Foeta Krige, Thandeka Gqubule and Suna Venter were among eight SABC journalists fired for questioning an executive decision not to air footage of violent service delivery protests. File picture: Itumeleng English

Johannesburg - Eight SABC journalists who were fired after openly protesting changes to the public broadcasters’ editorial policy have received the prestigious Guardian of Governance Award for their bravery. 

The prestigious award was bestowed on the "SABC8" at a gala dinner during the 20th Annual Southern Africa Internal Audit Conference at the Sandton Convention Centre on Tuesday night. 

The journalists are Busisiwe Ntuli, Lukhanyo Calata, Thandeka Gqubule, Foeta Krige, Krivani Pillay, Jacques Steenkamp, Vuyo Mvoko, now a senior news anchor with eNCA, and the late Suna Venter.

The three-day conference is hosted by the Institute of Internal Auditors SA (IIA SA). 

Last year then-Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, was the inaugural recipient of an award given to those who uphold the prescripts of good governance and display remarkable ethical behaviour, according to the IIA SA.

Speaking just before the dinner, specialist TV reporter Lukhanyo Calata said it was “both humbling and an honour to be recognised by an institution such as the IIA SA”. 

“We in the media will always be under attack. So, we need to be vigilant and take deliberate steps to defend the freedom of the media because, in effect, we are defending democracy,” he said. 

Krivani Pillay, executive producer for SAFM, said she and her colleagues did not expect to be lauded for their stance. “However, it is quite an honour because the public broadcaster is our broadcaster and there is a need to save it from political and outside pressure.”

The SABC initially fired the eight journalists for protesting against changebs to its editorial policy, after a unilateral decision by management to not screen visuals of violent service delivery-related protests. 

The Labour Court later overturned their axing and they were reinstated, ut they faced a barrage of intimidation and threats both during and after their legal battle. 

The true horror of their ordeal only emerged following radio producer Suna Venter's death earlier this year. Venter, 32, died of stress cardiomyopathy, literally known as "broken heart syndrome", which is caused by trauma and unnatural stress.  

In paying tribute to Venter and her colleagues, IIA SA CEO, Dr. Claudelle von Eck said: “She was shot in the face, had her car brakes tampered with and tyres slashed, her home had been broken into on several occasions and she was even abducted and tied to a tree while a ring of fire was lit around it. Her case highlighted the lengths to which she and her colleagues were victimised. And we have yet to fully hear their stories.”  

Von Eck said the SABC 8 case highlighted that media freedom in South Africa was sacrosanct, and lauded the eight for "holding truth to power – and in this case within their very own organisation". 

Calata said those behind the campaign against him and his colleagues “targeted the most vulnerable among us for their actions”. 

“Suna was a young, white, single woman who lived alone. I am just astounded by how incredibly brave she was. She bore it on our behalf and I will be forever indebted to her for her strength and bravery,” he said.