In the midst of an apparent attempt by the government to silence its
critics by threatening Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya with arrest,
the foundation representing former president Nelson Mandela has come
out strongly for SA’s journalists, writes Thom McLachlan in Business Day.

Though timed to coincide with the anniversary today of Black Wednesday, marking the apartheid government’s media crackdown in 1977, the statement is being viewed as a show of support for media freedom now.

It also follows Business Day columnist Xolela Mangcu’s open letter to Mandela, published yesterday, in which Mangcu warned of an imminent risk to SA’s freedom posed by the threat to Makhanya.

The foundation’s statement reminded readers of the day in 1977 when The World and the Weekend World were banned and their editors jailed.

It said the year “marked a turning point in the South African state’s oppression of the media”, and that in the next decade “many more journalists were detained and banned and newspapers were shut down”.

“This week, the 30th anniversary of Black Wednesday, we remember the role of the courageous journalists, newspapers, anti-apartheid organisations and activists targeted by the apartheid regime in 1977,” a statement on the foundation’s website read.

The statement concluded by saying that Mandela had often paid tribute to journalists. At the closing session of the African National Congress conference in December 1997, Mandela said: “Instrumental in keeping us in touch and informed, in the dissemination of both the good news and the bad, the sensational and the mundane, has been the media. I wish to pay tribute on this occasion to their unflinching, and often ill-appreciated, commitment to their task and their contribution to a more informed and hence a better world.”

The foundation said it would like to use this opportunity “to honour all our journalists who have contributed to the struggle for freedom, and all our media who continue to contribute to the making of democracy”.

Click here to read the full report, posted on Business Day's website.