It was “disturbing” that two journalists were prevented by police from leaving the scene after photographing President Jacob Zuma’s Johannesburg home, so soon after another photographer was forced to delete pictures of the president’s convoy, the Mail & Guardian said on Thursday.
“If this had happened on its own, you would think the cops were just a bit overzealous,” said editor Nic Dawes on Thursday.
“But it is in the context of the assault on Tshepo Lesole at [Chris Hani] Baragwanath and the arrest of Chumani Maxwele.”
Eyewitness News reporter Lesole was forced to delete his photographs while Zuma was visiting the Soweto hospital last week, and Maxwele was held overnight for gesturing at the presidential motorcade in Cape Town.
M&G journalists Delwyn Verasamy and Lionell Faull went to the Forest Town house on Wednesday afternoon to take photographs for a story they were working on, said Dawes.
“The police on the scene stopped them, questioned them briefly and told them they were not allowed to leave.”
The reporters were told that a superintendent from Pretoria was coming to deal with the matter and Dawes said he then drove to the house.
An argument then ensued with the police at the house.
‘Not acceptable’ to take pictures
“I asked what they had been doing wrong and all the cops could say was ‘No, they were taking pictures’. They said it was not acceptable to take pictures there.”
Dawes said he did not accept this because as far as he knew, the privately-owned house was not a key point — a building or site that is protected for national security reasons and can’t be photographed.
Eventually Dawes said that if the reporters were not arrested and were not being detained, they were leaving, which they did.
However, police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Vishnu Naidoo denied this version of events. He said a civilian driver at the house had asked the pair to wait for a presidential spokesperson to arrive to help them.
He said Zuma’s press aide Zizi Kodwa had been called about the matter.
“They were advised to wait so that the communications person of the presidency could be called, because they came there on a communication matter,” said Naidoo.
When initially asked if the house was a key point he said it was not, but later said that as key points are secret, he could not say if the house was or was not a key point. He said he believed it was immaterial to the story whether the house was a key point or not.
‘Vague and security imperatives’
Dawes said this was a latest of a number of incidents.
A photographer taking a picture of Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town last week was followed to his car by Nyanda’s guard who also questioned him.
One-and-a-half years ago, a reporter taking pictures of former Gauteng premier and finance minister Paul Mashatile’s house had a gun cocked at her by a guard. Her licence plate was taken down and traced to her parents home.
“It is in the context of a trend. What worries me is it seems like vague and ill-defined security imperatives are trumping other basic constitutional rights, and that that message comes down to operatives on the ground from some kind of senior level. I’m not saying it comes from the president, but it is coming from somewhere.”
The presidency on Wednesday said it would request a report from the police on the Lesole scuffle.
Naidoo said Kodwa could provide further information on the matter, but he was not immediately available.
Zuma’s house was widely photographed when the National Prosecuting Authority were removing what they believed at the time to be evidence ahead of his now abandoned corruption trial. – Sapa