The Star Late Edition - - METRO - JAPHET NCUBE [email protected]

IT WAS tense in the tiny board­room. No amount of air con­di­tion­ing could cool the high tem­per­a­tures.

On one side of the ta­ble sat a younger Julius Sello Malema, flanked by his most loyal lieu­tenant, Floyd Shivambu, to the left, and Pule Mabe to the right.

On the other side sat Fe­rial Haf­fa­jee, her fin­ger pointed at Malema, who, with his left hand raised slightly, was breath­ing fire and brim­stone.

I sat on Fe­rial’s right, with Melanie-Ann Feris next to me. A vis­i­bly shaken Ge­orge Mat­lala sat next to her, his left hand cov­er­ing his mouth.

The year was 2010. Fe­rial was the edi­tor and I was ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor and sec­ond in charge at City Press. Feris was the news edi­tor and Mat­lala was our most trusted po­lit­i­cal re­porter.

Malema was still pres­i­dent of the ANC Youth League, Shivambu his deputy and Mabe the trea­surer-gen­eral.

I posted a pic­ture of this meet­ing on so­cial me­dia last week, and many of my fol­low­ers and friends thought it was new, even thought we look much younger in the im­age. This scores my point that ten­sions be­tween politi­cians and jour­nal­ists are noth­ing new, but also that di­a­logue will al­ways break the walls be­tween us.

The man who had brought us to­gether un­der these un­pleas­ant cir­cum­stances was in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter Piet Ram­pedi, whose se­ries of re­ports on ten­der cor­rup­tion in Lim­popo had irked the ANC’s young li­ons.

Malema felt tar­geted and had called to ask for a meet­ing to dis­cuss the sto­ries. It had be­come my prob­lem to try to find a truce. I spoke to Fe­rial and she agreed to the meet­ing.

It helped that I have al­ways had a re­la­tion­ship of mu­tual re­spect with both Malema and Shivambu, so I was open to the meet­ing. I am al­ways more for di­a­logue than con­fronta­tion.

I re­mem­ber the meet­ing as if it were yes­ter­day. When Malema and his en­tourage ar­rived at our of­fices in Auck­land Park, many col­leagues didn’t know what to ex­pect. Some were fright­ened.

The ten­sion was so thick you could cut it with a knife. We moved to the board­room and the fire­works be­gan.

Back then, Malema was much more trou­ble­some than he is to­day.

I sat there, lis­ten­ing, ask­ing ques­tions and de­fend­ing Ram­pedi as well as our ed­i­to­rial de­ci­sions, without adding more petrol to the fire.

With each minute, the ten­sion thawed, and by the end of the meet­ing, which must have lasted about an hour, we had found one an­other.

I re­mem­bered this mo­ment this week as ten­sions be­tween Malema and some me­dia col­leagues es­ca­lated fol­low­ing Jac­ques Pauw’s bizarre de­ci­sion to post an ae­rial pic­ture of the Hyde Park home of the EFF leader’s wife’s home.

We can never de­fend such un­eth­i­cal con­duct, but this in­ci­dent shows just how far some among us have sank in their ef­forts to sink Malema, who has been a thorn in the back­side of the me­dia since his ANCYL days.

Malema is a lot of trou­ble, but he, too, de­serves some pri­vacy and re­spect.

The ten­sions be­tween politi­cians and me­dia are un­healthy, with no win­ners and losers. Politi­cians need the me­dia as much as we need them.

That’s why the EFF’s de­ci­sion not to agree to meet the SA Na­tional Ed­i­tors’ Fo­rum (Sanef) was ill-ad­vised. And I told Malema so.

There can never be any jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to at­tack jour­nal­ists, even if you don’t agree with them. If there are in­ac­cu­ra­cies with sto­ries, use all avail­able channels to get jus­tice.

That was the mes­sage we sent to Malema dur­ing that meet­ing in 2010, and that’s the mes­sage I tried to put across to him last week.

In­deed, if the EFF are the gov­ern­ment in wait­ing they claim to be, they must com­mit to the free­dom of the me­dia and iron out their dif­fer­ences with the jour­nal­ists con­cerned.

But that’s not to say we agree with the con­duct of those jour­nal­ists who have de­cided to be­come part of po­lit­i­cal fac­tions and are fight­ing the bat­tles of the politi­cians they like.

It’s a dan­ger­ous game to play.

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