The Mpumalanga High Court has found in favour of a journalist after he was shot in the cheek by police while on duty.
On June 29, 2020, when South Africa was struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Newzroom Afrika senior reporter Mweli Masilela was shot by the police while covering a protest by taxi drivers against rules at the time that they could only load 50% of passengers while the country was in lockdown.
Two months later, Masilela issued a letter of demand to Police Minister Bheki Cele and then commissioner of police Khehla Sithole for injuries suffered at the hands of the police officers.
Speaking to Independent Media after the judgment, Masilela’s legal representative, Godrich Gardee of Gardee Godrich Attorneys, said the court ruled on Monday that the SAPS was liable for Masilela’s injuries , which landed him in hospital for days.
“He was shot in the line of duty while his camera and microphone had a corporate logo of the media house distinctively identifying him as such,” Gardee said.
Gardee’s argument in court was that the police were malicious in shooting Masilela.
“They were spiteful in that he was capturing the indiscriminate shooting of protesters ... so the merits of damages for compensation are done. We will set the matter down for a trial of quantum that must be paid to him.
“No journalist should be afraid to provide real-time stories as they happen because of the brute force of police against the media. This is a post-apartheid political dispensation, and suppressing the media can not be tolerated at all.”
The matter will be sent for judicial case management where timelines will be issued by the court as to the date of trial of quantum and the responsibilities of parties to the court prior to that hearing.
A quantum hearing is a trial to prove the amount of damages through expert reports and expert evidence of actuary and other experts from the medical field.
Gardee said media organisations and unions should do more to support journalists going through such cases.
“He took the witness stand alone and explained to the court the nature of his work and how everything worked out to the point that he ended up in hospital.
“We live in a democratic dispensation where human rights reign supreme over the state. When no one stands up against threats to media freedom by the state, the state can kill communities with impunity, knowing that no one will ever know the truth about the murderers, thus escaping liability.
“The return of a violent state is dangerous for our new dispensation.
Dictatorship is embedded in the brute force of a violent state,” Gardee said. National Press Club spokesperson Albie Modise welcomed the ruling, saying journalists must be afforded the space to work without intimidation.
“In a constitutional democracy like ours the Fourth Estate and all its practitioners must be afforded space to do their work without any form of intimidation by anyone, including the police,” he said.
The SA National Editors’ Forum’s (Sanef) Makhudu Sefara said the organisation had supported Masilela shortly after the incident.
“Sanef is really happy for his victory. No journalist should be subjected to such brutality for simply doing their work, which is a force for public good,” Sefara said.
Since Masilela’s incident, Sanef has had several engagements with Cele and his top management team, he added.