Lusaka, March 9, 2023 – South African authorities must swiftly and thoroughly investigate the recent assaults of journalists Silindelo Masikane and Gaddafi Zulu and prosecute those responsible, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On February 25, in Johannesburg, supporters of the opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters and municipal police obstructed and then assaulted Silindelo Masikane, a reporter with the privately owned broadcaster eNCA, according to a local news report, a tweet by the journalist, a statement by the South African National Editors’ Forum, and her editor John Bailey, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Separately, at about 10:30 a.m. on February 28, a former mayor and his bodyguards attacked Gaddafi Zulu, a reporter with the privately owned newspaper Zululand Observer, according to multiple news reports, a SANEF statement, and Zulu, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
“South African authorities must thoroughly investigate the unprovoked assaults on journalists Gaddafi Zulu and Silindelo Masikane, and all those responsible must face the consequences for such outrageous actions,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Failure to arrest and successfully prosecute the perpetrators will simply encourage open season on journalists covering events of public interest, including by assaulting and filing retaliatory charges against members of the press.”
Masikane and camera operator Thamsanqa Chamane were trying to interview an elected EFF municipal councilor involved in a new crime prevention program when EFF supporters created a human barrier around the party member, shoved Masikane to the ground and, alongside some members of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police, stepped on her, according to Bailey and those reports on her case.
Masikane was not severely injured. ECA representatives reported the incident to the Johannesburg Metro Police Department on February 27, and they have not heard anything back as of March 9, Bailey told CPJ.
Previously, in March 2021, EFF leader Julius Malema tweeted that no eNCA journalist would be allowed to interview a party member “anywhere globally” and that June party members blocked eNCA from covering an anti-racism protest and harassed and threatened reporter Ayesha Ismail and camera operator Mario Pedro.
CPJ called EFF spokesperson Thambo Sinawo and Johannesburg police spokesperson Justice Hlabisa, and contacted them via messaging app for comment, but did not receive a replies.
In Zulu’s case, he was attempting to photograph an official who had been denied entry to the local government offices in the northern KwaZulu-Natal town of Mtubatuba when the former mayor of Mtubatuba, Mandla Zungu, and at least six bodyguards approached Zulu and asked who permitted him to take those photographs.
“Before I could answer, I was slapped [and] punched in the face, head, and the upper body,” Zulu told CPJ. He pushed one of the attackers and escaped the building, leaving behind his laptop, phone, and notebook.
While outside, Zulu asked Zungu to return his equipment, and Zungu unsuccessfully tried to drag Zulu back into the building and then threw the journalist’s empty laptop bag at him.
Zulu reported the assault to police later that day, and his badly damaged laptop and phone, which appeared to have been dropped on the ground, were returned to him with the help of the police, but his notebook was not.
Zungu lodged a counter assault complaint against the journalist the same day, which Zulu called “untrue.” KwaZulu Natal police spokesperson Nqobile Gwala responded to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app saying an investigation was ongoing.
Zulu saw a doctor on March 1 and was treated for bruising to his head.
On March 3, Zulu and Zungu appeared in the Mtubatuba District Court, and the matter was adjourned to March 29 to allow the parties to obtain legal representation. CPJ repeatedly called Zungu and contacted him via messaging app for comment but did not receive any replies.