Eastern Cape health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo is in hot water after he recently posted on his personal facebook account that an East London based journalist will die soon.

Kupelo’s post has drawn concern from the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef), which says the current climate in journalism puts journalists under pressure because they have been exposing corruption related to COVID-19 relief funds.

There has also been a sharp focus on the Eastern Cape health department related to corruption since the start of the pandemic.

“What I wrote it’s…I don’t know how to explain it. I saw it {in his dreams} and then I wrote it like I normally do with other incidents that have occured in the past. I am not claiming to be a prophet but it’s something that I have been doing when I see it in my sleep, and I saw it,” says Kupelo.

Kupelo wrote in isiXhosa: “Kukho intatheli endiyibona isweleka kwezi zaseMonti..”.
[ I see a journalist based in East London, dying.]

The post was made while there is an intense media focus on alleged government corruption related to the pandemic.

Kupelo says he merely expressed a dream he had and it’s not the first he writes of people dying. He does accept the concerns raised.

He says, “Well I accept that people have raised concerns. It’s got nothing to do with politics, it’s got nothing to do with journalists’ operations. It’s something that has been happening with me and I cannot control it. If I’ve got to tell you Mkho, some people I phone them and say ‘please pray something is going to happen to you or in your family. I do that. I write on facebook. I wrote even before that, that I saw baboons in one family and I asked my friend I should tell that person..”

Sanef Chairperson Sbu Ngalwa says they have had cases of journalists being threatened and ridiculed. He says some endure abuse on social media based on their stories.

Ngalwa says, “The climate is volatile and journalists are under pressure because they are exposing corruption and departments like health are actually at the centre of that PPE procurement…”

“So obviously if there are contracts to be looked at, those are contracts that are mostly to do with that department. So anyone who has a problem, they should raise it with relevant bodies. In this instance what I’m saying is that, we would call on him to circumspect with what they put out because it might be misconstrued to be a threat to journalists.”

The superintendent general of the Eastern Cape Health Department, Dr Thobile Mbengashe, says they are going to scrutinise the matter.

Dr Mbengashe says, “Obviously we will have to investigate the context about the statement that is said to have been said by the spokesperson of the department regarding a journalist. We think that people need to be informed and journalists are really the representatives of people and they bring those voices from people back to ourselves and also inform the people in relation to all the matters related to the State. We really regard journalists at the highest level because we believe that it is their duty to report without or favour.”

Sanef says it acknowledges the good relationship that Kupelo has with media houses, but that does not absolve him from criticism.

Story by: Mkhokheli Bandla