South African media defy photo ban

‘GROTESQUE PUBLIC EXPENDITURE’::It was of ‘immense’ public interest to keep reporting on the president’s private residence, an editors’ forum said


Sun, Nov 24, 2013 - Page 7

South African media on Friday defied government threats and published pictures of South African President Jacob Zuma’s private home, which was controversially revamped using US$20 million of taxpayers’ money.

South African State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele had on Thursday warned the media to stop publishing images or footage of Zuma’s rural home, arguing that doing so was in violation of security laws.

“No one, including those in the media, is allowed to take images and publicize images, even pointing where the possible security features are,” he said.

“It is not done anywhere. We have not seen the images of the White House showing where the security features are. It is not done in any democracy,” Cwele said.

However, newspapers ignored the warning and on Friday splashed on their front pages pictures of Zuma’s lavishly refurbished homestead, photographs that have previously run in the media with no government repercussions.

The Times had on its front page an aerial picture of the thatched-roof compound under the headline: “So, arrest us.”

The Star also had a picture of the homestead, but with a red “X” imposed across it and a caption reading: “Look away! What ministers don’t want you to see.”

The editors’ association said it was “disappointed and shocked” at Thursday’s order.

It vowed to continue publishing the pictures “not with the intention to endanger the life of anyone, but to continue our role as watchdogs of public expenditure,” the South African National Editors’ Forum’s Adriaan Basson said.

“We believe it is of immense public interest to keep on reporting this grotesque public expenditure of over 200 million rand [US$20 million] on the private residence of a sitting president,” Basson told reporters.

The government on Friday issued a statement saying the minister’s remarks had been “misconstrued.”

“Government has no problem with the media publishing pictures” of Zuma’s residence, spokeswoman Phumla Williams said.

“However, zooming into safety and security features” of the property is problematic “as it compromises national security.”

Such action “directly opens access to and can obviously pose a threat and risk to the personal safety of the head of state,” she added.

The government’s decision to revamp Zuma’s private property sparked public anger during an economic crunch in a country where 10 million people live on social grants.

Many South Africans have only tin shacks for their homes.

The splurge in the verdant hills of Zuma’s political stronghold was first publicized late last year.