Stop the intimidation of the media
AROUND the world today, the assault on media freedom and free expression is one of the biggest threats to democracy. In some countries, journalists are killed or maimed for doing their work. Others are forced to flee their countries.
In Africa, repressive regimes have done everything they can to silence critical voices, including shutting down media outlets seen not to toe the line, jailing journalists and forcing many into exile.
A few years ago in neighbouring Mozambique, investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso was brutally murdered for exposing acts of corruption regarding the privatisation of that country’s biggest bank.
In Zimbabwe, journalists are frequently harassed, arrested and intimidated by the regime of President Robert Mugabe.
In Zambia in recent times we have seen a decline in media freedom as well as several acts of violence against the opposition. Media freedom is regressing in that country, which did so much to help the rest of the region gain independence.
Media personnel who are critical of Zambia’s new president, Edgar Lungu, are sometimes harassed and arrested.
Some newspapers, including the iconic Post, have been shut down as Lungu tightens his grip on power.
Last year, editor Lloyd Mutungamiri was shot and left for dead in Maseru, Lesotho, for doing his work.
In Swaziland, King Mswati III has forced all critical journalists out of the country or put them behind bars for exposing the rot in the system in that country.
Going further north on our continent, journalists operate under extremely dangerous conditions, dodging bullets, evading arrest and living in fear of politicians and their henchmen, who will do everything in their power to silence critical voices.
South Africa, the bastion of democracy on the continent, can’t be allowed to go the way of so many of these African countries.
The threats against journalists by Andile Mngxitama and his Black Land First organisation must be stopped.
Such acts of intimidation have no place in the South Africa of Steve Biko, Mangaliso Sobukwe, Chris Hani and Nelson Mandela.
Under apartheid, critical journalists were intimidated, arrested, tortured and forced to go into hiding as members of the security branch pursued them.
But even as the regime came for them, the brave journalists, such as the 1950s Drum writers, continued to expose the brutalities visited upon our people by the racist government. We cannot go back there. We are encouraged by the governing ANC’s stance in rebuking those elements who seek to divert attention from the looting of state resources by staging gatherings to intimidate those they think are pushing the so-called monopoly white capital agenda.
South Africa must deal with the demons of the past and demolish the apartheid system or whatever remains of it.
Transformation of our country and the economy are non-negotiable.
Nothing must stand in the way of land redistribution and spreading the wealth of the country to benefit all South Africans.
However, to stage protests outside the homes of journalists who you deem to be elements of the past is an assault on our democracy and the freedom of expression, as enshrined in our constitution.
This freedom came at a huge price for us as Africans. We cannot allow it to be sacrificed in this fashion.
Dialogue will help us, as Africans, to strengthen our democracy. Threats, intimidation and violence belong to the past.
Now, more than ever, South Africa’s democracy requires an independent, fearless media to make sure the gains of our freedom are not further eroded and hijacked by those in power to protect their own interests.
We thus condemn in the strongest terms what Mngxitama and his colleagues are doing and urge law enforcement agencies to deal with these acts of intimidation.
We thank Police Minister Fikile Mbalula for his commitment to protect journalists from harm and to make sure that acts of thuggery will not go unpunished.