Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika will appear in the Kabokweni District Court in Mpumalanga with two other accused to face charges of fraud and defeating the ends of justice, the Hawks said on Wednesday.
“Two people were arrested yesterday [Tuesday] in Nelspruit. They will appear with the Sunday Times journalist,” Hawks spokesperson Musa Zondi said.
Wa Afrika was arrested on Wednesday morning in a move his paper said was “designed to intimidate”.
“He was arrested by a large number of policemen in an operation which was clearly designed to intimidate and I can only conclude that this was the true motive for what took place today,” said Sunday Times editor Ray Hartley.
Hartley said Wa Afrika was one of the journalists who worked on an article that alleged police commissioner General Bheki Cele had leased new police headquarters for R500-million without following normal tender processes.
“I hope, for the sake of our country, that he was not arrested on spurious charges in order to punish him for what he wrote.”
Congress of the People (Cope) deputy president Mbhazima Shilowa was more outspoken in connecting the article to Wa Afrika’s arrest.
“This is a deliberate attempt to silence the voice of independent media which reports without fear, favour or prejudice,” Shilowa said in a statement.
“It is not a coincidence that [something so] brutal and unreasonable happens days after the exposure of the questionable deal on Sunday. Furthermore, this takes place amidst the proposed draconian media tribunal which is aimed at muzzling the media.”
Hartley said the paper had assigned Wa Afrika lawyers who were still attempting to find out what the journalist would be charged with and where he was being held.
“We are doing everything in our power to have him released and we are doing all that we can to assure his well-being,” said Hartley.
He said lawyers suspect Wa Afrika was arrested for allegedly possessing what police claimed was a forged letter of resignation from Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza to President Jacob Zuma.
“They suspect that’s what may be behind this,” said Hartley.
Zondi said Wa Afrika would appear in the Kabokweni District Court near Mbombela, formerly known as Nelspruit, within 48 hours.
He declined to give further details.
“You’ll get to hear the case when he appears in court,” said Zondi.
Violation of media freedom
The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) said while it was reserving judgement, it decried the treatment of photographers who attempted to document his arrest.
“The forum strongly condemns the attempt by the heavy police contingent to stop press photographers from recording the event.
This is in violation of the freedom of the media and the public’s right to know enshrined in the Constitution,” said Sanef in a statement.
“It also flies in the face of numerous assurances by the office of the national commissioner of police, General Bheki Cele, that it would ensure that police desist from such obstructionist conduct and co-operate with the media.” –Sapa