Sanef raises concern over police 'heavy-handedness' in arresting journalist at polling station

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Ziniko kaMhlaba. (Screengrab via Newzroom Afrika)
Ziniko kaMhlaba. (Screengrab via Newzroom Afrika)
  • A Newzroom Afrika journalist was arrested on Monday at a Gauteng polling station.
  • Journalists were also harassed by members of the public while covering the election in Limpopo.
  • The IEC said it was investigating.

The SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) has raised its concern over the police's "heavy-handed actions" against a journalist covering Monday's municipal elections.

On Monday, Newzroom Afrika journalist Ziniko kaMhlaba was arrested after he tried approaching the presiding officer with a request to interview party agents and members of the public outside the voting station.

kaMhlaba tried to engage the Gauteng IEC media liaison officer to mediate, but his efforts proved fruitless as the presiding officer "just walked away and refused to take the call".

READ | Elections 2021: Journalist covering vote released after arrest in Soweto

When police, who observed the discussion, refused to kick kaMhlaba out of the voting station - hosted at a school - on the grounds that he had not broken any laws, the presiding officer rang the Orlando police station and reported him for allegedly disrupting the elections inside the polling station hall.

His live crossing to the studio was interrupted by police officers, who also allegedly chased and confiscated the cellphones from people recording the incident.

Sanef said in a statement: 

He [kaMhlaba] said his colleague was never arrested, but was harassed, intimidated, and forced to stop recording while he was arrested and detained in a car for a while before being taken to the police cells. After a few minutes, he was taken out of the cells, interviewed by a team of officers and released without charges filed.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) said it would investigate the circumstances that led to kaMhlaba's arrest.

Sanef chairperson Sbu Ngalwa said: "I'm glad that our colleague Ziniko has been released. His arrest was totally unnecessary and sheer abuse of power by the police. No journalist should be arrested/harassed for merely doing their job. Journalism is not a crime!"

Sanef had worked with the IEC on training journalists about all election matters, including the role of presiding officers and the rights of journalists in the field.

This was proactively done to ensure cooperation and the smooth running of elections, the organisations said.

"Sanef is concerned that despite all the pre-election engagements and preparations, something like this still happened and the police reacted with a heavy hand instead of facilitating an amicable solution."

In an unrelated elections coverage incident, three SABC reporters were harassed and intimidated by members of the public while reporting near the polling station at a hostel in Tsabeng, in Tzaneen.

"Sanef reiterates the importance of public support and understanding of the role of the media as an enabler for democracy, by ensuring the nation has better educated voters that would lead to a more legitimate government. Without journalists focusing on the plight of communities, local government development stories, will go unreported," the statement said.

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