South African university protects student journalists who received threats for article on Zimbabwe

SOUTH AFRICA — Student journalists in Grahamstown havebeen threatened following the publication of an article aboutZimbabwe’s controversial presidential election.

In response to the threats, Rhodes University is providing round-the-clock security forthe staff of Activate.

"We have had a number of suspicious characters askingquestions about our Zim students and reporters," wrote Activateeditor Natasha Joseph via e-mail.

Robert Mugabe, the country’s reigning leader of 22 years, wasreelected to a new six-year term in mid-March. Outside observershave said the voting was rigged, with Mugabe’s opponents and theirsupporters alleging violence and harassment. Mugabe has sinceinstituted sweeping new laws restricting expression and last weekjailed a British journalist investigating allegations of violenceby ruling party militants.

The Activate article was "a very well-balancedreport on reactions from students, both South African and Zimbabwean,commenting on how they felt about election results," Josephsaid.

Joseph said three suspicious individuals who were describedto her as "3 large, black men, aged about 22 or 23"stood outside the newspaper office March 22, writing down stafftelephone numbers. They later asked a reporter who had come outof the office to identify the Zimbabwean students on the list,but the reporter quickly shut the door, locked herself in theoffice and was not bothered again.

Four Zimbabwean students on the Activate staff whowere doing research for the election article withdrew from theproject and one student journalist received a phone call warninghim he would be jailed for treason upon returning to Zimbabweif he continued to work for the paper, Joseph said.

Another staff member was confronted in an empty computer laband later followed by a man who wanted to know why Activatewas running the story, according to Grahamstown’s EastCape News. The paper also reported that the student reporter’sfather was beaten by individuals asking if his daughter had organizedan anti-Mugabe rally.

Rhodes University Vice Chancellor David Woods had organizedthe rally. In speaking to demonstrators, Woods called the allegedintimidators "spineless bullies" and praised the studentmedia for trying to report on the truth, the East Cape Newsarticle said.

Joseph said she does not know whether the alleged perpetratorswere students at the university or if they had any affiliationwith Mugabe’s ZANU-PF Party.