Durban - JOURNALISTS at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) are feeling anxious over the continued presence of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers at the state broadcaster, saying it threatened media freedom.
This, as the government confirmed that soldiers had been deployed to National Key Points, including the SABC, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s homes in Pretoria and Cape Town, and other undisclosed destinations.
Department of Defence and Military Veterans spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini on Tuesday said they were not at liberty to list areas considered National Key Points. “Unfortunately, we do not discuss operational matters with anyone,” said Dlamini.
An anonymous source within the SANDF said National Key Points included airports, the SABC, transmission stations, pumping stations, Parliament, the Transnet pipeline, depots, Rand Water, fuel depots, mining, Mint SA, former presidents’ homes, provincial legislatures, power stations and refineries.
“Most of the Key Points like Parliament or the Union Buildings by nature are guarded by soldiers or the SAPS. Key Point areas can be used to sabotage the state,” said the source.
Dlamini told the Daily News that the military was deployed in the same way as with supporting the police. He said the military was only deployed at the national key points, including Ramaphosa’s homes.
“This is the same deployment done during the unrest and looting. It’s nothing new,” he said.
The military have been conducting roadblocks in Rosebank, Craighall and Dunkeld, in Gauteng, close to where the president lives. The metro police, the SAPS flying squad and Gauteng traffic police were also spotted outside Ramaphosa’s Pretoria home.
On Sunday, the department said the deployment of SANDF officers at the SABC offices in some parts of the country was on Ramaphosa’s deployment order of July 22 to place them at National Key Points.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, SABC journalists told the Daily News on Tuesday that it was increasingly becoming uncomfortable having soldiers stationed at the SABC, and they feared raising their concerns.
“With everything going on at the SABC, I am not sure what to make of this, but whatever it is, it’s causing a lot of anxiety. You just never know who to talk to or not talk to because the next thing you will be shown the door,” said one of the reporters.
Asked whether the soldiers were inside the premises, a journalist said: “It does not matter whether they’re stationed outside or roaming our offices; the question is what business do they have with the institution that is under no threat? Why deploy soldiers to a place where we need to create an environment where different views are openly expressed and tolerated?”
Professor Zwelethu Jolobe, the deputy head of the Political Studies Department at the University of Cape Town, warned of the suppression of media freedom, saying the soldiers’ presence had a psychological impact on the journalists’ work.
“Continued presence of the army sets the wrong precedent; it means the environment is not conducive and reporters can’t express themselves freely. There is now a thin line between the police and the soldiers, because all of them seem to be doing the same job – which is to police the people. It makes no sense why, in a country known for its activism, where protests are usual, soldiers are deployed to deal with the issue of riots. This makes a mockery of the police authority because it is their job to deal with issues or protests. What state of emergency is this where soldiers are randomly deployed to deal with domestic issues?” he asked.
Jolobe said the police had the capacity to deal with public order, and felt the presence of the soldiers could not be justified by the recent riots.
“There must always be a fine line as to what is acceptable in a democracy. The army is trained for combat and not to do what we see them doing.”
Political analyst Lukhona Mnguni said National Key Points should at all times be afforded the requisite security.
“I think it is a bit out of context or out of proportion to suggest that the soldiers are there to intimidate journalists and the workers at the SABC to push a particular narrative – I don’t think it’s correct at all.
“But the call here is for more transparency, taking the country into the confidence of the leadership and ensuring that there is great understanding of what is going on, that citizens know what is going on without being sidelined,” said Mnguni.