Wa Afrika feels 'exonerated'

2010-09-08 14:19

Johannesburg - Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi Wa Afrika said he felt exonerated after charges of fraud, forgery and uttering were withdrawn against him at the Nelspruit Regional Court on Wednesday.

"I just feel exonerated... .I have never done anything illegal as a journalist," said Wa Afrika after he and Victor Mlimi, a deputy director in the Mpumalanga department of human settlements, had the cases against them withdrawn.

The case was thought to be linked to a letter of resignation by Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza sent to President Jacob Zuma, which Zuma's spokesperson declared a fake.

Charges may be reinstated

Wa Afrika, Mlimi and a third person were arrested on August 4 on initial charges of fraud and defeating the ends of justice. The charges against Wa Afrika and Mlimi were withdrawn, but then the three new charges were put to them. They were granted bail on August 6.

They were due to return to court on November 8, but the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) announced on Tuesday it would provisionally withdraw the charges, but could reinstate them if further investigation warrants this.

"The charges were withdrawn in court," NPA spokesperson advocate Mthunzi Mhaga said on Wednesday.

"Both accused were present with their legal representatives."

The third person's name was not on the charge sheet, he said.

Wa Afrika was arrested by the Hawks, a unit of the police dedicated to priority crimes, while a debate on the ANC's proposed media tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill was underway in the building housing his publication's offices in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

During debate on the media issues, the arrests were used as an example of the extreme measures authorities could take against journalists in possession of information relating to state officials.


It also came shortly after he had co-written an article on a R500m lease agreement National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele had purportedly approved without it going out on tender. Cele told reporters after that article that Wa Afrika was "shady" and that "time will tell" if there would be any action taken against him.

On hearing of the plan to provisionally withdraw charges, the Hawks said they would "intensify" their investigation because they believed they had a "formidable" case.

Wa Afrika's bail of R5000, his notebooks and his passports were returned after Wednesday's proceedings.

However, he was concerned about the names that appeared in his notebooks and whether there would be consequences to these people.

His lawyer Eric van den Berg said they would consider all the aspects of the case - the circumstances of his arrest and what has been said about him - before deciding whether to sue the state for his arrest.

No request for ICD to investigate

In spite of calls by the SA National Editors Forum and the Democratic Alliance for an investigation into the circumstances of the arrest, Independent Complaints Directorate spokesperson Moses Dlamini said they had not yet received a formal request to investigate the matter.

Referring to a report that the journalist's phone may have been bugged, Van den Berg said it was difficult to tell if this had taken place, as it was not necessary to place a physical mechanism on a phone.

Meanwhile, the Young Communist League believed law enforcement should never be used to silence journalists, or be used against those who posed a threat to power.

They believed a media tribunal would be the appropriate forum to deal with people involved in "gutter" journalism.

"If there is no concrete evidence to prosecute Mzilikazi, all charges must be permanently set aside," a statement from national spokesperson Gugu Ndima read.

Mlimi's phone was on voicemail when comment was sought from him.