Journalists being kept out of Qunu ahead of Mandela funeral

Preparations are under way in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, ahead of Nelson Mandela's state funeral on Sunday. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Preparations are under way in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, ahead of Nelson Mandela's state funeral on Sunday. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Journalists residing in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, laid low on Wednesday as their colleagues were pushed out of the area due to government orders to restrict access.

Many journalists descended upon the rural town ahead of the state funeral of former president Nelson Mandela.

The stricter controls are believed to emanate from a Government Communication Information Systems (GCIS) statement about broken protocol due to the wide syndication of pictures by the news wire services.

"I'm upset that we haven't gotten official word from anyone. GCIS says we have been violating protocol in a statement this afternoon but they are not saying what that protocol is," said a wire services journalist who preferred to remain anonymous.

"We haven't gotten into any altercations with the police. I read the protocol on the [government's] Mandela website but it's not very informative."

The statement speaks of "access" and "facilities" for the media and that journalists were "causing frustration to the authorities and the Mandela family". Some journalists complained at the media centre that the statement suggests the area they were being confined to was "not set up yet".

The Star photographer Antoine de Ras said traffic police would not let him into the street where his accommodation was, despite pleading with them that his belongings were still there.

"The police said they had been given strict instructions to tighten up even more," he said. "The guys are repeatedly saying they are under strict orders and they could lose their jobs if they don't comply. Firstly they said I could go in as long as I take no photos and leave my equipment behind. Now they've just said I can't go in anymore. I think it started with this GCIS 'broken protocol' statement."

The GCIS statement on the code of conduct for journalists stipulates that a maximum of four credentials (two journalists and two photographers) will be provided for print journalists wishing to cover the funeral in the Eastern Cape. It is also not clear on exactly which areas will be accessible when, except to say they will be bound to the media centre at the Qunu museum.

Madiba's final resting place was culturally significant to the amaThembu clan and Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane asked the media to "please be sensitive to this and respect this site".

Police have closed off the N2 – which is the main road to and from Qunu – for a few kilometres before and after Mandela's house. The side road through Qunu, which media and other people used to get to the house, was closed late on Tuesday afternoon.

Mandela's funeral will take place on Sunday. – Additional reporting by Sapa

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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