‘I embarked on hunger strike because I feared being poisoned’

Sunday World freelance journalist Thomo Nkgadima embarked on a hunger strike while in police custody for a week to avoid being poisoned by officials.

Nkgadima said the police station officials denied him access to his clothes, which were brought by his family, and kept reminding him that he was detained because he disrespected the mayor.

He was arrested on Christmas Eve and was released on R1 000 bail by the Praktiseer magistrate’s court in Burgersfort, Limpopo on Friday.

Speaking to Sunday World shortly after his release, Nkgadima said he went to survival mode by starving himself because he did not trust anyone around him while in custody.

I did not have food for seven days

“I did not trust them. I didn’t even trust their food. I feel like they put me in jail to poison me. That is one of the reasons I embarked on a hunger strike, for the sake of my safety,” he said.

“I did not have a problem with being detained. I did not even eat their food for seven days. The water is salty, their toilets were not working. They did not want to give me my toiletry.

“I was subjected to very inhuman treatment behind bars.”

“The police were harassing me on instruction from their seniors, saying that I must feel the pinch, I must be punished.

“I kept on saying, I am innocent until proven guilty. They kept saying the mayor is the number-one resident, I must respect the mayor.”

Taking pictures outside mayor’s house

Nkgadima was arrested for taking pictures outside the home of Fetakgomo Tubatse local municipality mayor Eddie Maila.

He spent Christmas in police holding cells after Maila laid charges of trespassing and intimidation at the Tubatse police station.

At the time of his arrest, Nkgadima was covering a story on illegal electricity connections in an informal settlement that is not connected to Eskom’s electricity grid, and where the mayor has erected a double-storey mansion.

Nkgadima said he was denied visits from his family and was only given access to a legal representative on Thursday.

“I am determined to stand trial. I still pronounce that I am innocent until proven guilty. This was an unlawful arrest and I am determined to pick a big fight,” he said.

Case postponed to February

The case has been postponed to February 7 when Nkgadima is expected to make an application for further particulars of his case.

On Thursday, the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) expressed disappointment at the continued imprisonment of Nkgadima.

The forum said it was disappointed that such charges were brought forward against a journalist who was doing his job and never trespassed on Maila’s property, nor intimidated anyone.

“Editors at Sunday World have informed Sanef that Maila has previously threatened Nkgadima because the latter sought to do his work as a journalist.

“This is a worrying development that Sanef has always condemned. Our democracy requires that journalists be allowed to do their work without any inhibitions.”

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