Journalists Assaulted At MK Election Rally Ahead Of South Africa Elections

By Committee to Protect Journalists
Former South African president Jacob Zuma arrives at a rally in Soweto on May 18, 2024, to launch the manifesto of his new political party, uMkhonto we Sizwe, ahead of South Africa's May 29 general election. Men wearing military fatigues assaulted
Former South African president Jacob Zuma arrives at a rally in Soweto on May 18, 2024, to launch the manifesto of his new political party, uMkhonto we Sizwe, ahead of South Africa's May 29 general election. Men wearing military fatigues assaulted

Lusaka, May 24, 2024 — South African authorities must investigate and hold to account those responsible for sexually assaulting a woman journalist as well as physically assaulting and harassing other members of the media during an uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party political rally on May 18, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Friday.

Men dressed in military fatigues and forming a protective cordon around MK leader Jacob Zuma took aggressive action against a group of journalists trying to photograph and film Zuma’s arrival at the rally in Soweto, southwest of the city of Johannesburg, according to a statement by the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF), an industry body, and an account by Amanda Khoza, who covers the presidency for the privately owned digital news publication News24.

Zuma, the country’s former president who left office in 2018 following a series of corruption scandals and launched MK in 2023, was holding the rally to launch his new party’s manifesto ahead of the country’s May 29 elections.

Khoza published videos on X, formerly Twitter, showing the men shoving journalists, some of whom fell to the ground, as Zuma entered the stadium. Zuma himself is banned from running as a candidate in the election after a May 20 Constitutional Court ruling that a previous criminal conviction made him ineligible.

Khoza told CPJ that she was among the journalists who were pushed and fell. A separate video clip, reviewed by CPJ, shows one of the men rushing towards another journalist holding a camera, violently pushing her as other reporters protested his behavior.

Another journalist, who is not being named due to safety concerns, said that one of the men in military fatigues sexually assaulted her. “He literally held my breasts, looked me in the eyes before violently pushing me away,” she said. A third journalist at the scene – who requested anonymity, also for safety concerns – told CPJ that they witnessed the sexual assault on the woman journalist and saw the men in military fatigues kicking some of their colleagues.

CPJ was unable to determine the exact number of journalists who were harassed or assaulted during the rally.

“Ensuring the safety and freedom of journalists to report without fear of sexual and physical assault is crucial for South Africa’s democracy and the integrity of its forthcoming elections,” said Angela Quintal, head of CPJ’s Africa program in Maputo, Mozambique. “Given the high rate of gender-based violence in South Africa, former president Jacob Zuma and the leadership of his MK party must not tolerate the thuggery within their ranks. They must take immediate action to hand over those responsible to authorities for arrest and prosecution, or risk complicity through inaction.”

Zuma founded his MK party in December 2023, naming it after the armed wing deployed by the African National Congress (ANC) during its fight against apartheid. Opinion polls indicate that the ANC – the governing party since winning the 1994 democratic election under Nelson Mandela – could lose its majority in the upcoming vote.

Ahead of the election, SANEF urged political parties and candidates to endorse a Statement of Commitment submitted to the Electoral Commission of South Africa, which includes provisions on ensuring media access to election-related information and the protection of journalists against “any act of intimidation, harassment, harm or other unlawful conduct”.

South African law requires all political parties and candidates taking part in the elections to abide by an Electoral Code of Conduct that includes provisions directing them to “respect the role of the media before, during and after an election,” ensure access to public meetings, and to “take all reasonable steps to ensure that journalists are not subjected to harassment, intimidation, hazard, threat or physical assault by any of their representatives or supporters.”

MK Party spokesperson Nhlamulo Ndhlela, South African Police Service spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe, and Electoral Commission spokesperson Kate Bapela did not respond to CPJ’s repeated calls and queries sent via messaging app.