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The South African National Editors’ Forum condemns the attack on two journalists from The Citizen, as well as on activists, after the funeral of slain anti-mining activist Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe in a remote village near Mbizana on Saturday.
Members of the Xolobeni community are divided over attempts by an Australian mining company to mine the titanium-rich sand dunes in the area and it is alleged that Rhadebe was assassinated because of his opposition to the mining.An angry mob, armed with knobkerries, machetes, a spade and rocks, reportedly chased photographer Nigel Sibanda, who had been taking photographs of the land the company wants to mine. Two members of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, a community organisation which Rhadebe had chaired, were also targeted.
The attackers cornered the three and beat them with the blunt end of a machete, knobkerries and their bare hands. Sibanda’s camera was removed. He and one of the activists were critically injured.
Sibanda’s colleague, Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni, was dragged out of a car and hit over the head and on her shoulder with a spade and a machete. The attackers demanded to know what she was doing there and one of them was heard saying:
“They want to tell people we killed Bazooka, that is why they are here.”
According to reports, the police who arrived on the scene, failed in their duty to protect the journalists and two activists and the beatings were allegedly allowed to continue in their presence. Moreover, Hlatshaneni who had managed to seek refuge in the car after she was assaulted, was then ordered by police to return to her attackers and explain what she was doing there.
To add insult to injury, the two journalists and some of the activists were transported in the same police van, along with some of their alleged attackers. Police also confiscated Sibanda’s camera and had not returned it at the time of writing this media release.
Sibanda and one of the activists were eventually hospitalised. Sanef appeals to members of the community to allow journalists to conduct their work without fear or favour. A free media is essential to a healthy democracy and communities should not view journalists as the enemy.
Sanef is extremely perturbed by the reported behavior of the police which if true is inimical to the role the police should play in our society. Sanef will join The Citizen management in approaching the leadership of the SAPS to get answers and ensure justice is done. In the interim. Sanef also urges police to investigate the matter and bring the attackers to book, as well as to return Sibanda’s camera. We once again urge police management to train police in how to deal with the media, in line with last year’s joint efforts between it and Sanef to improve relations.
Mathatha Tsedu, Sanef Executive Director – 082 454 0527