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DM2014: Support journalists in South Africa

13 April 2014

At the peak of the fight against apartheid and in an alliance to support media freedom, the NUJ was one of the first unions to take solidarity action with our sister union, the Media Workers’ Association of South Africa (MWASA).

We are now asking NUJ chapels and branches to help again - this time to organise activity and collections to raise funds urgently needed to enable MWASA to carry on fighting to defend and support its members at a time when journalists in South Africa need the support of their union more than ever.

Back in 1986, NUJ members attending the union's delegate meeting voted to support South African journalists. In the wake of the state of emergency being declared, sixteen journalists were detained without trial – including journalist union leaders and writers for opposition newspapers. Foreign correspondents were deported, tight censorship was imposed and two new newspapers were seized from newsstands.

NUJ branches responded brilliantly to the appeal for support – imprisoned journalists were adopted, demonstrations were held outside the South African Embassy, collections for South African workers were held at meetings throughout the union and support was given to black trade union organisations including MWASA.

Bob Norris, NUJ Assistant Secretary in 1986, visited South Africa to help with a training course run by MWASA. Tyrone August, National Secretary of MWASA, came to the UK to address the NUJ’s conference and at the IFJ world congress Sandra Nagtaal opened up the debate by outlining the struggle to end apartheid, calling on all IFJ affiliate unions for practical support.

Nearly 30 years later, the apartheid system has been dismantled but the fight by our sister union MWASA for labour rights and legitimacy in South Africa continues today.

MWASA is engaged in a fight for the union's very existence and, once again, MWASA has asked NUJ members to help in this crucial battle. The attacks on our sister union are wide-ranging.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) cancelled MWASA's 20 year-old collective bargaining agreement. Management also de-recognised MWASA and ended the arrangement to collect subs and pass them on. This triggered a major crisis and almost overnight MWASA ran out of money and became incapable of maintaining its offices or paying staff.

MWASA organised a member-led campaign supported by the IFJ, other unions and civic society and SABC finally backed off and invited the union leadership to a meeting to agree to reinstate the right of trade unions to represent their members. MWASA demanded the reinstatement of sacked workers and called for the managers responsible to be disciplined. The campaign achieved a new 12 member board for SABC. MWASA continues its demand for an accountable, transparent and politically independent public broadcaster.

The crisis in broadcasting was not isolated. There have been worrying moves against media freedom and free expression - increased government surveillance, media regulation and artistic censorship. Campaigners have shown the potential for the Protection of State Information Bill to undermine access to state information and inhibit investigative journalism.

They have also mobilised against the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill, enabling the monitoring of emails and social media. The National Cyber Security Policy also remains a concern. The ANC wants to prevent the distribution of "harmful and anti-social" content.

In newspapers, MWASA has been at the forefront of a dispute at the Cape Times over the sacking of editor Alide Dasnois, key to unionising the newspaper group. The Cape Times is a daily newspaper owned by the Sekunjalo Independent Media consortium through Independent News and Media South Africa – they also own the Cape Argus, the Weekend Argus, the Daily Voice, The Star, Pretoria News, Saturday Star, Sunday Independent, Diamond Fields Advertiser, Weekend Pretoria News, Daily News, The Mercury, Post, Independent on Saturday, the Sunday Tribune, and Zulu daily newspaper Isolezwe and its Saturday and Sunday editions.

The newspapers series used to be owned by the Dublin-based Independent Newspapers group. The change of ownership was welcomed by MWASA as the new owners offered staff a percentage stake in the company and better labour relations in the media sector.

Having barely recovered from the battle at SABC, MWASA had to take on another major employer well connected with the government and a new factor in these battles is the political developments following the death of Nelson Mandela.

That the union continues fighting and campaigning, in the face of huge pressures and attacks shows how it remains a force to be reckoned with. If MWASA is to continue its work, it needs the help of sister unions around the world – it needs the support and solidarity of NUJ members throughout the union.

There are many ways you can help, here are a few suggestions:

  • Seek branch and chapel donations to MWASA
  • Have a whip round at NUJ meetings and trade union friendly events
  • Get sponsorship for a walk, swim or football match
  • Organise an auction or raffle with donated prizes
  • Hold a quiz night or movie night
  • Organise a bake off cake sale
  • Donate a day's wages
  • Get support from your local trades council

Whatever you do, please do something! Donations can be made by sending money via the NUJ's finance department – if it's a cheque please make payable to the NUJ, making clear this is a donation for the NUJ MWASA appeal or pay online via the website. The union will then transfer funds to MWASA directly.

Don't forget to tell us how you're raising money to help journalists in South Africa - email campaigns@nuj.org.uk

Tags: , independent news and media, solidarity, fundraiser, events, south africa, mwasa, dm2014, detention