News24

Zuma bodyguards slammed

2010-03-17 13:00

Johannesburg - The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) has condemned the actions of President Jacob Zuma’s police bodyguards, who manhandled an Eyewitness News journalist on Tuesday.

Eyewitness News reported that Tshepo Lesole was taking photographs of the president’s entourage as he arrived at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital on Tuesday.

Lesole was forced to delete the photographs.

“This is outrageous conduct by the police,” Sanef deputy chairperson for media freedom Raymond Louw told News24.

Public area

He said Zuma’s bodyguards had no right in interfering with a photographer who was working in a public area.

“As Sanef, we are upset at this as we have recently complained to the police commissioner, police minister and deputy minister about the treatment of photographers and journalists,” he said.

He said Sanef had a commitment from police commissioner Bheki Cele that police would not interfere with journalists.

Cele is quoted to have said: “We must allow both parties (media and police) to do their work without problems.”

In a statement, Sanef said they reaffirm their commitment to freedom of the press as a basic human right as well as an indispensible constituent to democracy in South Africa.

“We expect police officers associated with the highest office in the land to do so,” they said.

According to Eyewitness News, Senior superintendent Lindela Mashego, who sits on a committee which aims to smooth relations between journalists and the police, urged Lesole to lay charges against the unit's members.

"We would want to resolve the matter and those responsible can be brought to book," Mashego said.

Harks back to apartheid era

Meanwhile, the Professional Journalists Association (PJA) said on Wednesday that the actions of Zuma's bodyguards harked back to apartheid era "thuggery and censorship".

"As a member of the press, Lesole is fully entitled to take pictures of the presidential cavalcade (as is any member of the public). That he was detained for doing so, and forced to delete the images, harks back to apartheid-era thuggery and censorship," said the newly-formed PJA.

They called on the police, whether they were VIP units or not, to respect the rights of working journalists, and wanted the bodyguards to be held accountable.

Lesole was not immediately available for comment, but colleague Stephen Grootes said they were covering the visit when they spotted the cavalcade of at least 10 BMWs and thought it would make a good picture.

"Suddenly... he was surrounded by about four or five guys, they were shouting, screaming, holding him back, holding him by the wrist, and really shouting at him," said Grootes.

"I kept shouting, 'come on talk about this', and they just refused to listen."

Lesole was then dragged around the corner and his pictures were deleted.

Arrest of student

On the radio station's website, Lesole was quoted as saying that stories of the arrest and allegations of torture of a student in Cape Town came to mind during the incident.

In February Chumani Maxwele was arrested for gesturing at Zuma's motorcade and detained overnight.

The station was deciding whether to press charges against the bodyguards but, said Grootes, as far as they knew, there was no law banning taking pictures of a presidential cavalcade.

Zuma's spokesperson Vincent Magwenya, speaking from Harare where Zuma is meeting President Robert Mugabe, said he did not immediately know where the law stood on the matter.

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