EDITORIAL | Journalists are also casualties in this upheaval
Whether in eSwatini or here at home, the media are under fire
Sunday, July 4: Two SA-based New Frame journalists, Magnificent Mndebele and Cebelihle Mbuyisa, who were covering pro-democracy protests in the tiny mountain kingdom of eSwatini, were assaulted, detained and tortured by security forces. They were forced to delete material from their phones and cameras. These reporters were among the few media on the ground covering the possible fall of Africa’s last absolute monarchy. They were in a key position to investigate reports on social media that dozens of opposition supporters had been killed. An internet blackout followed; all the more reason for the media to have feet on the ground.
The SABC and Newzroom Afrika also had to pull their journalists out of the country due to attacks and intimidation. New Frame hired a lawyer who managed to get the pair released. Now SA can only rely on formal communication channels for updates out of eSwatini, which is less than ideal. To illustrate the point, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) issued a statement acknowledging one death in eSwatini, in stark contrast to opposition parties saying 40 people were murdered. The media should be there to independently verify information and in the process expose misinformation campaigns that can empower the wrong people.
The SA National Editors’ Forum, in a statement that condemned the actions of eSwatini officials, described media freedom as “essential pillar of our democracies in the region which is too often taken for granted”...