were 40 journalists who worked for the apartheid government who were still active - among them Gqubule-Mbeki and Harber.

The duo sued the party.

The court ruled on Friday that the EFF must apologise to the journalists within 24 hours and also pay them R40,000 each and their legal costs.

The EFF one-liner was issued on Saturday. It is an apology alright, but the damage caused by the defamatory statement is immeasurable and the insincerity of it will do little to make amends.

There was an emotionally charged atmosphere, especially against journalists - the recorders of the first draft of history - in the days following Madikizela-Mandela's passing as the nation took stock of the life and times of a hero. Unfortunately, it presented hot-headed politicians a conspicuous chance to attack the media.

SA is by and large still a democracy in its formative years, needing to strengthen all arms required to make the project a success.

Though not officialdom, the Fourth Estate is very much a crucial ingredient of the recipe for success. A weakened media, browbeaten into some form of submission by politicians will not help the cause.

Neither will the attitude of SA's third largest party, which lends credence to doubts that it truly believes in a free media.