He has 2.4 million followers on Twitter and often uses his account to respond to current affairs, but EFF leader Julius Malema has finally admitted that the social media platform does not reflect the real world.
“I also hasten to point out that Twitter is entirely divorced from reality: I know for a fact that the EFF won nearly every ‘poll’ conducted on Twitter in the run-up to the elections. It ultimately lost the elections and came third,” Malema wrote in his affidavit to defend a hate speech lawsuit brought against the EFF and its leader by the South African National Editors’ forum (Sanef) and five journalists.
“Despite a better performance than in 2014, the ‘Twitter world’ result did not translate into the real world. This, also, with respect, should give the court proper perspective insofar as the complainants are concerned,” Malema argues.
The complainants are Sunday Times associate editor Ranjeni Munusamy, News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson, Daily Maverick journalist Pauli van Wyk, Vrye Weekblad editor Max du Preez and Eyewitness News journalist Barry Bateman.
A large part of Sanef’s case relies on hateful and intimidating Twitter posts levelled at the journalists, who reported critically on Malema and the EFF.
The case is scheduled to be heard by the Equality Court in Pretoria on August 5.
In his affidavit, Malema dedicates a section to “proper context of social media” and says the offending tweets “are overwhelmingly from third persons and do not involve me or the EFF at all”. He makes the case that neither he, nor the EFF could be held liable for what purported EFF supporters had to say on social media platforms.
Sanef’s case is that the “hateful” utterings by Malema and other EFF leaders create an enabling environment for their supporters to threaten or intimidate journalists.
Munusamy attached several offending tweets to her affidavit, in which she is referred as a “bitch” or “satan”. In another tweet, an EFF supporter from Limpopo said it was time to “come up with action to kill white people like” Basson.
Malema says he shouldn’t be held liable for what Twitter users say when it was in “direct contradiction to what I said to real EFF supporters”. Malema quotes from his address outside the Zondo Commission in November 2018, where he asked his supporters to refrain from physical violence, particularly against women journalists. This after he referred to journalists as the “enemy”.
Malema and the EFF recently lost a defamation case brought against them by former finance minister Trevor Manuel for a tweet casting doubt on Manuel’s proximity to new tax boss Edward Kieswetter. The party was slapped with a R500 000 damages fine for defaming Manuel – a ruling which they are now petitioning to the Supreme Court of Appeal.