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Journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika was arrested on Wednesday morning in the Johannesburg offices of the Sunday Times, the weekly paper he writes for, three days after he published a story entitled “Bheki Cele’s R500m police rental deal”.
Bheki Cele is South Africa’s police chief.
Wa Afrika was on his way to hand himself over to the police before the SAPS decided to step in and make a dramatic arrest in full view of the newsroom.
The news broke on Wednesday morning on Twitter via Bienne Huisman, who describes herself as a “Sunday Times journalist, music lover and unspectacular cook”.
Huisman tweeted: “DUDES!! Colleague who wrote Bheki Cele Sun Times story http://tinyurl.com/2dqkxyc was just arrested at our JHB offices.”
She then followed up with a Tweet: “Sunday Times reporter Mzilikazi wa Afrika arrested – excactly [sic] why remains unclear”.
The original tweet went viral, spreading like wildfire through Twitter this morning.
Ironically, the arrest happened at the same time and in the same building that editor’s body, the South African National News Editor’s Forum (SANEF) was meeting to discuss media freedom and the new proposed media regulations bill.
Tweeters followed up on the story, speculating as to whether the charges were related to the article or not. Defeating the ends of justice and fraud were put forward as possible charges via @mattduplessis, another journalist at the Sunday Times.
Well-known Radio 702 journalist Stephen Grootes tweeted: “Sunday times reporter mzilikazi wa afrika arrested. Seems to be related to a mpumalanga story.”
Karen van Rooyen, a Times’ reporter, (@kavaro) apparently witnessed the event, tweeting: “EIGHT cops to arrest one man, granted he is big – but a gentle soul arrested colleague being taken to nelspruit”. Eyewitnesses say that a screaming match took place between the police and senior editors about whether photographers were allowed to take pictures of the arrest or not.
Mandy De Waal tweeted this picture of Wa-Afrika’s empty desk minutes after the arrest.
Mpumalanga journalist and Stanford University Knight Fellow, Justin Arenstein tweeted that he thought there would be more arrests, before going on to tweet that “SunTimes journo to be charged w/ 2 prov gov officials in connection w/ “fraudulent” resignation letter in Premier DD Mabuza’s name.”
Arenstein made further use of social media by tweeting a link to the Facebook page of Capital Magazine, moments after it uploaded a scan of the allegedly fraudulent letter that Wa-Afrika is being charged over. View the letter here.
@simonwillo, a travel website writer and columnist for news analysis site The Daily Maverick, urged the co-author of the article Stephan Hofstatter to go into hiding. “Run Stephan Hofstatter, run while you still can!” he tweeted.
In 2004, the Sunday Times fired Wa Afrika for contravening their code of conduct “for trying to set up a Travelgate-accused with a Mozambican hotelier”.
The Sunday Times rushed off a statement indicating its concern that they have no idea what the charges against Wa Afrika are or where he is being held.
The report goes on to say that “He [wa Afrika] was arrested by a large number of policemen in an operation which was clearly designed to intimidate and I can only conclude that this was the true motive for what took place today.”
According to IOL wa Afrika was arrested for “fraud and defeating the ends of justice” on Wednesday.
Police Hawks spokesperson Musa Zondi confirmed the journalist had been arrested and would appear in court within 48 hours. Zondi also stated that wa Afrika was arrested in his private capacity as a citizen, and not as a journalist.
Ed’s Note: Since publication of our story, a number of tweeters have come forward, claiming to be the first to break the news. And even the credit for the photograph of wa Afrika’s empty desk is being claimed by various parties. Viva breaking news, viva!