With regard to Marianne Thamm’s piece in the Daily Maverick of April 30, 2019, we demand the right of reply, the most basic of journalistic principles.
It is hypocritical in the extreme that Thamm and DM accuse us of fake news, when in fact they didn’t afford us a right to reply.
On whose behalf are they acting?
The facts are:
Allegation number one
Thamm alleges that our story about police being on the verge of pouncing on ANC secretary general ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, former SSA DG Arthur Fraser and former SAA board chairperson Dudu Myeni on various charges including murder, corruption and money laundering is a figment of our collective imagination.
Fact number one
It is a fact that police are investigating Magashule in connection with the disappearance of a government-owned painting by South African landscape master JH Pierneef worth R8 million. He is facing charges of theft for allegedly giving it away to one of his bodyguards while serving as Premier of the Free State. Police from the Parkweg Police Station are probing a case of theft under CAS 1362/10/2018.
Magashule himself as confirmed as much. Further confirmation was found from Magashule’s successor, Sam Mashinini, in response to a DA parliamentary question in March this year.
“Yes, the SAPS is investigating the alleged theft, as per Parkweg CAS 1362/10/2018 Theft of Pierneef painting to the value of 8 million rand. Investigation was finalised. The Pierneef painting has been recovered and was handed over to the Office of the Premier. The case was forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecution for decision,” said Mashinisi.
Allegation number two
Thamm claims we made up stuff when we reported that Nedbank had served Fraser with a notice on April 23 that it intended to close his accounts on May 22.
She wrote: “Fraser, the duo reported, had received notice from ‘his bank of more than 20 years’ that his account was being closed on 22 May. Neither the bank nor Fraser confirmed the information to Rampedi and Wa Afrika who wrote that Fraser had ‘declined’ to confirm that he had received a notice from his bank. The writers make the claim that a ‘source close to him’ confirmed the notice and added that Fraser was ‘planning to challenge the bank’. ‘It is believed investigators told Fraser they were acting on allegations disclosed in author Jacques Pauw’s book, The President’s Keepers,’ wrote Rampedi and Wa Afrika.Hearsay on stilts.”
Fact number two
It is a fact that Nedbank served Fraser with such notice. The notice, seen by ourselves, was signed by Mervin Pillay, Nedbank’s Provincial Manager for Small Business and Provincial Banking for Gauteng East.
Titled “termination of banking relationship with Nedbank Limited”, the notice read in part: “After a review of our banking relationship with you we are of the opinion that the bank can no longer continue the relationship with you as it could pose a reputational risk to us.
“As provided by paragraph 3.1 and 7.3 of the Code of Banking Practice, we hereby give you notice of 30 calendar days of our intention to terminate the banking relationship and the opportunity to find alternative bankers and is based on the conditions detailed below.
“Your cheque account will be closed on 22 May 2019, once all pending entries have been passed. All bank cards linked to the accounts must be destroyed or surrendered.”
The fact that Fraser at the time declined to confirm or deny it on record does not constitute a fabrication on our part. Fraser has since issued a statement on April 29 confirming what we reported.
He said: "Nedbank has inexplicably targeted my family, i.e, my son Lyall Fraser and my brother Barry Fraser. I remain in the dark about the nature and details of the alleged reputational risk, if any, that may have led to Nedbank making what I view as an unjustified decision. This comes after my lawyers have just given notice to Jacques Pauw’s attorneys, advising that I would be filing a defamation against him for the false and defamatory statements contained in his recent book, THE PRESIDENT’S KEEPERS, about me and my family.”
In response to Fraser’s statement, Nedbank is itself also not in denial of our story. Said spokesperson Kedibone Molopyane on the evening of April 29: “As per Mr Arthur Fraser’s statement released today, Nedbank can confirm that it did issue him with a client termination notice. However, we cannot disclose details of the reasons or further client information.”
Allegation number three
Quoting Pauw, Thamm alleged that the apology by Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko, was “proof” that we were “played” when we published stories about the illegal South African Revenue Service’s (SARS) unit.
