Weekend media reported widely on the ANC Youth League President, Julius Malema, referring to the Western Cape Premiere as a cockroach.
During a ceremony marking the 66th anniversary of the ANCYL, its President said: “You have put the cockroach in cabinet. People of the Western Cape, we are asking you to bring Doom to remove this cockroach… And Doom means voting for the ANC.” (source: http://www.iol.co.za)
Mr Malema has every right, and indeed has demonstrated a fine ability, to engage robustly with public figures across the political spectrum on a diversity of challenging subjects. However Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) believes that his comparison of Premier Helen Zille to a cockroach is offensive, inappropriate and grossly insensitive given the word’s use and hideous connotations during the genocide in Rwanda, where it was used to incite the killing of Tutsis.
Mr Malema’s comments may not constitute hate speech as defined by in the Constitution. Unprotected speech must constitute both hatred and incitement to cause harm. Indeed it appears that the ANCYL leader was careful to qualify his language so that it could not be interpreted as such, by clarifying that “to bring Doom”… “means voting for the ANC” and not to incite harm as might otherwise be interpreted.
What is clear however is that given our current context of racism and xenophobia and given our country’s history of dehumanisation on the basis of race, for the leader of the ANC Youth League at a celebration event and in the presence of the President, to make such comments is deeply concerning. Director of MMA, William Bird asked “What kind of message does it send to ordinary South Africans that the leader of the opposition can be dehumanised and that the democratic process that put her in government can be so crassly trashed by the leader of the youth league of the majority party with the President looking on?”
MMA has a proud history of independent analysis and commentary and we wish to reiterate that our condemnation of Mr Malema’s offensive speech does not indicate any level of support for the Democratic Alliance or its leader. Rather MMA’s critique is based on our view that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. To dehumanise another is neither clever nor strategic, it is a technique most commonly found during periods of conflict and war. However audiences may choose to interpret these comments, it would be difficult to imagine how they could be read to be in any way supportive of democratic discourse, debate and nation building. We call on our President to condemn these comments and for the ANC to take the appropriate action in line with its internal policies and procedures.