The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef), amaBhungane’s Sam Sole and the Huffington Post's Ferial Haffajee yesterday launched an application seeking a contempt of court order against Andile Mngxitama and the organisation he heads, Black First Land First (BLF).
The applicants argue that Mngxitama and BLF violated the terms of an existing interdict when they disrupted a public panel discussion on the #GuptaLeaks hosted by amaBhungane in Johannesburg last Thursday, July 27.
Sanef and 11 journalists, including Sole and Haffajee, obtained an order in the Johannesburg high court on July 7 interdicting BLF from intimidating or harassing them. This followed social media attacks on them and intimidation during a protest at the home of Peter Bruce, an editor.
In the new court papers, the applicants ask the court to hold Mngxitama and the BLF in contempt, fine BLF and Mngxitama R100,000 and hand Mngxitama a three-month suspended sentence.
They also ask that the existing order be extended to protect all journalists and not only the original applicants.
Sanef, Sole and Haffajee note in their court papers that Mngxitama and other members of the BLF, who entered the venue shortly before the event started, made common cause with another group that had arrived in larger numbers. They intimidated both journalists and members of the audience, and derailed the event but for a truncated informal discussion afterwards.
Sole’s founding affidavit notes that amaBhungane identified the second group on the basis of video evidence as having "consisted in part or full of a faction of so-called MK veterans led by a Mr Johannes ‘Sparks’ Motseki".
This faction broke into protest songs shortly after the event got underway, at which point amaBhungane's Stefaans Brümmer approached Mngxitama to request that he control the protesters. "Having witnessed Mr Mngxitama's entry shortly before, and given the history of this matter, I assumed this crowd to consist of his followers," Brümmer said in an accompanying affidavit.
Mngxitama responded by forcefully shoving Brümmer, who was then attacked by one or more persons associated with Mngxitama.
The applicants further say that the Mngxitama and Motseki groupings continued to threaten and assault journalists and audience members and disrupt the proceedings despite attempts to calm the situation. They charge that video and CCTV footage corroborates this.
Regarding the extent of the relief sought against Mngxitama and BLF, Sole said in the founding affidavit: “We respect that contempt [of court] is an extreme measure befitting an extreme sanction but as journalists committed to freedom of speech and peaceful protest, we would be satisfied with the imposition of a hefty fine and the threat of arrest should either the first [BLF] or second respondent [Mngxitama] act in contempt again.
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