City Press’ Haffajee with egg on the face, was it necessary?

– Lessons need to be learned –
The spear is down as confirmed by the City Press editor Ferial Haffajee. It becomes important to dissect the statement and interviews Haffajee offers as her reasons for letting what I shall call her beloved spear down.

Perhaps this must have been the biggest story Haffajee ran as City Press editor, if public sentiment is the barometer and one can understand her sentiments in proving defiant with an interpreted blanket constitutional franchise of “freedom of expression”. This note was preceded by a open letter which I unfortunately could not get to the editor in time, the same which now is irrelevant in such I pleaded for a consciousness on her part for the pain outside the narrowly defined enemy -ANC dictum and sphere.

Firstly, Haffajee made this her personal stand for the defence of such freedom of expression claim. She admitted that against advice of some in her media enclave she insisted to go ahead. We must not forget Haffajee in the previous weeks City Press gave her reasons or justification for posting the painting on the City Press’ website. Amongst those mention she boldly claimed, the president is “no paragon of morality” by interpretation making him therefore cannon fodder and the correct target for such abuse.

Haffajee says she has finally understood that the pain this portrait ensembles. She in her “apology” to Zuma’s daughter expresses her deep regret for what she sees as satire and yet pain for the Zuma family. She talks about understanding the agony of children picking on one at school and how negatively lasting in effect these can be.

Haffajee is supposedly shocked that the response or the public outcry was so real. My question when the City Press was politely asked for the same reasons that now constitute her change  to remove the painting why she as editor dig in  her heels and proved disinterested, this preceded the court case?

Haffajee  claims today that in particular the tweet from a “Patrice Motsepe” hurt her deep. She says this because they know each other from university days. It is the callous association drawn by a “Patrice Motsepe” who tweeted that convinced her of the truth of the national pain.

The pain that Haffajee shares is real, no different to the pain of many who tried to say to her don’t go down this road. If Haffajee is in pain, perhaps it was necessary for it is personal pain that often helps one appreciates the agony of others. We prove easily dismissive of others from the places we stand, the positions we hold, the power we claim, the coloured lenses through which we look, yet when we are in pain we expect others to be sensitive and understanding.

However the claim of pain emanating from such “Patrice Motsepe” tweet as sincere as it may appear communicates many more angles in a schizophrenic mosaic of what informs reason or decision for Haffajee. Let me also in the beginning condemn the ‘motsepe’ tweet because it was just as low and demeaning as the very painting we condemn. I shall not venture into the fact that some will hold hogwash has a proclivity to  attract hogwash.

Let us first strip Motsepe from his wealth, is Motsepe’s social standing the reasons for him being taken serious  by her?  Would she have been this accommodating for there could be other friends from the same university who voiced a similar position of disgust, are these mentioned by Haffajee or are they not worth mention because they do not have the same wealth or status?

Secondly it is now common news that Haffajee never verified if the “Patrice Motsepe” who tweeted as the correct person but assumed it was him to the extent that she reacted based on such and was in agony immediately as she pensively reflected on what could have so deeply affected a university friend.

Question would she as a good journalist and editor have verified the veracity and found the “Motsepe” a pseudo, would she have taken the spear down? Your guess is as good as mine.

Haffajee wanted an audience with the ANC and SACP,  I fail to understand this unless I understand this from a pure business interest or even a self-serving one. What would a meeting clear when the battle lines have been drawn with legal stands?

The ANC has made it clear it wanted the spear down, because it was diminishing the dignity of its president and leader who happens to be also the President of South Africa. It asked through its attorneys formally that the City Press respect its request, which along with the Goodman Gallery she point blank refused. What is the obsession with engaging the ANC when they already made it clear this is not a negotiated issue?  Did Haffajee hope to come back with a negotiated settlement? What did she hope for?

Haffajee says she made the decision informed by fear and care because of death threats received. I cannot verify nor challenge this claim, yet her  attitude does not inspire necessarily truth at this point.

Lastly how much of business interest weighed on her decision to prove soluble when she has put up a “fight” when there was none needed.

Is the threat of government not giving City Press  an opportunity to earn revenue featuring anywhere in this equation for ultimately as editor Haffajee only works for a company and does not own the City Press, suggesting she could like all other employees be fired if shareholders are not happy?

Is it possible that as we write this note that Haffajee became the ‘moemish’ of the week for having potentially misled some who are blinded in hate for the ANC leadership by promising them to prove a tough cookie, equally because the ANC got her to honour what she initially refused to do?  Or is she the moemish for not verifying the fake “patrice motsepe” Perhaps confirming the claims of journalist not doing their homework before resorting to respond?  Is she the moemish for trying to play victim in pain when she was the lead drum majorette  ignoring the pain of others.

The editor must have egg dripping of her face and must have learnt a few cardinal lessons which may help her approach similar future things differently.

I thought of some lessons learnt for a Haffajee from this uncalled for two weeks of pain of paraded estrogen.

1. As a journalist listen to the people, the people was trying to get your attention but you were on your own errand and spree.

2. Do not force-feed us the public a diet we do not want in the name of freedom of expression. We have published in City Press before and respect the newspaper, but don’t assume.

3. Don’t let names of so called important people dictate and cloud your decision making. If Zuma’s views and mind do not dictate to you, don’t let Motsepe’s dictate to you.

4. If government do not dictate don’t allow business to dictate to you or your newspaper, if you want to be the paragon of fairness.

5. Don’t underestimate the will of the people who democratically voted this ANC into power.

6.  Own up to  your role as a public person to build this democracy to galvanize our nationhood and to defend our values of ubuntu, as that which informs the actual spirit of the constitution which does not have an existence devoid of a context, our chequered collective history.

7.  If you celebrate and defend freedom of expression as a right you equally have an obligation to respect and defend someone’s dignity to the hilt.

8. You have never portrayed the worst of serial rapists with such gusto, why your obsession with a politician who was voted into power by the masses as representing South Africa. Not even the infamous DSK of French politics is portrayed in this fashion.

9. Respect the many cultural expressions of South Africa live with the reality and accept this president was never found guilty of rape, has unlike most of us more than one matrimonial partner, sinned in raising a child outside wedlock for which he apologised, the common story of the “civilized” globe. Accept and afford that Zuma   is a human being no different to you or me with challenges the same our history attests.

10. Taking the spear down, is one half of the toughest  mile of your career- it stands naked without a irrevocable apology to the many in South Africa who are South Africans ANC members or not because not all of us are ANC members but we condemn your attitude.

In the end we forgive you because you are human, and humans err, and can be overtaken by our ego’s at times. Human beings know the importance of forgiving for life simply will not make sense without it. It remains inhumane not to forgive.

True Africans understand this for they paid the price to have this constitution in which we all claim our rights at times indifferently and in a less sensitive manner. Their blood watered the tree of freedom, their backs bore the scars of the abuse, yet they have forgiven the perpetrators who often want to act as if was their right to be forgiven.

Clyde N. Ramalaine
Social commentator


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