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Journalists against the world

By Ilham Rawoot

So what does a journalist do when he or she is being assaulted for doing their job (this is not a riddle)?

This is what our photographer, Oupa Nkosi and I had to grapple with last week, when we had six angry people throwing rocks at Oupa and his camera.

And what do we do when the police could care less about our plight?

We had driven out to a small village close to Sun City called Ledig to do a story on alleged corruption within the authorities controlling the community’s money, and came across the home of one of the council leaders. It made for a good picture, as the house was large and freshly painted amidst many tin shacks.

As soon as Oupa had taken photographs — unashamedly so, since it’s completely legal to take photographs of private property, as long as you’re not intruding onto the property — two cars started following us around. The passengers finally pulled over with us, got out, threw rocks at Oupa and tried to strangle him, and successfully damaged his very expensive camera.

But what could we do? We couldn’t fight back, they were six and we were two. They were the innocent civilians, we were the evil paparazzi who need a media tribunal to be kept in check.

When we finally got to the police station to lay charges of assault, Oupa was told that he was a “suspect” because the women who had tried to injure him were already at the station, laying a charge of assault against him.

Perplexed, we pushed to lay a charge and make witness statements. The police, who obviously knew the women from the village, were openly unfriendly and tried to intimidate us by threatening to lock Oupa up for the night and confiscate his camera, even though he had done nothing wrong.

And our experience is food for even more thought following representations made last week in parliament against the Protection from Harassment Bill, or “stalking bill”, currently before Parliament.

Under this bill, the council leader whose house we took pictures of would be able to get an interdict to prevent the photographer from taking photos of the house, even though they tell a very interesting story, quite clearly.

The attitude towards journalists has been tainted. We are easily suspected of being vicious, and people who would normally be respectful of our work feel the right to treat us with disdain and even violence.

The attitude of the leadership has become the attitude of the people, and as long as journalists are made to appear vengeful and spiteful, that’s how the public, in cases where they are feeling threatened, will choose to see us.


  • amaBhungane are the investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit, public interest initiative to produce better investigative stories and plough back through internships and advocacy. On this blog, amaBhungane -- seasoned and award-winning journalists -- will penetrate the world of smoke and mirrors to bring you the story behind the story.