Two of The Citizen’s journalists and two anti-mining activists were beaten at the funeral of slain anti-mining activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe on the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast at a remote village near Mbizana on Saturday.
Rhadebe died in a hail of bullets two weeks ago when he was attacked by hitmen, apparently for his continued resistance to Australian mining company Mineral Resources Limited (MRL) wanting to mine the titanium-rich sand dunes near his home village of Xolobeni.
The angry mob – armed with knobkerries, machetes, a spade and rocks – approached The Citizen photojournalist Nigel Sibanda, who was taking photos of the sand dunes in the distance, his colleague Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni and two members of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), and began throwing rocks at them and chasing them brandishing weapons.
Sibanda and the two activists were caught by a group of men and beaten with the blunt edge of a machete, knobkerries and bare hands, leaving Sibanda and one of the activists critically injured.
Sibanda’s camera was taken away. Hlatshaneni, who was in their car, was intimidated and forced out of the car by the rest of the group, who hit her in the head and on her shoulder with a spade and asked what she was doing there.
Among the attackers was a woman believed to be in her 80s, wielding a machete. She is the mother of the man rumoured to have ordered Rhadebe’s death, allegedly one Qunywa.
The company’s numerous attempts to obtain and make use of a license to perform open-cast mining in the area has torn the community apart, with some coming out in support of the mining, to the extent of threatening those who were not.
As chairman of the ACC, Rhadebe was apparently under constant threat by a known group of villagers who stood to benefit from the prospecting operation.
The company’s South African subsidiary TEM obtained a license to mine the land again last year after their first license was heavily contested for almost two decades.
One of the women who was demanding answers from Hlatshaneni was heard saying: “They want to tell people we killed Bazooka -, that is why they are here”.
An ACC activist managed to call the Mbizana police, but the first policemen to arrive at the scene had heard about the incident elsewhere.
The three police officers failed to attempt to arrest anyone even though the mob continued its attack, but forced Hlatshaneni to walk back to the mob after she hid again in the car and explain to them why she was there.
It was then that more ACC members arrived in a truck, accompanied by more Mbizana police.
Sibanda, Hlatshaneni and one of the activists were loaded into the first group of police vans, where they were forced to sit with three of their attackers who were “accompanying” the policemen.
The victims were eventually taken to Margate Netcare Private Hospital, where Sibanda and one of the activists were admitted with critical injuries. Sibanda’s legs were not broken, as it has been reported by Sunday media.
No arrests were made and two cases of assault and aggravated robbery were opened by Margate police.
Sibanda’s camera is, inexplicably, still with police.
The Citizen editor, Steven Motale, expressed outrage at the incident.
“We are outraged by the brutal attack on our journalists who were beaten up for doing their job.
“The harassment and violence against journalists is a deplorable act that has no place in any democracy,” he said.
“We are also appalled by the conduct of the police who were at the scene when our reporters were attacked.
“Apart from failing to halt the attacks, they also did not arrest the mob that carried out the attacks. Even worse, is the confiscation of the equipment of the journalists including a camera by the police.
“This is criminal on the part of the police whose mandate is to protect all South Africans, including journalists. We will be taking this matter up with police management.”
Motale further called on government to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.