The Southern Africa Journalists Association (SAJA), a project of the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), joins the media worldwide in commemorating Press freedom day today.
SAJA was founded in December 2000 to represent the interests of journalists in the southern African region. Since its formation, SAJA has noted with concern the deteriorating media freedom situation in many southern African states particularly in Zimbabwe and the tiny mountain Kingdom of Swaziland.
The militant and criminal regime of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe represents one of the worst offenders of press freedom in the southern African region.
Attacks by Mugabe’s regime on the free press scaled new heights when it forcibly shut down the country's only independent daily newspaper, the Daily News, in September 2003. The regime defied several court orders to re-open the paper and any prospects of the newspaper re-opening have since been destroyed. All foreign correspondents have been expelled from the country and many journalists from the Daily News and several other provincial weeklies, that shut down because they could not meet new stringent regulation requirements, have been rendered jobless.
SAJA calls upon the world to exert enormous pressure on the Mugabe regime to change its course and lift the siege of terror on the media. SAJA also supports efforts by Zimbabwean journalists to establish alternative media after the forced closure of newspapers.
South Africa is a model of democracy and media freedom in Africa yet recent developments concerning the eviction of the media from parliament and the appointment of a self avowed party man, Snuki Zikalala, to take charge of the news at the state broadcaster, the SABC, are worrying. The SABC has generally come under criticism for abdicating on its responsbility of operating as a truly responsible public broadcaster in recent months because of its evident bias to the ruling ANC party. While media freedom standards in South Africa are appreciable, the South African government must resist the temptation of using its overwhelming majority in Parliament to interfere with the media by appointing drooling sycophants to run the media.
In Zambia, SAJA notes with concern continued attempts by President Levy Mwanawasa's government to expel satirical writer for the Post newspaper, Roy Clarke, despite a court order staying his deportation. In Namibia, President Sam Nujoma has maintained his verbal attacks on the Namibian newspaper and threats to withdraw government advertisements from the newspaper.
In Swaziland, the regime of King Mswati has proved to be as bad as Robert Mugabe's in Zimbabwe in terms of limiting media freedom. Free trade union activity and free expression are routinely suppressed in Swaziland.
Attempts to legislate a freedom of information act in Botswana to enhance media freedom remain stalled.
SAJA takes opportunity of the May 3 Press Freedom Day to once again remind southern African governments that the media is the lifeblood of any democracy and all attempts to curtail media freedom are counterproductive.
President - Martin Musunka (Zambia, the Daily Mail)
Secretary General - Basildon Peta (Independent Newspapers -Johannesburg)
Coordinator - Tuwani Gumani (SAJA Office - Johannesburg)