About 27.9 million people will be heading to the polls in South Africa on May 29. These are critical elections where voters will be electing a president, members of the national assembly and provincial government. There have been concerns about political violence in some parts of the country like KwaZulu Natal, which has the highest proportion of voters and a history of political violence.

The South African political landscape is volatile and diverse. Journalists who will be covering the elections in May 29 need to equip themselves with tools to ensure they share credible information and stay safe. Here are a few tips:




It is important for journalists to do their research before going out into the field. This ensures you get a better understanding of the historical facts of certain issues, which will help you report on the story objectively.  “Every journalist needs to acquaint themselves with statistical data from previous years,” says Ndaedzo Nethonzhe, a freelance political journalist based in Johannesburg.

Journalists need to also consider reading reports from polling companies of the trends and predictions from previous election years.




Journalists will be covering stories in dangerous communities, often without the presence of police. “Always ensure that your colleague or editor knows your location at all times,” says Business Day political journalist, Thando Maeko.

Nethonzhe says it is always best to communicate with a community leader or local councilor before going into the community, who can act as a guide. “Find the number of the police captain in the local police station so they know you are in the area,” he said. This will assist journalists who may find themselves in danger.

Online safety is equally important. Journalists still need to cover stories ethically, credibly, and objectively.

“Journalists should not rush to be the first to share information online. Ensure that what you are sharing is factual,” says Nethonzhe, who adds that journalists should always stick to the facts instead of sharing or rehashing viral controversy, especially on social media.


Dis- and Misinformation During Elections


Election periods always tend to see large amounts of mis- and disinformation being shared online, and journalists always need to remain vigilant so as not to mislead or harm in their reporting.

Maeko says it is very important to stick to the fundamentals of journalism. “Fact checking information from sources repeatedly will ensure that information is credible and factual,” she says.

Ndaedzo says fact checking comments from politicians is equally important. “Journalists need to be able to differentiate between fact and opinion and they can do this through fact checking,” he said.

Journalists need to ensure that they speak to credible sources. “Journalists should never make the mistake of assuming that because information came from a trustworthy source, that it is credible. Instead, they should always verify information received to protect their integrity and deliver factual information to their audience,” says Nethonzhe.


Protect your Mental Health


Journalists work extremely long and demanding hours at the best of times, but during elections the pressure is intensified further. It is important for journalists to find a window to take time off and de-stress to protect their mental health.

“Journalists need to protect their mental health by consuming content not related to elections; go hiking, do an activity which is not related to elections or politics, take a social media break,” says Nethonzhe

Maeko says taking time off to meditate and not engage in any work often helps reduce stress and gain clarity. She says journalists should also follow a healthy diet and get regular exercise, which can improve mental health during intense work periods.

Some media outlets have in-house psychologists and/or mental health programmes, which journalists are encouraged to make use of when they feel overwhelmed. Ndaedzo says speaking to your editor(s) and colleagues can also help, as they can hopefully assist where they can.


Essential Checklist


Contact list: Make sure your contact list is on hand; everyone is important during elections. Journalists need to tell as many stories from as many perspectives as possible.

Protection: Journalists should consider carrying pepper spray if venturing into an unknown, potentially dangerous area, and ensure they have emergency contacts close at hand.

Equipment: Backup battery for your recorder, phone charger, and necessary adapters. Journalists should have more than one phone, to be able to record and be contactable should the other phone die.

Clothing: Always wear comfortable, non-partisan clothing. The time spent at the results centre tends to be extremely long, so journalists need to be comfortable.

Health: Journalists should consider getting flu shots/boosters, carry replenishing aids like Rehydrate or other fluids with electrolytes, and take enough water.

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