“What we have realized in this situation is that evidently the pen is not mightier than the sword,” said South African broadcast journalist, Aldrin Sampear at a night vigil held in Johannesburg.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) confirmed that at least 83 journalists and media workers have been killed, 16 injured and 25 arrested in Gaza in the last three months. However, the government media office in Gaza estimates that the total number exceeds 100.
An attack by Palestinian resistance group, Hamas on October 7, 2023, has seen the Israeli Defense Force embark on a 16-week offensive, which has led to over 25 000 Palestinian deaths and is yet to abate – even after a historic ruling made by the International Court of Justice on January 26, 2024 to stop any and all ‘genocidal acts’. The last 115 days in Gaza have been described as hell on earth by those on the ground, and the United Nations has dubbed Gaza the deadliest place in the world for journalists and their families.
The CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator, Sherif Mansour said: “The Israeli army has killed more journalists in 10 weeks than any other army or entity has in any single year.” He added that with each journalist’s death, understanding and documenting the conflict becomes increasingly challenging.
Standing in solidarity
South African journalists and media practitioners organized vigils across some of the country’s prominent cities, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and Makhanda. Proceedings started off with a coordinated national moment of silence on the evening of January 28, 2024.
In Johannesburg, the gathering at Mary Fitzgerald Square, saw journalists in all black attire, gather in front of a stage dressed in the placards and printouts which had the images and names of some of those killed in Gaza.
Voice recordings of journalists Samer Zaneen, Youmna El Sayed, Maram Humaid, and Nizar Sadawi were played out loud to a sombre but attentive crowd. They each shared some of the hardships they have encountered during the suspected genocide and thanked the group gathered for their ongoing solidarity.
Using the false reportage of ‘40 beheaded babies’ in Israel as an analogy, Sampear said by simply repeating these and other falsehoods, journalists have become an “unreliable source”. Sampear moderated a brief panel discussion with journalist and political editor, Qaanitah Hunter, photojournalist, Gulshan Khan and student journalist, Palesa Matlala.
“There is an expectation that you should leave a portion of yourself at the door before you even start [reporting] on issues. Thus we [journalists], especially during the ICJ proceedings were accused of not telling the Israeli story,” said Sampear.
Hunter cited the experiences of South African journalists and writers, Percy Qoboza, Ferial Haffajee and Glenda Daniels who had to report under the apartheid regime. “They reported about the apartheid they lived in, and we cannot tell Palestinian journalists to leave their victimhood at the door before they pick up the mic, because they too, are hungry and displaced,” said Hunter.
Khan rejected the idea of objectivity altogether calling it a “myth”, while Matlala noted that while biases are difficult to avoid the core principles of journalism are always present in her journalism.
Attendee, Quntha Ndimande later told Wits Vuvuzela that her presence at the vigil goes beyond supporting journalists; she attended because of her concern for truth and freedom. “This [vigil] serves as a reminder of how lucky we are to have the platform and opportunity to express ourselves and I believe that these values [truth and freedom] are something all South Africans should actively fight for,” said Ndimande.
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