Just days ago President Jacob Zuma locked horns with South Africa’s first female public protector, Thuli Madonsela. Her robust efforts to purge South Africa of corruption have indirectly led to a very public spat between the president and South Africa’s media.
Following an investigation by the public protectors office into possible impropriety surrounding the financing of “Zumaville,” Zuma’s private residence, it’s alleged his office sought to bury the findings of the investigation and prevent the information from falling into the hands of the press.
As information and images of the property began to seep into the public domai,n Zuma’s government issued what was in effect a gag order, attempting to prevent a number of leading newspapers in Johannesburg from printing photographs of Nkandla, the official name of his sprawling multi-million dollar estate. They claimed publication of the images would be a breach of national security.
The decision by the media to defy the government was solely driven by one burning question. Where did the money come from to build such a lavish, private residence? The affluence of which is in stark contrast to the poverty still evident in South Africa today.
So, in defiance of that government order the image was printed across the front page of several newspapers, and what ensued was a public outcry. Deputy editor of the Times Dominic Mahlangu told BET.com there's a growing demand for transparency in South Africa.
"There were times when journalists could be thrown in jail for having pictures of politicians, so we felt that our present government was taking us back to those painful days,” Mahlangu said. “They say we shouldn't show the pictures, but they don't want to give us the information about how the funds were raised to build that house.”
Due to the expanse of the development, it’s often referred to as a town. The gated homestead houses a helipad, a private underground bunker, a pool, several shops and a health clinic.
Mahlangu added that the public has a right to know if state funds were misused, and says the level of interference from government over this story stands in the way of democracy.
"It's important that the media remain independent and that the government does not interfere with the freedom of the press — it's a battle that we are willing to fight and it's a battle that we are fighting every day and that's the reason why we published those pictures," Mahlangu said.
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(Photo: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)