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Solidarity vigils were held in major centres around the country to remember the media practitioners who have been killed in Palestine and in support of those who continue to risk their lives to report a genocide. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), as of January 27, 83 journalists and media workers were confirmed dead: 76 Palestinian, 4 Israeli, and 3 Lebanese. 16 journalists were reported injured, 3 missing, and 25 journalists were reported arrested. The Health Ministry in Gaza estimates that over 100 journalist have been killed since October 7.

Journalists and activists gathered In Johannesburg, Durban, Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) and in Cape Town.

In Johannesburg

“Free press is the cornerstone of the democracy. There is an authoritarian government in Israel who doesn’t want the world to know the truth. If we can’t have the free press you must know there is an autocracy going on. We need to acknowledge journalists who have laid down their lives for us to know the truth and those who are still there continue to face risks. We need the world’s attention on this,” said Nikita Ramkissoon, a freelance journalist.

“We are here to show solidarity to journalists who died covering a genocide. They have put their bodies on the line to bring us stories from the frontlines, unfiltered and right in our faces. Many of them, almost 120, have died – and we stand in solidarity with their peers and their families,” said Sunny Morgan from the Kensington Palestine Solidarity Group.

Eyewitness News editor and coordinator of the event, Deshnee Subramany called on the world to know that journalism is a job, not a crime. “At the moment, in Palestine, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo, we are seeing journalists being targeted for doing their job. This could be us at any point. We are here to give them a word that we see them and we are behind them. We also want the authorities to know that we will not be quiet,” she said.

Other journalists at the event took the opportunity to reflect on the state of newsrooms in South Africa and critiqued how this genocide is being reported on. “We must emphasise that journalists are civilians doing important work during times of crisis and must not be targeted by warring parties,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Journalists across the region are making great sacrifices to cover this heart-breaking conflict. Those in Gaza, in particular, have paid, and continue to pay, an unprecedented toll and face exponential threats. Many have lost colleagues, families, and media facilities, and have fled seeking safety when there is no safe haven or exit.”

We are a target. There is a risk of being un-alived and anyone around us risks being un-alived because of the protective vests that we wear. – Palestinian journalists relay the mortal fear of reporting from Gaza.

In Cape Town

Activists and journalists gathered outside St George’s Cathedral to pledge solidarity to the journalists in Palestine and to remember those who have been killed in the line of duty.

About 150 people gathered in Cape Town to remember Palestinian journalists who have been killed. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Freelance journalist, Raeesa Pather who chaired the vigil told the crowd that the United Nations has declared Gaza the most dangerous place to be a journalist and reminded them that media freedom is protected under Geneva Conventions. “It is a war crime to kill journalists. Yet, journalists have been detained and killed with impunity. It must stop. The suppression of media is not only happening in Palestine. We know it is happening in Sudan, the Congo and elsewhere on the continent, and the world,” she said.

Veteran journalist who has covered stories in Palestine, Jimi Matthews said that the more than 100 journalists who have been killed in Palestine died a horrible death. “Each of the 117 journalists – and I think the number has increased now – that have been killed in Gaza died a horrible death. No heroic memorial services, no family present in the impromptu funerals, just colleagues around the grave,” he said.

The former head of the SABC, Matthews called out mainstream Western media for allowing Israel to mold its coverage of Palestine. “We have to say something about our colleagues in mainstream Western media. Not only agreeing to embed with IDF [Israel Defence Force] but also agreeing to having their reports vetted by Israel before publication. This is disgraceful. Yet every report by Palestinian and Arab reporters is scrutinised,” Matthews said.

They are not saying no story is important enough to die for.
They are saying this story is important enough to die for.

Zubeida Jaffer

Another veteran reporter, Zubeida Jaffer, commended the courage of Palestinian reporters in the face of adversity. “By comparison, 63 journalists were killed in Vietnam war that lasted for two decades and a total of 69 killed during World War 2 which lasted for 5 to 6 years. I don’t have the numbers for the Rwanda but it was much smaller and yet you are sitting with a situation where journalists of Palestine are defying all logic. They are not saying no story is important enough to die for. They are saying this story is important enough to die for. They are prepared to step forward and be killed for the self determination of their people,” she said.