LUSAKA — Zimbabwean authorities should thoroughly investigate the assaults of freelance reporters Annahstacia Ndlovu, Pamenus Tuso, and Lungelo Ndlovu in Bulawayo and hold their attackers to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On Monday, July 17, in Bulawayo’s central business district, a group of people wearing regalia of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF, slapped Annahstacia Ndlovu, a correspondent for U.S. Congress-funded Voice of America, across her face and punched her when she refused to delete a recording and photographs of their skirmish with vendors at a vegetable market in the city, according to news reports, a statement by the Zimbabwean chapter of the press freedom group the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Members of the same group also slapped Tuso, a freelance journalist who is also chairperson of the Bulawayo Media Center, and Lungelo Ndlovu, a Reuters correspondent who is not related to Annahstacia Ndlovu, according to both journalists, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
“Zimbabwean authorities should speedily investigate the assaults of journalists Annahstacia Ndlovu, Pamenus Tuso, and Lungelo Ndlovu, and bring all those responsible to justice,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Journalists must be free to report without fear of attack, and those who prevent them from working must face immediate consequences, especially as there is heightened concern about journalist safety ahead of the August 23 general election.”
The journalists told CPJ that ZANU-PF supporters had ordered vendors to show proof of their support for the ruling party at their central business district office ahead of the August elections or risk losing trading space at the market. When the vendors refused, the supporters beat them up and told them that they were not allowed to trade at the market.
Annahstacia Ndlovu told CPJ that she and the other reporters were interviewing vendors about the skirmish with ZANU-PF supporters when one of the supporters ordered her to delete her footage. After she refused and identified herself as a member of the press, that man, aided by other supporters, slapped her across the face and punched her body. A woman confiscated her phone and deleted footage and photographs before handing it back, Ndlovu said, adding that her other phone fell to the ground during the assault and was damaged.
“The ringleader assaulted me several times, while others were even touching my breasts,” she said. “They beat me all over the body. My face is swollen.”
The journalist reported the attack to the Bulawayo Central Police station, where a case was opened for investigation, she said. According to a medical report reviewed by CPJ, Annahstacia Ndlovu sustained “serious injuries” to her eyes and a swollen right hip. The injuries presented a “potential danger to life” and the likelihood of a “permanent disability,” according to the report.
Lungelo Ndlovu told CPJ that the attackers also slapped him and ordered to him to delete footage, but he managed to flee to safety.
“They demanded I identify myself, which I did, and then they said [to] delete footage and some guy slapped me on the face. I didn’t see that coming. I couldn’t think of anything at that point, I had to run away,” Ndlovu said, adding that he had not deleted his footage.
Tuso said he was slapped on the cheek but was not injured, saying, “They wanted to confiscate my camera, but I had to run away and hide it.”
ZANU-PF spokesperson Christopher Mutsvangwa and his deputy, Michael Bhima, did not respond to CPJ’s repeated texts and phone calls seeking comment.
When reached via messaging app, Bulawayo Central Police spokesperson Abedinco Ncube referred CPJ to Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesperson Paul Nyathi. CPJ called and texted Nyathi, but did not receive any reply.
Earlier this month, CPJ condemned the Zimbabwe’s legislature’s passage of the so-called “Patriot Bill,” which threatens the rights to freedom of expression and media freedom in the country.