EFF leader Julius Malema speaking outside the state capture commission. Picture: Dimpho Maja/African News Agency (ANA)
It's been 50 years since I entered the world of journalism and, in that time, the gift I treasured most was not a fancy company car, a fat performance bonus or an offer of company shares.

As altruistic as it may sound, it was the gift of media freedom which arrived in our country in 1994, all neatly wrapped by the founders of our democracy - with a lifetime guarantee, underwritten by our Constitution.

Now, many of you may wonder why I’m so excited about such an intangible “gift”.

It’s only when you get to understand my painful memories as a journalist under apartheid that you’ll begin to appreciate why I am so passionate about this freedom.

When I first walked into the newsroom as a starry-eyed cub reporter, it didn’t take me long to realise this was not a career for sissies.

Apartheid, with its myriad media and security laws and regulations, proscribed and restricted how journalists could cover the news.

Worse was to come when many journalists were harassed, intimidated, detained and sometimes prosecuted because the truth looked ugly in print.

I personally lost count of the number of times my home was raided; my car forced off the road after an assignment and my notes confiscated; and the hours of interrogation by police who did not like the smell of what I wrote in my newspaper.

Will I ever forget that day in 1985 when the dreaded emergency regulations landed on my desk with a dull thud - like the heel of a jackboot?

South Africa was placed under martial law and the media shackled under rigid censorship.

The regulations were introduced to counter growing violence in the townships, but instead of looking at the underlying causes, government, through its warped logic, decided to solve the problem by stopping people reading about in newspapers and watching it on TV.

If journalists dared cross the line, they faced up to 10 years in jail or a hefty fine.

Many journalists, when faced with urgent decisions, erred on the side of caution.

So began those days when newspapers took the unprecedented step of hiring attorneys to vet all material to be published. Some newspapers left symbolic blank spaces on their pages as a form of protest against censorship.

Why am I telling you this depressing story?

Simply because if we are not vigilant, South Africans could soon find themselves victims of such censorship by political bullies intent on suppressing any view that does not align with theirs.

We heard the dogs barking at protests staged by the EFF and BLF outside the state capture inquiry recently when journalists were labelled crooks and hypocrites.

Some media houses and journalists have been barred from covering political events; a journalist was manhandled by an opposition MP outside Parliament and several journalists have been sent threats through social media.

Remember that many journalists lost their lives for South Africa to achieve this freedom.

Besides, media freedom is not just for journalists.

It’s your freedom too.