“One must have a thick skull, a heart of a lion and deaf ears,” said Mzilikazi wa Afrika as he began his presentation on the good, the bad and the ugly of investigative journalism.
Wa Afrika spoke about his own experience as being an investigative journalist for the Sunday Times. The seminar kicked off directly at the FNB building at Wits University as part of the Power Reporting conference.
“Investigative journalism is very, very tough and you need to be prepared to swim with the crocodiles in the river and dance with the lions in the jungle,” said wa Afrika.
The problem journalists face, especially investigative journalists is the problem of intimidation by government.
Investigative journalists throughout the African continent are targeted and silenced. Wa Afrika said this is a big problem the continent is facing and it is also something South Africa is facing.
The notion Mandela had about a “critical, independent and investigative press being the lifeblood of any democracy” should have been said in front of all the African presidents, according to wa Afrika.
It should not be the case that the media become the opposition to the ANC, said wa Afrika. The work of an investigative journalist is very important in balancing a society and yet in other African countries “journalists are treated worse than hobo’s, media houses are forced to close down and journalists’ lives are in danger,” said wa Afrika.
“This is a job that needs to be done, you are [as a journalist] doing a favour for your country,” he said. Wa Afrika said investigative journalists report on stories which affect their people.
He related story of when he was detained at Libreville airport in Gabon for 15 hours because he was a journalist. “My colleague and I were detained with no food or water for 15 hours based on our occupation which we filled out on the forms.”
Both journalists spent the night in a cell with six other men and the next morning they were taken to Mpumalanga where they were interrogated further and only released once their host spoke with the police.
In 2013 a total of 17 journalists have been killed on duty in Syria, six in Egypt and five in Pakistan.
In response to these numbers wa Afrika says, “We need to act now and show them [the government] that they can’t push us around.”
The problem also lies in the lack of reporting on this issue. Over the past weekend journalists were killed in Somalia however “I am yet to read a story in print about this,” he said.
While investigative journalism is expensive and risky, authorities need to be held accountable for their actions. “I do this because I love my country,” he said.
Wa Afrika has eight cameras throughout his house and a neighbourhood watch in order to protect his family. He explained that he often gets death threats.
When Wits Vuvuzela asked wa Afrika if he had any advice for a young investigative journalist he said, investigative journalism is not glamorous, it is blood, sweat and tears. It’s different and you should always watch your back.
“The good is great, the bad is scary and the ugly is death,” said wa Afrika.