Windhoek-Bheki Makhubu a journalist and editor of a monthly magazine in Swaziland, called The Nation, has warned fellow journalists not to befriend politicians if they are to remain ethical and professional in their journalistic work.
Makhubu and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer in Swaziland, were jailed in March 2014 and sentenced in July that year to two years imprisonment for contempt of court over articles they wrote criticising the conduct of Swaziland’s chief justice, Michael Ramodibedi, who has since been fired, according to reports.
Makhuku was a guest speaker yesterday at the belated World Press Freedom Day event in Windhoek. In an interview with the Namibia Media Trust founder and first recipient of the Windhoek Declaration scroll Gwen Lister on journalism, Makhubu said there is a tendency among journalists and editors to befriend politicians, which compromises their work.
According to him, media house editors have lost focus, which is to tell the story as it is and check facts to avoid false news before publishing. “Some journalists find themselves at the receiving end of getting a calls from ministers and they fall for it and end up not publishing such stories. They tolerate those types of calls. By being called a ‘nice guy’- you are actually a lousy guy,” he remarked.
He said freedom of the press in Swaziland is not as vibrant as it is in Namibia – citing his 15 months captivity as evidence.
Both Makhubu and Maseko wrote articles in The Nation, criticising the judiciary of Swaziland for its lack of impartiality and lack of independence. They condemned the actions of Chief Justice of the High Court Michael Ramodibedi for ordering the arrest of a government vehicle inspector. Makhubu and Maseko were subsequently arrested and charged with two counts of contempt of court.
Both argued that the arrest warrant was unconstitutional, unlawful, and irregular. They asserted that only a magistrate was authorised to issue an arrest warrant and not Justice Ramodibedi, a justice of the High Court.
Accordingly, Makhubu and Maseko filed an application contending their arrest was unconstitutional and unlawful. The case was heard in the High Court before Justice Dlamini, who dismissed the arrest warrant and released them.
In this regard, Makhubu said the Swazi government is trying to dictate to people, including limiting their right of freedom of speech, which is enshrined in their constitution. He applauded Namibia for celebrating the day in the presence of President Hage Geingob.
“It’s different in Swaziland. Celebrating with your president here is a very good thing. Inviting a king [to a press event] is not as easy as this,” he reacted.
Asked if Swazi King Mswati III had a hand in his arrest, he said, “I can’t say with certainty that the king was part of the decision, but I do know he knew about it. My attitude was that I’m going to fight this man (the chief justice). He thought he could do whatever he wanted. He thought he had more power than everyone, so suddenly they realised that something is wrong with this man and they arrested him.”
Unfortunately, he said, in Swaziland the judiciary had taken the government side and is sensitive to what government wants. As a result people can’t challenge the king’s power, he added. He further said the chief justice who had tried to silence him with a jail term “was corrupt and was getting drunk on the power he had”.
“I started to pick up that he is corrupt and started writing about that. He arrested me because he refused someone legal representation and I told him I will write, I don’t care who you are,” he narrated.
On the issue of journalists being killed across the globe and Africa in particular, he said hostility towards the media is regarded as “fashionable”.
“When society, especially the leaders, say ‘I don’t like the media’, they think it’s a cool thing to do,” he said.
He also said many leaders, especially those who were in exile, tend to be resistant towards the media when contacted for comment, because they feel they are “doing us a favour”.