By Novell Zwangendaba – JOHANNESBURG – Charges against South African journalist have been dropped. A Hawks prosecutor has declined to press charges against Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi Wa Afrika, saying he has no case to answer.
The prosecutor in the case against Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika on Thursday said there was no case against him, the newspaper’s lawyer said.
“The prosecutor has said he [Wa Afrika] has no case to answer and that they can’t prosecute,” Sunday Times lawyer Eric van den Berg told Sapa by phone.
This was said at a meeting between Van den Berg, two prosecutors from the Hawks police unit and the control prosecutor from Nelspruit that took place around lunchtime.
“He should be released immediately but the police refused to release him,” said Van den Berg.
“I don’t quite know how they are going to carry on, but they are going to carry on.”
Van den Berg said Wa Afrika was currently at the office of the Organised Crime Unit in Nelspruit..
Earlier the Hawks said Wa Afrika and two others were to appear in court to face what are still unknown charges.
Wa Afrika was seized by the Hawks yesterday as he was leaving the Sunday Times offices.
The Hawks tried to stop photographers from taking pictures of the arrest.
Wa Afrika was handcuffed and taken to his home, where the police carried out a search, reportedly removing documents and laptops. His car was later searched at the Rosebank police station.
Though Musa Zondi, spokesman for the Hawks, said Wa Afrika was being arrested in his capacity as a private citizen and not a journalist, it is believed that the arrest was linked to a series of stories published on corruption in Mpumalanga.
At the centre is a letter purportedly written by Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza, announcing his resignation to President Jacob Zuma. The letter, allegedly forged, was faxed to Wa Afrika. The Sunday Times, however, never published a story on the letter.
In response to his arrest, the Sunday Times (sister newspaper of The Times) made a direct appeal to Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and police boss General Bheki Cele to intervene.
The arrest had drawn condemnation from several politicians and free speech groups.
Mr Velile Yayi, the UDM Youth Vanguard National Spokesperson said, “The arrest of the Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika by the Police soon after General Cele has been implicated in an alleged tender irregularity raises many questions. It is unbelievable that at this juncture in our fledgling democracy people can be arrested without a warrant of arrest. The mafia style arrest smells of dictatorship tendencies and media repression.”
“The UDM Youth Vanguard is calling on SANEF and all media institutions to take their rightful positions in defence of our democracy. We are calling for an independent body to investigate this arrest and appropriate action be taken against the police thugs. Wa Africa must appear in court with immediate effect, the police intimidation must come to an end, and the ruling party must understand that South Africa is not a banana republic.”
The Democratic Alliance called for probe of Cele’s ‘dodgy deal’ HQ.
Wa Afrika was one of the journalists who wrote the story about police commissioner General Bheki Cele revealing that police top brass would move to a new building at a cost to taxpayers of more than R500-million.
Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille slammed “the outrageous manner” in which Wa Afrika was arrested.
“When seen within the context of the ANC’s proposal to set up a Media Appeals Tribunal in Parliament, designed to ensure the ruling party’s view is given preference over anybody else’s, this arrest is yet another worrying sign that the ANC is stepping up its onslaught on media freedom,” she said.
The United Democratic Movement Youth described the arrest as a “mafia style arrest” which “smells of dictatorship tendencies” and media repression
The South African Police Service must demonstrate that this arrest is not simply an attempt to intimidate the journalist who earlier this week reported on National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele’s R500 million property deal. Just yesterday Mr. wa Afrika was publicly criticised by the Police Commissioner for his role in breaking that story.
Now, the following day, he has been arrested on what the police claim is an unrelated matter. Furthermore, it has been reported that Mr. wa Afrika was arrested by a large group of armed police officers outside Avusa headquarters in Johannesburg, Gauteng, and has been taken to an undisclosed police station in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. This leaves one with the impression that the purpose of this operation was to intimidate him and other journalists.
This incident cannot be viewed in isolation from the disturbing trends to stifle media freedom. As such, we see it as a sinister forewarning of how media freedom will be infringed by the proposed Media Tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill.
The SA Institute of Race Relations said the arrest of journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika is an effort to intimidate journalists in South Africa.
The SAIRR said it suspects that this document is not the actual motivation for the arrest but that the arrest is an effort by the police and the government to intimidate journalists in South Africa.
The SAIRR said South African media had published a great number of exposés of corruption and wrongdoing by senior leaders of the government and the ruling African National Congress.
“These have deeply embarrassed the government and eroded confidence in the bona fides of the ANC.”
“It is very unusual, perhaps without precedent, for so many officers from such an elite unit to conduct an arrest on this scale for a fraud and defeating the ends of justice complaint of this nature,” the SAIRR said.
Ray Hartley, Editor of the Sunday Times said, “Mzilikazi was one of the authors of the story which we published on Sunday about the rental of new police headquarters at the cost of R500m without following the usual tender proceedings. 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.”