Several journalists were held against their will in Port Elizabeth on Thursday by “rogue” Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) students participating in the fee hike protest.
The Herald reporters Devon Koen, 33, and Athena O’Reilly, 27, were among those held at the university’s South Campus on Thursday afternoon.
They had been covering the protest since Wednesday morning and joined students again on Thursday morning when they gathered outside the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court where nine students arrested the day before appeared briefly.
The two accompanied the students to the NMMU South Campus where they were held for at least 30 minutes in the SRC chambers until members of the university’s protection services stormed the venue.
O’Reilly said they had just attended an SRC briefing when the “unnerving and intimidating” ordeal unfolded.
“When we heard them banging on the door, it was unclear what awaited us outside,” she said.
“I don’t know what these students were trying to do with us, they never gave us a reason for holding us captive.
“We did feel threatened as they approached us but we were quite relieved when the protection services stormed the building,” O’Reilly said.
Koen said: “I think the way protesting students have been treating the media has been shameful, and today was the worst of all, because it seems as though they only want us to report on things when it suits them.
“When they were being arrested by police yesterday (Wednesday), they wanted us to take photos and report on that, however today (Thursday), they did not want to speak to us.
“Their actions don’t make any sense, and through their actions, they are only putting themselves in a bad light,” he said.
South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) chairwoman Mahlatse Gallens said they had received several reports of journalists being treated with hostility.
“The students must realise that journalists have a right to be there. They need to respect and understand the journalists’ role. As the media, we are putting the grievances of the student forward,” she said.
“If they are unhappy with anything, we want them to contact us, the various complaints channels such as the BCCSA or even the individual media houses. We don’t understand where their hostility is coming from.”
Gallens appealed to editors to report all matters to Sanef so they could document it and get provincial Sanef members to meet with student leadership.