JOHANNESBURG, June 30 – Various organisations have expressed shock at the death of senior SABC journalist Suna Venter who was found dead in her Fairlands home on Thursday morning.
Together with another seven journalists, Venter had formed part of a group that came to be known as the SABC 8 after they were suspended from the public broadcaster when they voiced their concerns about editorial interference in the newsrooms. The eight journalists were fired but seven of them were later reinstated after also objecting to former chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s policy on not airing footage from violent protests.
The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) on Friday expressed its “deep shock” at the untimely death of Venter, saying she would always be remembered for never giving up, even when she faced threats and intimidation.
In a statement Thursday, her family said the 32-year-old was recently diagnosed with a cardiac condition known as stress cardiomyopathy or “Broken Heart Syndrome, believed to be caused by trauma and prolonged periods of unnatural stress”.
“Over the course of the past year, she received various threatening SMS messages. Her flat was broken into on numerous occasions, the brake cables of her car were cut and her car’s tyres were slashed. She was shot at and abducted — tied to a tree at Melville Koppies, while the grass around her was set alight,” her family said in a statement.
“On a separate occasion earlier this year, she was shot in the face with an unknown weapon and received surgery to remove the metal pellets from her face. During the past year, she was assaulted on three various occasions. Those closest to her believe that her condition was exacerbated, if not caused, by the events of the past year.“
The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) also mourned her death, describing her as “one of the brave SABC 8 journalists who fought to defend free speech and stop censorship in our public broadcaster”.
Saftu said there could be no doubt that the attacks on Venter were connected to the SABC’s brutal campaign against her and all the other SABC staff who fought for a free, democratic and independent public broadcaster.
“Saftu hails her as a martyr for the cause of freedom of expression and for a media which is a forum for all South Africans to free express their views.”
This is a fight which goes on, as we see in the news of intimidatory pickets outside the homes of editors by the “Black First, Land First” group.
“Irrespective of the views of the journalists targeted, we must not tolerate attempts to deny them the right to publish those views through threats and intimidation.”
The South African Communist Party (SACP) also noted “with sadness” the death of Venter “who defied attempts to censor television coverage of popular protests”.
The party described Venter as “a courageous, professional TV producer absolutely committed to the public-interest vision that has been increasingly diluted at the SABC by those who produced governance, administrative and editorial decay that almost destroyed the public broadcaster and collapsed it financially.
“We are proud to have shared a platform with Suna during SACP-led protests over her suspension and that of her SABC 8 colleagues last year,” the SACP said. “We draw some solace from the fact that she lived to see the defeat and dismissal of those who tried to stop her serving our people, if not yet SABC’s rebirth as a true South African public broadcaster.”
The South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) had earlier Friday described the death of Venter as a “monumental loss”.
The SACP, meanwhile, cautioned against campaigns of intimidation which Venter and also SACP Second Deputy General Secretary Solly Mapaila had been subjected to. “Our leaders, who have been invasively followed and surveyed, Suna was also subject to a sustained campaign of intimidation, sabotage and abuse – no doubt directed and funded by sources cast in the same mould.
“The thugs who harassed her – and the shadowy figures behind the campaign against her – have much to answer for,” the party said. “We mourn Suna’s passing, and will not forget her quiet, humble courage.”
The SACP also slammed the “outrageous, seven-hour siege of the home of journalist and former Business Day editor Peter Bruce” as the latest manifestation of a concerted campaign.
“This appears to have been funded and directed by a small but vicious group of capitalist thieves bent on silencing all criticism of their blatant looting of the South African state.”
The African National Congress (ANC) also earlier Friday condemned the actions of a group purported to be members of Black First Land First (BLF) who staged a protest outside Bruce’s Johannesburg home on Thursday “with the purpose to intimidate him and his family”.