SABC stands by claims of crew detained in Congo
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s national broadcaster said Wednesday that two of its employees were detained in a room at a football stadium in southern Congo to prevent them recording a match which visiting players and officials described as “hell” and “terrifying” after they were confronted by fans and cars were set on fire.
SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago told The Associated Press that two TV crew members were locked in the room at TP Mazembe’s stadium in Lubumbashi by police, or people “purporting to be police.”
“The fact is they were detained,” Kganyago said, following denials from four-time African club champion Mazembe that any South African reporters were arrested. “They were detained to make sure they didn’t participate.”
The two were only released after the game, Kganyago said, and a radio reporter also had equipment confiscated. The SABC was unable to report on the African Champions League game between South Africa’s Orlando Pirates and Mazembe, which sparked claims over the impartiality of the referee as well as the allegations of intimidation.
“It was very clear from the beginning that they had an agenda, hence they did not want anyone to record the match,” Elvis Shishana, the head of the South African delegation, said of the match organizers.
Pirates lost the game 1-0, had its captain sent off, two penalties awarded against it and had to play around 10 minutes of injury time as Mazembe searched for a tie-winning goal, but the Johannesburg team still progressed to the next round of Africa’s top club competition on aggregate.
Midfielder Lehlohonolo Masalesa described the trip to Congo as “hell” on the Orland Pirates website, and said players were “scared for our lives after the match” as cars were set alight. Pirates also had problems on the field with the referee, he said.
“No fouls were given to us inside Mazembe’s half. We got no corner kicks whatsoever, nothing went our way, it was just crazy,” Masalesa said.
In a statement, Mazembe president Moise Katumbi, who is also the governor of Congo’s southern Katanga province, denied any South African reporters were prevented from carrying out their jobs and explained the game was not televised in South Africa because of a “technical fault.”
“It must be stated that we are a law-abiding club that believes in fair play,” Katumbi said.
The club said allegations that the Pirates delegation was mistreated were “fantasy.”
Mazembe gained international prominence when it made the final of the FIFA Club World Cup in 2010, but has been involved in controversies in Africa and was thrown out of the 2011 Champions League as the defending champion for fielding an ineligible player.
The South African Football Association also said it would complain to the Confederation of African Football over the treatment of Pirates, with head of delegation Shishana joining midfielder Masalesa in describing it as a “terrifying experience” as fans confronted them while security officials allegedly did nothing.
“It was a scary situation and our lives were really in danger,” Shishana said.
Orlando Pirates spokesman Mickey Modisane said the matter was now in the hands of SAFA and African governing body CAF, but claimed some away games in Africa “test the character of players.”
“It’s hostile. Africa is hostile, whichever way you look at it,” Modisane said.
In response to being knocked out of the Champions League, Mazembe coach Lamine N’Diaye resigned and Katumbi suspended all of the members of the club’s top sports committee.
Associated Press writer Saleh Mwanamilongo contributed to this report from Kinshasa, Congo.
Follow Gerald Imray at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP