16 January 2013

South Africa: Striking Farm Workers Attack Reporters in South Africa

press release

Striking farm workers in De Doorns, located in South Africa's Western Cape province, on Monday, 14 January 2013, attacked three journalists from the public broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) who were covering their strike action.

According to a media report filed by one of the journalists, Nomawethu Solwandle, and broadcast on several SABC news bulletins, a car in which the three journalists were traveling was stoned and had its rear window broken. No injuries were reported. The journalists were in the Stofland informal settlement to interview striking farm workers.

Information published by the SABC and based on an account by radio journalist, Bulelani Phillip, indicates the journalists encountered several farm workers who were carrying stones as they got closer to the settlement.

"A lot of them recognised us as journalists from last week and clearly declared our vehicles shouldn't be touched. As we continued on our journey, one of the men started shouting that we are informers [working with the police] and as we drove by, they started throwing stones at the vehicle. That's when we realised we were in trouble and then we sped off and went to a place of safety," Phillip is quoted as saying.

This latest incident adds to the number of journalists who have been attacked in De Doorns since the strike action, which started last August but was called of in December and resumed early in the year.

On Friday, 11 January 2013, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) reported that journalists Xolani Koyana, Aw Cheng Wei (both from newspaper, Cape Times) and Henk Kruger (from newspaper, Cape Argus) were injured when the strike turned violent earlier that week.

Koyana and Wei had their vehicle stoned, overturned and torched. The two managed to escape to a nearby church, sustaining varied injuries in the process. Kruger, meanwhile, was hit in the leg by a rubber bullet fired by police.

The South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) condemned the attack on the journalists and called for the perpetrators to be arrested.

"SANEF is also concerned about the wider chilling effect the attack can have on journalists assigned to cover such strikes. Some may be subject to fears that entry to an area of strike unrest could result in more attacks in which they run the risk of being harmed or seriously injured," the statement read in part.

MISA's Programme Specialist for Media Freedom Monitoring & Research, Levi Kabwato, has advised journalists covering the strike action in the Western Cape to exercise extreme caution. "We further call upon those coordinating the strikes to respect the duties of journalists and to guarantee their safety for the remainder of the strike action," he said.

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