Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille has asked President Jacob Zuma for an urgent meeting to discuss the issue of so-called “blue-light bullies”.
“The assault on  Eyewitness News photographer Tshepo Lesole by President Zuma’s bodyguards is pure power abuse,” she said on Wednesday.
Earlier, it was reported that 702 Eyewitness News reporter Tshepo Lesole was grabbed by bodyguards and forced to delete pictures he had taken while Zuma was visiting the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.
Zille said it was an affront to human rights in the very week that Human Rights Day was being celebrated.
“Fifty years ago on Sunday, the apartheid police force opened fire on peaceful protesters at Sharpeville, killing at least 69 people. It became a symbol of the brutality of the apartheid regime around the world.
“What we are witnessing in South Africa today is a gradual reversion back to a police state. It is a state where might is right. It is the opposite of the rights-based constitutional democracy that we fought for,” Zille said.
This brutality should be stopped in its tracks. Zuma should “rein in his bullies”.
Last month, when University of Cape Town student Chumani Maxwele was arrested at gunpoint and detained for gesturing at Zuma’s convoy, the Presidency said it had nothing to with them.
It said it was a matter to be taken up with the VIP protection services.
“President Zuma cannot hide behind this excuse again. He, and no one else, is accountable for the behaviour of his bodyguards,” Zille said.
He should acknowledge what had happened, take responsibility for it, and do something about it.
Zille said she has written to Zuma requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the matter.
“I want to know what he plans to do to stop this power abuse, and I want to share the DA’s plans to curtail blue-light bullies in the Western Cape, where we are in government.
“We will not tolerate this power abuse where we govern. We don’t see why Jacob Zuma should either,” she said.
The Professional Journalists’ Association (PJA) said the actions of Zuma’s bodyguards, in forcing a journalist to delete pictures of the presidential cavalcade, harked back to apartheid-era “thuggery and censorship”.
“As a member of the press, Lesole is fully entitled to take pictures of the presidential cavalcade [as is any member of the public].
“That he was detained for doing so, and forced to delete the images, harks back to apartheid-era thuggery and censorship,” said the newly formed PJA.
It called on the police, whether they were VIP units or not, to respect the rights of working journalists, and wanted the bodyguards to be held accountable.
The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said it was saddened that the incident came several weeks after meetings with the minister, deputy minister and national commissioner of police to discuss police harassment of journalists.
Sanef had received strong commitments that police would not hamper journalists in doing their work, with police National Commissioner Bheki Cele saying: “We must allow both parties [media and the police] to do their work without any problems.”
The incident would be raised with a special committee of Sanef and the police.
In another incident, Mail & Guardian journalists were briefly detained outside Zuma’s house on Wednesday
“If the detention of M&G journalists outside President Zuma’s house was an isolated incident, we might be prepared to chalk it up to an inexperienced police officer simply being overzealous,” said M&G editor Nic Dawes, “but unfortunately this kind of conduct is now becoming common, and it is clearly designed to intimidate journalists who are simply working to do their constitutionally mandated duty”.
“The message appears to be coming from senior officials that so-called security concerns justify riding roughshod over basic rights. We will be raising this issue vigorously through Sanef, as well as with the Presidency, and the police.”