Sanef condemns yet another attack on KZN journalist

The forum says there is a growing trend of journalists being physically intimidated and harmed.

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) has condemned the alleged acts of intimidation and harassment of two Newcastle Advertiser journalists by the municipality mayor Xolani Dube and his deputy Sugar Thwala.

On March 2, Newcastle Advertiser journalist Estella Naicker was covering a story of the Newcastle Resident’s Association (NRF) members filling potholes in their area.

“I was on Hathorn Street (Newcastle, Ward 3) at about 13:30 chatting to members of the Newcastle Residents Forum (NRF), Matthew Shunmugam and Neil Sooknanan about a project they were busy with, repairing potholes … a convoy of vehicles arrived.

“The environment was tense and there was immediately some heckling. The councillors accused Matthew of trying to redeem himself for failing to fill those very same potholes before he decided to retire as a councillor,” says Naicker.

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She says the deputy mayor Thwala demanded to know ‘what I was doing there, saying that nobody invited me to be there and asked that I leave. Mayor Xolani Dube accused me of being paid by the ANC to write negative stories about them’.

Naicker says she moved across the road and the councillors saw that she had her phone out, taking photos. They objected which prompted two bodyguards to rush across the street demanding her phone.

“I shouted that they had no right to take my phone and I would regard that as theft. They demanded the pics be deleted and then took my phone deleting any pics they found on it of the scene that was unfolding. Then they handed my phone back. I had one bodyguard standing on either side of me after that to make sure I didn’t take any more photos.”

She says she called her colleague Zianne Leibrandt, to let her know about what was happening. Leibrandt sent another journalist, Mbali Butale, to record the incident but they were blocked when they arrived and ordered by the politicians’ bodyguards not to do their job including taking pictures.

Deputy mayor Thwala allegedly approached Naicker and began yelling at her for publishing articles about him, referring to a damning four-page exposé series she had written on the municipality regarding the awarding of a R43.5m contract to a company called Pro Afrika – for a water and sanitation project.

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Attacks on journalists condemned

In a statement on Friday, Sanef said it regards the actions of the mayor, deputy mayor and councillors as unacceptable violent behaviour of a criminal nature towards female journalists.

“Instead of focusing on their responsibilities, these councillors have decided to be extremely hostile towards the Newcastle Advertiser which is investigating and exposing corruption and fraud in the municipality.”

“It is an indictment on our democracy to witness attacks on journalists happening under the mayor’s watch, if not orchestrated by the town’s first citizen, and law enforcement officials turning a blind eye.”

“Both Mayor Dube and his deputy Thwala took oath to uphold the same Constitution that upholds media freedom as one of the major pillars of our democracy. They should be charged for the breach of their Constitutional duties. We will also be writing formal complaints to their respective political parties, about their behaviour and call for action,” said Sanef.

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Other recent incidents where journalists were attacked

This is not the first incident where a journalist was allegedly assaulted by government officials or the community while trying to do their job.

An Eastern Cape newspaper’s senior reporter came forward earlier this month after receiving an anonymous call from a person who told him to watch his back as there were people hired to shoot him.

The caller urged the reporter to be careful about stories he has been investigating. Sanef said it believes that the stories are related to the assassination of University of Fort Hare (UFH) Vice-Chancellor (VC) Sakhela Buhlungu’s close protector, Mboneni Vesele.

The newspaper was forced to pull the shaken journalist out of the stories he was working on.

Sanef said in September last year, a Herald newspaper reporter was harassed and intimidated by locals who clashed with foreigners in Plettenberg Bay, forcing the journalist to leave her home because of threats of violence by community members in KwaNokuthula Township.

ALSO READ | Sanef condemns murder of former journalist Phangisile Mtshali

A Zululand Observer (ZO) reporter Gaddafi Zulu, was allegedly assaulted recently by the former Mtubatuba mayor, Mandla Zungu, and a group of bodyguards while on a story to investigate reports that the newly-appointed administrator, Dr Siya Ntuli, had been prevented from entering the municipal premises at Mtubatuba Municipality.

According to the newspaper, while busy on his laptop after photographing a locked-out Ntuli, Zulu was confronted by Zungu and a group of security officials.

“He was slapped and punched in the face, head and upper body. His work equipment — including a laptop, notebook and phone — were taken.”

eNCA reporter Silindelo Masikane was also recently attacked while trying to conduct an interview with a member of the mayoral committee, Mgcini Tshwaku, when she was ‘pushed so hard that she fell to the ground’.

It was reported that EFF members as well as Johannesburg Metro Police Department officials walked over her and that no one defended or assisted her.

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