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Media at centre of city strike

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“It is unfortunate that this specific situation got out of control. However, we will not be deterred from doing our jobs"

GRABBING: Kobus van der Walt, owner of Minerva Gardens Frail Care Unit, is seen grabbing a DFA photographers camera yesterday. Picture: Patsy Beangstrom

A DFA photographer and reporter found themselves at the centre of the news yesterday when a scuffle broke out while they were covering a strike by staff at the Minerva Gardens Frail Care Unit.

The journalist and photographer were contacted to cover the strike by concerned members of the public who have family members in the frail care unit of the centre.

“They were concerned because the kitchen had been closed and the elderly patients had not received any breakfast or medication or care. There was a request that the newspaper make urgent enquiries, in the public interest, because the children of the old people did not know what to do,” DFA reporter and News Editor, Patsy Beangstrom, said.

“Our photographer, Soraya Crowie, and I went to the frail care unit to investigate, to make enquiries and to report on the events as the newspaper believed it to be in the public interest.

“When we arrived at the facility the owner, Kobus van der Walt, was busy addressing the staff in a courtyard. He was asking them to finish up their work upstairs and in the meantime he would speak to the media and once the funeral, which was taking place in the hall next door, was over, he would address them.”

According to Beangstrom they waited for them to finish their discussions in order to speak to the shop steward and Van der Walt, as the owner.

The workers, however, were unhappy and reluctant to leave, not wanting to go back to work before their salary issues had been sorted out. They stated that Van der Walt had made empty promises in the past.

He promised them that he would not leave, handing over his car keys to the shop steward while repeatedly stating that he would speak to the media in the meantime while they continued with their work. At that stage he acknowledge the presence of the media and the reporter and photographer from the DFA.

DFA photographer, Soraya Crowie, tried to take a photo of Van der Walt while he was addressing the workers. He, however, started threatening her and grabbed her camera, trying to pull it out of her hands, telling her that he would damage the camera.

As the tussle for the camera continued, the staff started chanting . . . “Nee meneer, nee”. Crowie told him to let go of her camera, which is her personal property, and held firmly onto it while he continued to try and wrestle it out of her hands, pulling on the lens.

Beangstrom took out her cellphone to take photos of the tussle between the two. Van der Walt tried to grab the cellphone but she moved out of his way. On the second attempt, he grabbed it and fiddled with it, presumably to try delete the photos. He then put it in his pants pocket.

The DFA’s News Editor repeatedly asked him to return it to her as it was her property, but he refused. She tried to take it out of his pocket, but he forcefully prevented her from doing so. He then grabbed her by the front of her shirt to move her away from him so that she couldn’t get her phone.

After the scuffle had continued for a while, he eventually said: “You can have it.” He then smashed it on the ground, breaking the cover.

Van der Walt ordered them off the property, threatening that he would call the police.

Attempts to contact Van der Walt yesterday afternoon to comment on the incident were not successful. In comment to an online news website Van der Walt stated that: “The negotiations (with staff) were a private affair and no outside institution had permission to enter the building.”

DFA Editor, Johan du Plessis, last night expressed shock following the incident.

“This was a clear attempt to prevent journalists from doing their job. The strike at the frail care unit has had an impact on many people. In fact, this newspaper was asked to investigate the situation by concerned family members,” Du Plessis said.

“It is unfortunate that this specific situation got out of control. However, we will not be deterred from doing our jobs. We also take threats against our journalists very seriously.”