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Honouring the brave among us

- By Buhle Zuma

 Despite the pending numerous legal cases and the financial claims of more than US $1.2 million brought by Angolan generals against him, investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais is resolute in speaking out against corruption and human rights abuses. 

De Morias made a brief stop at Wits before his next court appearance to deliver the annual Carlos Cardoso Memorial Lecture which honours slain journalist Cardoso, who was assassinated in 2000 while investigating a case of corruption in Mozambique.

Beginning his public address, De Morias paid homage to Cardoso whom he described as a brother in arms and whose legacy is embedded in his work.

“Back in 1999, when I was jailed in Angola for calling president Dos Santos a dictator and corrupt, Carlos Cardoso was instrumental in mobilising lawyers, journalists and concerned Mozambicans to lend their support to me.”

“I am here to talk about the courage, the leadership, and the solidarity that are required to bring down the walls of fear, and with them the fear-mongers. The fear of strongmen and those in power runs deep in many African countries,” he said before highlighting cases of abuse of the law to supress journalists and voices of dissent.

“In the SADC region, there are three countries where such a struggle for freedom of expression is of particular concern: Angola, Zimbabwe and Swaziland. What these countries have in common is that their heads of state are among the five longest serving in Africa. President José Eduardo dos Santos has been in power for 35 years, Robert Mugabe for 34, and King Mswati III, for 28. They are all enemies of the free press. The difference among them is in the methods they use to silence dissent, and what they have to offer or not to the international community, in exchange for legitimacy.”

Ethiopia came under huge criticism for its appalling record of abuses against journalists. Ironically, Ethiopia hosts the headquarters of the African Union.

“Rather than being the symbol of an African renaissance, anchored on the respect of human rights, Ethiopia stands out for leading the continent in the opposite direction.”

“The fact that the last few independent Ethiopian journalists have been arrested and convicted indeed shows the hypocrisy of the African Union as an organisation representing all Africans. It does nothing about it (arrest of journalists).” 

De Morias called for regional solidarity as he addressed the public and journalists who were at Wits attending the 10th Power Reporting conference.

“I plead with you here today, to campaign relentlessly for our peers who are wrongfully imprisoned, particularly in Ethiopia. They did not want to be heroes, but concerned citizens and dedicated professsionals.”

Click here to read his speech.

In his opening remarks to the evening lecture Wits Professor Tawana Kupe, a well-known media commentator said: 

“Investigative journalists are important in society as they shine the light in the darkest corners of political, financial and social interests and their intersections.”

Through their stories, “they give courage to civil society and the population to fight for democracy. They give comfort to those who, while opposed to dictatorship and the bad things that happen in the country, feel they cannot continue any longer, but the stories by investigative journalists embolden them to challenge dictatorship and advance democracy further,” said Kupe.

“Investigative journalism is a pillar of the creation, sustenance and consolidation of democratic societies and it is no wonder that investigative journalists are always enemies of brutal dictators and others against the values of democracy,” said Kupe.

Anton Harber, Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits, said it is fitting that a conference of investigative journalists from across the continent remembers a journalist killed in the line of duty.

“In remembering Carlos we are honouring all those of independent and courageous spirit, all those who investigated and exposed corruption, and all the victims of censorship. We do it as an act of regional solidarity with journalists under pressure, under threat and under censorship across southern Africa,” said Harber.

“This remembrance is important particularly at this time when a Swaziland editor is in jail for his coverage of the King and his kingdom.”

Sounding a warning Harber said that censorship needs to be fought with all power: “Censorship takes place in many forms – some subtle, some brutal – and murder is the ultimate silencing”.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 71 journalists were killed in 2013 and thus far in 2014, 42 have been killed and many are in exile or in prison.

 

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