Reporters under siege say they won’t let criminals win
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Every single day, brave journalists around the globe and South Africa risk life and limb to keep audiences informed.
Every single day, brave journalists around the globe risk life and limb to keep audiences informed. Whether it is exposing corruption, shining a light on the plight of people in conflict zones, or showing how service delivery failures affect ordinary human beings, reporters often navigate dangerous situations to tell the stories the world needs to know.
In Cape Town, reporters have regularly been the victims of violent crime while on assignment.
But they say this has only strengthened their resolve to keep giving a voice to the voiceless in "hotspots".
eTV news and sport's Natalie Malgas and cameraman Lance Manjoro have become the latest statistics in a worrying pattern of armed robberies on journalists.The pair were held at gunpoint in Khayelitsha this week, and robbed of their camera equipment and belongings.
Recounting the "harrowing experience" and "scariest day on the job for sure", Malgas said: "While were packing up our equipment. I saw a guy in my peripheral vision, turned around, made eye contact with him and very quickly registered a gun in his hand when he cocked it. And that was the first unsettling moment when I realised we were in danger. I just froze in that position and surrendered what he was asking for.
“He didn't even speak in full sentences. He just screamed words. He just shouted laptops, laptops, camera, camera, phones, phones."
Malgas said three more armed men joined in the attack. "They cleared out our boot taking all our work equipment and our cellphones, and walked away, leisurely. Showed no sign of panic or distress at what they had just done. I was so shocked, I was so stunned by the brazen nature of this crime, in broad daylight. In front of a primary school, in front of a security kiosk."
Athi Mtongana, a reporter with Newzroom Afrika, has also found herself in life and death situations while on the job.
"My experiences of reporting from areas like Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain, Nyanga, Philippi Gugulethu, Hanover Park, and Manenberg are not different to those that my colleagues have experienced," she recalled.
"Luckily in all of my encounters, I've been able to escape, and none of our equipment at these points in time and locations, were stolen. We were able to escape narrowly.“
About a story about gangsterism in Manenberg, Mtongana said: "we subsequently became the targets. We were shot at."
"I remember the community leader we were about to interview, saying go down, go down! The bullets kept flying all around us. Eventually he got shot.The plight of the people who were living in fear in their community, who could not even celebrate holidays because they were being held ransom by gangsters; we couldn't tell that story because we had to focus on getting the community leader treated at a nearby hospital."
"That and many other experiences have resulted in us asking for police to escort us when we reporting stories from these areas that are deemed unsafe."
Malgas added: "These robbery incidents are not only robbing us of our equipment and belongings, they are robbing these communities from opportunities of having their stories told. Because now many film crews do not want to go into these communities no matter how pressing the stories are, because they know how risky it is."
Journalist Nasiphi Same was working in Khayelitsha for Newzroom Afrika on December 1, 2019 covering World Aids Day. Armed robbers made off with their camera equipment and Same's two cellphones. The camera, microphone and tripod were recovered less than 48 hours after the incident. The mobile phones were not.
In another incident in Khayelitsha in January, Same said two armed men were trying to gain access to their moving car, in an attempted hijacking. "In literally 20 seconds our lives were moving in slow motion. I just shouted to my colleague, drive! He stepped on it and we drove out of there like maniacs.They actually shot at us when they realised we were not stopping. Fortunately the bullet did not hit the car."
Same said she felt "uncomfortable" opening a case at the police station in the area, and instead went to Strandfontein.
Same subsequently received numerous requests from Khayelitsha residents to cover stories in the area. "I would tell them about the traumatic experiences we endured trying to tell the stories in Khayelitsha, us falling victim to crime." she said.
"For about two months I didn't do stories in Khayelitsha. And when we did eventually go back, we would call the police station, speak to the station commander to organise a vehicle to escort us (while on assignment)."
Zalene Merrington, an SABC journalist, who came face to face with a knife-wielding robber while on duty in Langa, said: "The shock to your system is incredible. Not because you think you cannot be robbed. But because you are there in your capacity as media. And for all the years that I have worked, we were always protected as media. You could be in any community at any time you always felt protected."
Police spokesman Colonel Andre Traut said: "The robberies of television crews is as much of a concern to SAPS management as the other serious and violent crimes. Serious and violent crimes have been prioritised and frequent operations are conducted in areas which are affected, to ensure a safer environment.
“We are constantly seeking and developing mechanisms to mitigate crime trends. This is also done to establish if these crimes are opportunistic or if there is a specific pattern,” he said.
Meanwhile Merrington, Malgas, Mtongana, Same and the rest of the Cape Town press pool say they are ready to once again brave the elements to bring you the news that matters.
"Khayelitsha and many other neighbourhoods across Cape Town with their similar dynamics and similar challenges like crime and service delivery, are important to the news agenda. They are important to cover and reflect in terms of reporting on Cape Town and how this municipality governs. And it can't be ignored," says Malgas.