ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, former president Jacob Zuma and ANC Women's League secretary-general Meokgo Matuba at the Maharani hotel in Durban on Thursday.

Personal threats against journalists undermine free speech and democracy.

This was the message from the South African Editors’ Forum (Sanef) and the Cape Town Press Club after the ANC Women’s League secretary-general‚ Meokgo Matuba‚ sent Sunday Times journalist Qaanitah Hunter a photograph of a gun.

Hunter asked Matuba about the photograph‚ and Matuba claimed she did not know who sent it because several people share the cellphone.

The text exchange took place as Hunter and her colleague‚ Jeff Wicks‚ were working on a story that former president Jacob Zuma and his allies were plotting to unseat President Cyril Ramaphosa following a meeting at the Maharani hotel in Durban. Zuma’s allies included Matuba‚ ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule‚ former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo and ANC Youth League KwaZulu-Natal secretary Thanduxolo Sabelo.

The Sunday Times report stated that the Thursday meeting was preceded by a meeting on Wednesday at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Umhlanga Rocks. It is believed to have been attended by Magashule‚ Mahumapelo and former SAA board chair Dudu Myeni. Zuma did not attend the Beverly Hills gathering.

Sanef did not comment on the claims made in the story‚ but criticised Matuba’s reaction.

They said the ANC - and others – had the right to criticise the media‚ point out inaccuracies and formally complain to the Press Council South Africa.

“However‚ we believe it is problematic when particular journalists are attacked on a personal level… But more serious than these are direct threats to journalists’ lives.”

The Cape Town Press Club said it would not comment on the merits of the article‚ but would not stand aside when journalists were attacked and threatened.

“It does note that various ruling party structures‚ particularly the ANC Women’s League‚ immediately condemned the newspaper report‚ claiming that it was false and that the meeting did not take place.

"This was despite the publication of photographs and subsequent eyewitness accounts that Zuma and other prominent ANC members were in fact at the hotel as Hunter and Wicks had reported‚” the club said in a statement.

It added that Matuba’s response that several people use the cell phone was a “wholly inadequate response”.

“There are a number of proper channels in which to challenge the accuracy of a newspaper report. The ANCWL should be using these rather than going on a tirade that seriously draws into question its commitment to a free press.”

Sanef called on political parties to use the correct channels for their complaints.

“Sanef strongly condemns what is a clear threat to this journalist despite the later apology. We believe these threats have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and access to information. This behaviour is particularly worrying in the lead up to our critical national elections in 2019.”