SABC Eight living in fear after 'kill' threats
A group of SABC journalists have broken their silence on a string of sinister incidents and death threats they believe are aimed at intimidating them to drop their Constitutional Court case against censorship at the public broadcaster.
In the latest incident, senior radio producer Suna Venter had her car broken into and rifled through in the early hours of yesterday morning while it was parked outside a secret location where she was in hiding. Nothing was stolen.
The journalists, dubbed the SABC Eight, have approached the court to oppose what they describe as censorship at the broadcaster. They were fired for questioning the SABC's policy on banning the broadcast of protests, but were later reinstated.
They want the court to order parliament to hold an inquiry into the the issues they raised about the SABC.
The threats against them have escalated in recent weeks. They include:
On October 6 Venter's house was broken into and trashed. Nothing was stolen;
On October 8 executive TV producer Busisiwe Ntuli's house was broken into;
On the same day a caretaker working for executive radio producer Foeta Krige was held up at gunpoint during a robbery at Krige's home;
On October 15 Venter was shot at with ceramic bullets while driving home at night. She later received a text message that read: "Next time won't miss";
On November 2 a car tried to ram Ntuli while she was driving;
On November 3 the group's lawyer, Aslam Moosajee, received a text message offering him a bribe to drop the case, then threatening "or the girl dies";
On November 8, when Venter was already in hiding, Moosajee received a text message that said: "The girl looks nice in black today. You think you can hide her but you can't. Drop the case"; and;
On November 9 the electric wires on the brakes of three of Venter's car wheels were cut.
Gauteng provincial police spokesman Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said: "At this stage no suspect has been identified. There are four cases under investigation." The investigators are led by Lieutenant-Colonel Gert Grobler.
Sources close to the police investigation said some of the messages had been sent from the cellphone tower nearest the SABC headquarters in Auckland Park.
block_quotes_start Venter said the shooting had left her badly shaken - the grouping of the bullet holes in her windscreen showed "they were aiming at my head" block_quotes_end
Police are apparently unable to trace who sent the messages because the callers use pre-registered phones and sim cards that keep changing.
These latest incidents are in addition to a string of threatening text messages received by Venter and Krige since August, a break-in at Venter's house in September and four mysterious tyre blowouts and punctured tyres.
Krige and especially Venter were initially the main targets but the other journalists are also living in fear for their lives after a message was sent that they would be next.
One message read: "I swear I will start by killing the girl just for fun and even after you two your black friends if they are traitors (sic)."
Ntuli said: "For a long time I refused to make any links between what's happening to me and Suna and Foeta. The truth is I'm very scared. You don't know who to trust."
Executive radio producer Krivani Pillay, also one of the SABC Eight, said the threats were "very distressing. My main reaction is fear - not just for Suna, but for my own family's life. When I was told of the shooting, it was almost the last straw. I wanted to resign."
Economics editor Thandeka Gqubule said she was worried.
"They haven't targeted me but I'm seriously worried about Suna and my other colleagues," she said. "It feels as though the interests of the state and its agencies and some criminal groupings are converging."
Venter said the shooting had left her badly shaken. She said the grouping of the bullet holes in her windscreen showed "they were aiming at my head".
She was probably saved from serious injury by the protective film on her widows.
"I'm in hiding. I don't sleep more than three hours a night. I've lost my appetite," she said.
"I'm not in contact with my family or friends because I don't want anyone to become collateral damage.
"But what this has not done is dissuade me from pursuing this case. The same goes for all of us. I might be terrified but I will not be terrorised."
SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said the deaths threats were a police matter.
"The SABC will never encourage anyone to make death threats to anyone," he said.