Editors take SA govt to task over Zim

The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) on Monday criticised the South African government for not being vocal enough about the Zimbabwe government’s clampdown on the independent media, warning that the country’s upcoming elections won’t be free.

In contrast to this view, the South African government issued its own statement on the same day, saying that there is no reason for any concern about Zimbabwe’s elections.

Sanef is worried about restrictions on the media, which include the banning of newspapers and the harassment of correspondents.

“These actions do not bode well for free and fair parliamentary elections at the end of March. Unfettered media are essential for the free flow of information, the exchange of ideas and for voters to formulate opinions on which to base their ballot decision,” Sanef said in a statement on Monday.

The editors’ forum urged the Zimbabwean government to lift all restrictions on journalists and the media, including the foreign media, as a gesture of sincere goodwill, and in the spirit of the South African Development Community (SADC) declaration of free and fair elections.

“Sanef expects all media, South African and foreign, to be granted access to Zimbabwe for reporting the elections, without fear or favour or restrictive, selective or prohibitive accreditation requirements.

“State-owned media should be impartial in their coverage and also provide opportunities for direct access to the full range of political parties and stakeholders.”

Sanef says it expects a more vocal approach from the South African government on the issue.

“Sanef regrets that public statements by the South African government to date have not given due prominence to the importance of Zimbabwe lifting its media restrictions as a precondition for the polls,” reads the Sanef statement.

In his statement, South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said: “There is no reason to believe that there is anyone who would want to infringe on the rights of the Zimbabwean people to express their will fully at these elections,” Pahad said.

Pahad made no mention of the media or their right to freely cover the elections.

He said that Zimbabweans did not want the world to pre-judge an election that had not yet taken place.

Observers to leave on March 15

Pahad said that a SADC mission is to be deployed in Zimbabwe from March 15, and the delegation of 50 people will be headed by the South African minister of Home Affairs Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. It will comprise 10 South African delegates.

South Africa will also send a 20-member parliamentary observer mission, a national delegation led by Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana and a group of African National Congress observers, who are yet to be nominated.

There has already been controversy over the make-up of this observer mission, with the official opposition Democratic Alliance on Friday expressing “outrage” that one of its nominated representatives had been excluded from the SADC delegation.

DA Chief Whip Douglas Gibson said he would now write to Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to establish why the DA MP had been excluded.

The Freedom Front Plus named MP Willie Spies as the party’s representative on the South African Parliament’s multi-party delegation that will act as observers during the Zimbabwe election.

The delegation will leave for Zimbabwe on March 15, and is expected to return to South Africa on April 3. - Sapa

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