Beware when the buffalo roams

2017-12-19 20:50
Cyril Ramaphosa

Cyril Ramaphosa

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Johannesburg - "We don't understand democracy, we just understand security."

This is what an ANC security official told journalists on Tuesday shortly before they were allowed to have their first interaction with Cyril Ramaphosa since he was elected ANC president.

This was after journalists were issued with stern warnings that, should they attempt to speak to a delegate, their accreditation tags would be confiscated. 

The media was informed that they could join Ramaphosa on his walkabout at 13:30. But, at 14:40, they were warned against speaking to delegates.

WATCH: Journalist Sam Mkokeli manhandled by police at ANC conference

Much later, journalists were told that they would be taken to a venue in a small bus. One group of about 10 boarded the bus, but several journalists objected to the amount of time it would take to get all of them there.

The ANC's department of information and publicity (DIP) then arranged for the media to walk to the venue, but not before they were warned about not talking to delegates.

The journalists were then escorted by DIP officials, ANC security guards, ANC marshals, private security and policemen.

Ramaphosa was found among the stalls selling ANC merchandise, some of it bearing his face. Newly-elected ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile was by his side.

Surrounded by at least eight VIP protection unit officers with earpieces, and three policemen in camouflage uniform, he had a wide grin as he moved from stall to stall. VIP policemen pushed photographers back.

Ramaphosa entered the hall where businesses, among them MultiChoice, Sasstec and Sharks Protection Services, had stalls.

WATCH: Cyril flashes his cash for Nasrec souvenirs

Some journalists, mostly videographers, were allowed to follow him inside. The rest were asked to sit on steps in the blazing afternoon sun.

ANC officials took pictures of the journalists sitting in rows on the steps. Journalists were also informed they would not be allowed to ask questions.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa continued to walk from stall to stall, smiling and shaking hands with business people, while his security personnel surrounded.

'Move, move, move, move'

"Move, move, move, move," the security officials, who wore earpieces, growled as they herded the media away from him.

ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa appeared briefly at the steps, joking with journalists that Ramaphosa could only come when broadcaster ANN7 arrived, and saying that the suit he wore had been custom made.

After more than 30 minutes, the journalists on the steps began discussing whether it was worth staying and what to make of the manner in which they had been treated.

Bloomberg reporter and chairperson of the SA National Editors Forum's media freedom committee Sam Mkokeli suggested that journalists leave, while a reporter from the SABC suggested that they keep waiting.

Mkokeli and others started to leave, but one of the police officers said journalists could not leave because there were not enough officials to escort them.

'Unprofessional conduct'

Mkokeli complained about journalists having to wait in the sun, and the "unprofessional" conduct.

The police officer, later identified as Lieutenant General Tankiso Moshoeshoe, commander of the SAPS VIP unit: events planning, then took Mkokeli's accreditation tag - without which it would be impossible to cover the remainder of the conference. 

Mkokeli and other journalists proceeded to the exit.

With Mkokeli at the exit, Moshoeshoe manhandled Mkokeli, who lifted his arms up above his head. This was witnessed by at least two police officers in uniform.

Mkokeli is one of several journalists who have complained about abuse shown to them by security and police at the conference.

Footage of the incident has gone viral on social media with several journalists sharing their own horrid stories of assault and mismanagement by police and security at the ANC event.

"He pushed me out of the precinct all together. He manhandled and assaulted me out of the precinct," Mkokeli said.

Mkokeli also described the intolerable conditions which journalists have been forced to work under.

He told News24 that, during open plenary sessions, journalists were made to sit on the floor and some who take pictures of delegates which ANC security do not approve of, were made to delete them.

'They see us as barbarians'

"The fence that has been created preventing journalists from talking to delegates and walking around freely sends definitely a message about the atmosphere. They see us as barbarians at the gate we have to be kept out."

The ANC's communications team has apologised for the incident, Sanef chairperson Mahlaste Mahlase said.

Following a short meeting with the team, Sanef members were assured that a communications team would go back to the police to talk to them about the incident and hopefully return Mkokeli's accreditation.

Mahlase added that the ANC has also requested that journalists report any incidents or encounters immediately.

"It wasn't just about Sam's incident this afternoon. There were so many other issues. We have had journalists complain that footage was removed from their cameras.

"We have had women journalists complain that as security or marshals, who were checking for accreditations, touched them inappropriately.

"There was an apology that we received that is quite important to us because they have said that they do not want to make our jobs difficult," she added.

The ANC has, however, complained to Sanef that some journalists have breached security.

"We condemn that," Mahlase said.

In a statement, Bloomberg News said it was "extremely disheartened" by the treatment of Mkokeli and other journalists.

"As an international news organisation that has been present in South Africa for more than 20 years, we work to ensure our reporting is fair, accurate and transparent to benefit the public good.

"While we appreciate that his accreditation has been returned, this sort of behaviour does not belong in a country whose Constitution guarantees freedom of the press."

Read more on:    anc  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  anc leadership race  |  anc votes

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