South African authorities must swiftly and thoroughly investigate recent attacks on media outlets and journalists covering civil unrest in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Tuesday.
Protests have broken out in at least two provinces, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, which began over the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma but have spiraled into general looting and rioting.
Demonstrators and looters attacked at least four community radio stations overnight and Tuesday and have robbed and assaulted journalists covering the unrest over the past 10 days, according to news reports and journalists who spoke with CPJ.
“The rioting and civil unrest in South Africa is the country’s biggest news story, and the media must be free to cover it without fear of assault so the public can remain informed at such a crucial time,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York.
“Even while they are engaged in stopping rioting and looting, law enforcement agencies cannot turn a blind eye to how journalists are being attacked and threatened while doing their jobs, and must ensure that those who do so are held to account.”
Late last night and early this morning, unidentified people attacked at least four radio stations throughout the country, ransacking their offices and forcing them off the air.
The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) condemned the attacks..
Those outlets include: Alex FM, in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, Mams Radio, In Mamelodi, northeast of Pretoria, West Side FM, in Kagiso, west of Johannesburg, and Intokozo FM, in Durban
Alex FM station manager Takalane Nemangowe told the CPJ via messaging app that the attackers vandalised the station and “stripped the radio station of everything and only left papers.”
He said that a presenter and a security guard who were in the building at the time were able to escape unharmed.
Nemangowe added that a supporter in Alexandra had offered his home for the station’s use, and he hoped it would return to the air tomorrow.
Unidentified people vandalised Mams Radio’s transmitter, studios, and offices, and stole equipment from the station.
The station wrote that it was “off air until further notice” and said that police were investigating the attack.
West Side FM CEO Goodhope Ledwaba told EyeWitness News that looters had broken the doors and windows of the station’s office and stolen broadcasting equipment, including computers.
Intokozo FM posted photos on its Facebook page showing vandalism in its studio; the station, which normally broadcasts live on its Facebook page, has not posted any updates since those photos.
Separately, on July 3, in the town of Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal province, a member of the ruling African National Congress Party’s Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association interrupted SABC reporter, Samkele Maseko.
This happened while Maseko was broadcasting coverage of a rally in support of former President Zuma.
An unidentified man in camouflage is seen in that video blocking the camera that was filming Maseko’s broadcast and shoving it to the ground.
Also that day, Edward Zuma, the former president’s eldest son, threatened to burn one of the vehicles belonging to eNCA parked outside his father’s home..
The following day, an unidentified Zuma supporter attacked Maseko while he was reporting outside Zuma’s home.
The attacker accused Maseko of being a “sell-out” and of trying to destroy party leaders of the African National Congress, and slapped the journalist and tried to choke him.
Sbu Ngalwa, the SANEF chairperson, broke up the attack and pulled Maseko to safety.
Maseko declined to speak to CPJ, saying that his employer was pursuing the matter.
Phathiswa Magopeni, SABC’s group executive of news and current affairs, did not respond to calls and several messages via messaging app for comment, said the CPJ.
On Sunday, July 11, unidentified people robbed an SABC news crew of their equipment while they were covering protests in Alexandra.
Also that day, unidentified people in the Johannesburg suburb of Hillbrow damaged a camera and vehicle belonging to a news team from the privately owned television channel Newzroom Afrika.
Newzroom Afrika news director Katy Katopodis told CPJ via messaging app that looters broke the vehicle’s windows and attempted to break into the car, branded with the station’s logo, and steal its radio and equipment in its trunk.
She said the news team was not in the vehicle at the time, and watched as people attempted to break into it. Katopodis said a person fired a bullet through the driver’s side door.
The reporting team recovered the vehicle later that day and were able to drive it back to the station, Katopodis said, adding that none of the journalists had been injured in the incident.
Newzroom Afrika had not lodged a complaint with police, Katopodis said, as “police have their hands full right now, and we will do that once everything has settled down.”
The same day demonstrators in KwaZulu-Natal threw rocks at an SABC vehicle while journalists were documenting looting in the area.
SABC reporter, Jayde-Leigh Paulse, spoke to CPJ via messaging app. She said no journalist was injured by the rocks, and that her employer had supplied her team with helmets and bulletproof vests.
“We put the fear aside and keep the cameras rolling as journalists,” she said.
Separately on July 11, in Jeppestown, Johannesburg, a protester threatened News 24 reporter Jeff Wicks, saying “you will die today,” Wicks told CPJ via messaging app.
He said that the demonstrators had sticks and stones but did not physically attack him; Wicks added that he believed looters had threatened members of the press because they were filming their wrongdoing.
National police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo did not reply to multiple requests for comment sent by CPJ via messaging app
He told News 24 that every situation would be assessed and dealt with on its own merit.
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