JOHANNESBURG – A South African journalist arrested after writing about alleged police corruption said Tuesday a proposed media bill could transform a country known for being among Africa's most free and transparent to one more like autocratic Zimbabwe.
Mzilikazi wa Afrika, who is no longer facing charges, spoke to The Associated Press at a protest of more than 300 people marching against the government's media proposals.
"We are going back to apartheid and pushing South Africa to the same level as Zimbabwe," wa Afrika said.
Since neighboring Zimbabwe enforced sweeping media laws in 2003, scores of journalists have been arrested, harassed and assaulted. Four Zimbabwe-based foreign reporters were expelled and entry visas for foreign media representatives were frozen. Several local reporters were denied official media accreditation.
If South Africa's law is implemented, reporters could be jailed for exposing information that officials want kept secret. The protesters taped their mouths at the protest and held posters that said "stop the return to apartheid secrecy" — a reference to an era when the government tightly restricted information and media outlets.
"The public is going to lose access to information that's vital to their lives," said Ray Hartley, the editor of South Africa's most widely circulated weekly paper. "(Wa Afrika) is an example of the dangerous tendency to view reporting as a threat."
South Africa's governing political party also has proposed a tribunal that could discipline journalists. South African President Jacob Zuma has said that the government remains fully committed to media freedom.