An all-woman SABC news crew being held hostage by ANC members in Mpumalanga on Thursday has caused shock and alarm, with the public broadcaster’s head of news strongly condemning the incident.
According to The Watchdog on SABC News on Thursday evening, Vuyo Mvoko said the ruling party was giving the SABC “the runaround” when it came to commenting on the incident.
SABC News reporter in Mpumalanga, Motsebi Monareng, told Mvoko the incident took place while journalists were doing a story on the lack of water in Buffelshoek, Bushbuckridge.
The crew, consisting of two journalists and a camerawoman, were conducting interviews with community members when a group of around 20 ANC supporters approached them and said they neglected to speak to the area’s ward councillor.
Monareng said the group, with many among them donning ANC regalia, accused the journalists of “pushing an agenda”.
Despite the group being told the SABC crew had an interview with the mayor about the issues plaguing Bushbuckridge, the group said they wanted to burn the crew’s vehicle and take their equipment.
They also wanted the crew to delete the footage they had already shot. When it was clear none of their demands would be met, they held them hostage for over two hours.
SABC group executive of news and current affairs, Phathiswa Magopeni, told Mvoko in an interview on The Watchdog that the ward councillor, a woman who reportedly joined the group that proceeded to hold the journalists hostage, wanted them to approach her first to “get access” to the community – a request Magopeni said was “unheard of”.
“Communities don’t need clearance to speak about their issues.
“It was a clear case of censorship and to gatekeep [sic] our coverage,” Magopeni said.
The crew were reportedly so shaken that they were only able to open a case with police on Friday (today). Counselling services are also being arranged.
A stain on Black Wednesday
In addition to Magopeni’s outrage at the incident, she said it was made somewhat worse by taking place just one day after Black Wednesday was celebrated.
Black Wednesday marks the banning of The World and Weekend World newspapers, along with other black political organisations, on 19 October in 1977.
These events were followed by the subsequent detention of journalists and political activists.
“Black Wednesday is a significant day in the South African media calendar, serving as a constant reminder of the vital role that media plays in promoting democracy in South Africa,” the SABC said in a statement earlier this week.
Magopeni said it was particularly worrying that this was also occurring just nine days before local government elections, which the very same journalists will be covering in the Mpumalanga area.
The Citizen’s attempts to get comment from the Mpumalanga government and the ANC in Mpumalanga have so far proved unsuccessful. Updates to follow as more information is made available.
Compiled by Nica Richards