Journalist Mario Pedro is seen being harassed by supporters of the Economic Freedom Fighters in Cape Town, South Africa, on June 10. 2021. (Screenshot: YouTube/Wesley Fester)

South African EFF party supporters block journalists from covering protest

On June 10, 2021, a group of supporters of the South African Economic Freedom Fighters opposition party harassed and threatened reporter Ayesha Ismail and camera operator Mario Pedro, with the privately owned broadcaster eNCA, while they tried to cover an anti-racism protest in Cape Town, according to video of the incident shared on social media and Ismail, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

In that video, a group of people wearing clothes showing support for the Economic Freedom Fighters can be seen shouting at the journalists to leave the scene. One demonstrator says that the protesters “don’t want anything to do with eNCA” and “eNCA must leave…” and another, brandishing a stick, tells the journalists, “We are going to teach you a lesson; come forward here, I am going to teach you a good lesson.”

Ismail told CPJ that they left the scene amid the harassment, saying, “I am very sure that if Pedro and I did not retreat from the protesting EFF supporters we could have been harmed.”

In a statement, the South Africa National Editors’ Forum, an industry body of editors and senior journalists, condemned the intimidation and noted that the EFF has been hostile to eNCA since 2019, when the broadcaster refused to cover the party’s conference in solidarity with other news outlets that had not been granted accreditations.

Previously, on March 15, 2021, in Durban, EFF-affiliated students shoved and obstructed eNCA reporter Sli Masikane while she was covering a protest against student debt, according to news reports.

CPJ emailed EFF spokesperson Vuyani Pambo, and contacted him via messaging app for comment, but did not receive any replies.

Melikhaya Xego, the party’s chair for the Western Cape, denied that the EFF supporters had intimidated the journalists, saying it was “just unfortunate that there were a lot of people speaking at the same time, but we did not physically touch any journalist from eNCA,” according to reports.

Xego added that the party sought to “humble” eNCA after it pulled out of EFF’s conference in 2019, saying, “We can’t force them not to attend our protests and pressers, but we will not give them any interviews.”

Police spokesperson Thandi Mbambo referred CPJ’s queries to provincial police spokesperson Novela Potelwa. CPJ messaged Potelwa and repeatedly called her for comment, but did not receive any replies.