Talkshow host Karima Brown has been swamped with insulting texts, anonymous threatening phone calls and hate messages on social networks ever since Julius Malema, the leader of South Africa’s third largest party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), posted a message from Brown with her phone number on his personal Twitter account.
Brown, who works for eNCA television and the Johannesburg commercial radio station 702, had intended to send the message to a WhatsApp group for media people who cover the EFF but she sent to an EFF WhatsApp group by mistake. In the message she urged her colleagues to pay close attention to a meeting between the EFF and a group of elders.
Malema posted a screenshot of this message with Brown’s phone number circled in red on his Twitter account, which has 2.35 million followers, and he accused her of planning to send “moles” to the meeting. He subsequently said he thought she was “state agent (..) an operative” and that she was “working for state security.”
RSF has seen many texts and posts with insulting, misogynous and racists comments about Brown, calls for her to be raped, and explicit threats against her life. For the most part, these comments were made by people identifying themselves as supporters of the EFF and its leader.
“When this politician, who has a history of attacks on the press, accused Karima Brown of spying and posted her phone number online, he knew full well what kinds of reaction he would trigger, especially from his own supporters, said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. He is entirely responsible for this wave of insults, threats and intimidation. We call for a thorough police investigation into this hate campaign so that its perpetrators can be punished. With just weeks to go to general elections, we also ask the electoral commission to take the necessary measures against the threats and attacks to which South Africa’s journalists and media are repeatedly subjected by this party, its supporters and its leader.”
RSF already condemned Malema’s repeated use of threats and insults against journalists and media outlets last November, and an organization that represents journalists and media outlets filed a complaint against him the following month.
Under article 8 of the code of conduct in effect for the national elections on 8 May, political parties and candidates are required to “take all reasonable steps to ensure that journalists are not subjected to harassment, intimidation, hazard, threat or physical assault by any of their representatives or supporters.”
South Africa’s electoral commission has confirmed that it will investigate the complaint that Brown has filed against the EFF. The penalties for breaches of the code of conduct range from a fine to 10 years in prison and a ban on a political party’s participation in the elections.
South Africa is ranked 28th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.