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The South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) condemns, in the strongest terms, the physical assault of Frayintermedia journalist, Desmond Latham; a female staff member; and a female employee from UNICEF by a group of men at Embalenhle township near Secunda on Thursday evening.

At about 4.45 pm on Thursday, Latham and his colleagues were filming a project for UNICEF on children in Embalenhle township. They had no idea that there was a conflict about an ongoing battle at Embalenhle township where the VUKTA taxi association is fighting a local bus company, Megabus.

“We had stopped at the side of the road (corner R546 and Embalenhli road) to film Secunda. The men out of the blue assaulted us. We had no idea what was going on other than they were criminals engaged in a robbery – and they were extremely angry and determined to assault journalists.”
“It was only when we arrived at the police station that the SAPS informed us of the tension and the road had been a flashpoint for taxi drivers who had been gathering there for a few days forcing people out of buses.
“There has been no report about this (story), and we were attacked without warning… Police were involved because the UNICEF person is from Brazil,” said Latham.
“These men are punching women. They appear to be (allegedly) hired by the association… The taxi company is targeting reporters,” he said.

SANEF is deeply concerned that journalists are increasingly facing violence and intimidation for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression in this country. Women journalists face specific dangers and are especially vulnerable and sometimes subjected to mob-related violence when covering public events, often in reprisal for their work.

As a result, they suffer from trauma and the emotional impact of experiencing physical attacks which lead to anxiety, insomnia, irritation and or post-traumatic stress disorder, which can cause incapacitating feelings of horror, fear and despair.

SANEF was told that while the victims were not severely hurt, the attackers stole their Canon D5 and lens and damaged their vehicle.
Lathan warned journalists who may be heading to Secunda to keep a sharp eye out for “mobs of men”. A case of assault and robbery was registered at Embalenhle police station.

SANEF believes that the intention was to intimidate journalists so that they are reluctant to write, research or speak about the territorial battle and violence in the taxi industry in Mpumalanga.

SANEF joins UNESCO and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in efforts to strengthen the capacity of Member States to implement, voluntarily, mechanisms to prevent attacks against journalists, to protect journalists, and to prosecute the perpetrators of these attacks.

We call on the Office of President Cyril Ramaphosa to take a leaf from UNESCO’s action plan that focuses on activities to raise awareness and train representatives of the judiciary, law enforcement agencies and parliaments on the importance of freedom of the press and the safety of journalists. A commitment to the protection of journalists allows journalists and media professionals to receive, produce and share information without facing physical or moral threats.

FOR EDITORS: SANEF is a non-profit organisation whose members are editors, senior journalists and journalism trainers from all areas of the South African media. We are committed to championing South Africa’s hard-won freedom of expression and promoting quality, ethics and diversity in the South African media. SANEF promotes excellence in journalism through fighting for media freedom, writing policy submissions, research, education and training programmes.

For more information, please contact:
Katy Katopodis – Acting SANEF Chairperson, (082) 805-7022
Mary Papayya – Acting SANEF Media Freedom Chair (082) 379-4957
Judy Sandison – SANEF KZN Convenor 0825713334
Sbu Ngalwa – SANEF Eastern Cape Convenor (073) 404-1415
Janet Heard – SANEF Western Cape SANEF Convenor, 0780419528
Hopewell Radebe – SANEF Acting Gauteng Regional Convenor 083 582 1734
Kate Skinner – SANEF Executive Director – 082 926 6404

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