South African editors will continue to publish photographs of President Jacob Zuma’s private estate at Nkandla, says the South African National Editor’s Forum (Sanef). The organisation was reacting to an announcement by ministers in government’s security cluster that it is now illegal to show images of Zuma’s home as it contravenes the National Key Points Act of 1980.
State security minister, Siyabonga Cwele, told reporters at a media briefing that publishing Nkandla photographs was “in breach of the law”. “As a cluster, we appeal to the public… that they shouldn’t break the laws. In terms of the National Key Point Act no one, including those in the media, is allowed to take images and publicise images and point out where the possible security features are. It is not right,” he said.
Sanef, in a statement, said it was never the intention of the media to undermine President Zuma’s security by publishing such photos. “Similarly, we publish photos of other national key points, like the Union Buildings and Parliament on an almost daily basis,” it said.
“The photographs that have been published were taken from a distance or from the air to show the extent of the upgrades worth over R200 million that the public has paid for,” said Sanef.
Sanef said it believed the intention behind the security cluster’s moves was to use old security laws, dating back to apartheid, to “avoid accounting to the public on the Nkandla upgrades”. The act’s original purpose was to “protect the security measures of national key points from being revealed”.
“It must always be remembered that these upgrades were done to President Zuma’s private residence, from which he and his family will continue to benefit for years to come, and not state property,” Sanef said.
“We will continue to publish images of the Nkandla upgrades because we firmly believe there is immense public interest in doing so. To stop doing so will be a betrayal of our duty as watchdogs of democracy.”
DA police spokeswoman, Dianne Kohler Barnard, called on police minister Nathi Mthethwa to retract his comments on Nkandla photographs. “Minister Mthethwa must bring his Department in line with our constitutional democracy and stop levelling threats at South Africans who are committed to our Constitution,” she said.
“He must now do the right thing and unconditionally retract these comments without delay. Anything less would reveal that he is more committed to apartheid-era draconian legislation than to accountability and transparency.”
A day after the security cluster’s announcement, editors kept to their word, splashing large photographs of the estate over their front pages.
The Times ran a picture with the headline, ‘So arrest us’. It was a call echoed by thousands of Twitter users.
The Cape Times published a photo, and headline it, ‘The picture the state does not want you to see’. So did The Argus, punting ‘Pic you’re not meant to see’.
Beeld carried a panorama photo of the property, punting it as ‘Die verbode photo’ as did Die Burger.
The Twitterati then pointed out that is was quite simple to go on to Google Earth and take a look at the estate, a point picked up with by numbers of people on social media, leading to #GoogleEarth trending on Twitter. Photos of Nkandla were tweeted and retweeted over and over again, many challenging Cwele to ‘arrest us now’. Others tweeted and retweeted Nkandla’s co-ordinates.
The security cluster’s attempts to put a lid on the Nkandla issue seems to have backfired completely. The pot is now boiling over, and the pictures have gone viral. The story has even been picked up abroad, with the Financial Times writing, ‘South AFrica orders media ban on over pictures of Zuma’s house’.
And some visual comment by cartoonist Jerm:
IMAGE: Kurt Mitchell / Twitter