March 2, 1998
Volume 50, No. 23
South African journalist faces deportation upon his return
There is no doubt that Newton Kanhema is a controversial and confrontational figure.
In his first month at Emory, the Zimbabwe-born journalist has already recognized problems with campus race relations; he recently approached a group of black students eating together in one corner of the Cox Hall Food Court, demanding an explanation for such blatant segregation-segregation which he says should not exist today. Making and reporting on this type of keen observation is what Kanhema, who is here studying sociology and preparing journalism students for May internships in Cape Town, is best known for. He has no problem sharing what he sees or hears-both in the United States and in South Africa, where he holds permanent residency.
But the 34-year-old reporter is in danger of being banished from South Africa after arousing the wrath of leaders in the ruling African National Congress. The newspaper South Africa Report said officials from South Africa's Department of Home Affairs have been searching for Kanhema so they may deport him.
The story begins in Kanhema's native Zimbabwe. After Kanhema was named that country's 1990 news-writer of the year, Agrey Klaaster, editor of South Africa's largest black newspaper, The Sowetan, offered to bring Kanhema to South Africa; Kanhema accepted, wanting to know "how it was for a black journalist to report under apartheid." He went to Johannesburg, where he stayed for two months and made a name for himself comparing the politics of South Africa and Zimbabwe. He wrote of South African "liberators" arriving on chartered aircraft, pushing trolleys full of VCR equipment. "Real people who return from a war-they come back with their guns," Kanhema said.
After a brief stay in Zimbabwe, Kanhema returned to South Africa to take up permanent employment with Independent Newspapers in May 1992, at which time he applied for and was granted a work permit. Immigration officials invited Kanhema in 1996 to apply for permanent residency, which he was granted, as was his wife, Jean Kasiyamhuru. "Everything was just beautiful and working out," he said, until he left South Africa Jan. 11 to come to Emory.
On Jan. 19, Kasiyamhuru called Kanhema, saying a strange man claiming to be from the Department of Home Affairs had visited her and asked her to sign papers proclaiming her deportation from South Africa within 21 days.
Though Home Affairs cites a discrepancy in Kanhema's application for permanent residency as the impetus for deporting him, he attributes being exiled to his controversial investigative reporting. In the past few years, Kanhema has written articles that he said have "irritated or embarrassed the government." He referred to an interview he conducted of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the ex-wife of South African President Nelson Mandela. In the article Madikizela-Mandela accused the ANC of being "soft on crime, going back on its election promises and ignoring the people who elected the party to power."
"What has happened," Kanhema said, "is the answer to the trouble I was told I would get into. I'm only guilty of one thing-doing the right thing. In journalism, when you write something, somebody either benefits or somebody gets hurt. [I'm] just subscribing to the ethics of the profession."
Though Kanhema said he has some friends in the ANC working toward his cause, "chances are, they will not succeed," he said, saying the decision to banish him came from "the highest office."
"Government officials who try to help me can never come on the surface. If they do, they will burn their fingers," he said.
Kanhema said both Loren Ghiglione, director of Emory's journalism program, and U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney have written letters to South African Ambassador Franklin Sonn, who was at Emory recently to celebrate the departure of 41 Peace Corps volunteers to South Africa. During the visit, Sonn said one of the first signs that a democracy is in trouble is when the government starts attacking the press. Last week Ghiglione wrote to Vice President Al Gore, who is scheduled to visit South Africa soon.
The South Africa Report said the Western world will interpret the South African government's action against Kanhema the same way they viewed the Nation Party's "authoritarian acts" against journalists during apartheid. "The ANC government will be seen to be on the threshold of embarking on a similar vendetta against critical journalists who displease it," the Report said.
Kanhema said The Sunday Independent has asked him to consider a reassignment, but he would rather live in Africa. "In the United States," he said, "you are just a drop in the water; you can never make a difference, not even if you're Bill Clinton. Africa needs good people; people who want to make a contribution."
Kanhema said it is not likely he will return to Zimbabwe. "If I go back to Zimbabwe, I will not be able to do the work that I like doing-journalism." This is because the media in Zimbabwe is controlled by the government, he said. For now, Kanhema stays at Emory until May, when he is supposed to return to South Africa.
In addition to adapting to life in the United States, Kanhema said his recent problems have triggered insomnia. "I will survive it, I believe," he said, "but things will never be the same again for me."
-A. Nichole Chip
This article first appeared in The Emory Wheel and is excerpted with permission.