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The burning of Karabo FM, a community radio station in Sasolburg, in the Free State, was an attack on the democratic principles of South Africa, the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) said on Monday.
“This tragic incident is yet another reminder that, almost 20 years into democracy, the right to freedom of expression and specifically media freedom still needs to be protected and advanced,” it said in a statement.
“The... institute adds that such attacks should be treated not just as an attack on media freedom, but an attack on the foundations of South Africa's constitutional democracy.”
According to the station's board chairman Sam Mkhwanazi, it was deliberately burnt down by two unidentified men on Saturday.
“Two armed men, covering their faces, went into the studio carrying 25 litres of petrol. They sprinkled it around and set the place alight on Saturday night,” he said at the weekend.
The two ordered the presenter out of the studio before setting the building on fire at 9pm.
“We do not know why they burnt (down) the station. The whole building has been destroyed. Our hard work of five years was destroyed in two minutes.”
He said the station had a normal relationship with residents in Sasolburg, and he could not understand why people had burnt it down.
The FXI said Karabo FM was “in the middle of the local conflict” around plans to merge Parys and Sasolburg.
“With several outbreaks of violence over the past months, Karabo FM has remained a medium that sought to maintain some independence.”
In August, the Municipal Demarcation Board decided to drop a merger between the Metsimaholo and Ngwathe municipalities in the Free State.
In January, four people were killed, several were injured and hundreds were arrested during protests against the proposed merger. Several cars were set alight and government buildings were damaged in Sasolburg's Zamdela township.
The University of Witwatersrand's radio academy director Franz Kruger said in the FXI statement that the attack illustrated the state of media freedom at the local level.
“This is an appalling attack on media freedom, committed with great impunity, and highlights the extent to which media freedom at local level is far from guaranteed”.
Earlier on Monday the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) expressed sadness at the fire.
“The MDDA is saddened by this incident, as it has deprived the community of an essential information asset which kept the community informed and entertained at all times,” CEO Lumko Mtimde said in a statement. - Sapa