“In October 2018 Pauw wrote that while Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko’s apology for the SARS rogue unit and other stories was only the beginning of a ‘journalistic healing process’, the public still needed to know about and expose ‘the hidden hand that played (Stephan) Hofstatter and his colleagues.’
“This was not just sloppy reporting or journalists that got it wrong. This was manufactured journalism that was meant to disinform and to ultimately damage our law-enforcement agencies.
"This was journalism that had a higher purpose: to keep Jacob Zuma in power and weaken and ultimately eliminate his enemies. Were any of the Sunday Times journalists paid by crime intelligence or the SSA? Were they agents?’ asked Pauw,” wrote Thamm.
Fact number three
It is no secret that we (Rampedi and Wa Afrika) publicly challenged Siqoko’s apology which was issued for less than a good motive. We have long dismissed it as being baseless, commercially and politically motivated, and for being the outcome of an under-handed deal Sunday Times had struck with members of the SARS rogue unit whom we had investigated while working for the paper before Siqoko’s arrival. Rampedi contested the motive and basis for the apology, and subsequently resigned in protest in 2016.
Rampedi’s resignation letter reads in part: “The reasons for my resignation are, among other things, what I consider to be unethical conduct by the Sunday Times editors and/or Times Media Group in entering into an underhanded deal with Ivan Pillay, Johann Van Loggerenberg, representatives of Minister Pravin Gordhan and other former SARS officials that my colleagues and I have been investigating for the past two years for their alleged roles in the setting up and running of the rogue unit.
"The deal is to the effect that there will apparently be a truce between disputing parties, the suppression of ‘negative stories’ about former SARS officials. And the suspension of the Press Council Appeal process which presented an opportunity for chairperson Judge Bernard Ngoepe to potentially set aside an adverse Press Ombudsman ruling which effectively branded me a liar.
"This is evidenced by the three meetings, of which you are aware, held between three Sunday Times editors and Pillay, Van Loggerenberg and representatives of Gordhan. The other separate meetings were held between Sunday Times editors and [Johann] Retief’s representatives (initiated by Retief) in January (2016) after the Deputy Press Ombudsman was tipped off that we now had a copy of the final KPMG report he had claimed did not exist."
Wa Afrika also left of his own accord after Sunday Times editors asked him to stay at home for a year on full pay, saying they were under pressure from a certain government minister to fire him for unspecified reasons. Sunday Times editors later begged him to rejoin the paper after hearing that he was on the verge of joining Independent Media.
Pauw wrote extensively on the SARS unit, for Media24, around 2015 and 2016. He, Thamm herself and other journalists published a different narrative, which we never rubbished on social media. We also did not call the duo or their employers names on facts at our disposal for writing what they saw as facts about the SARS unit. We allowed the public to decide.
Allegation number four
Thamm also accuses us of publishing hearsay when we reported that Magashule claimed that organs of state were being used “in a titanic battle for the soul of the party”.
She wrote: ”The duo wrote that ‘on Sunday, Deputy Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Obed Bapela, confirmed that Hawks generals had tipped him off that his office would be raided this week as part of an unspecified investigation against him.’"
"Hearsay on steroids part two occurs when the journalists quote Bapela as saying ‘he was also told there were plans to arrest Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and raid the ANC headquarters, Luthuli House’."
Fact number four
It is true that we spoke to Bapela and Magashule, and that they said whatever we published, which we clearly stated as a claim and not a fact. These ANC leaders have not disputed what we quoted them as having said. So, why would Thamm find it compelling to protest on their behalf or present herself to be their spokesperson to dispute that these interviews never took place, nor that Bapela and Magashule were spoken to?
It would be perfectly in order were she to say if any possible information coming her way from the two was different. That is not what Thamm is saying.
Allegation number five
The fifth allegation is that we were part of a “disgraced” Sunday Times investigations unit which published “fake news”.
“Rampedi, Wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter were part of the disgraced Sunday Times investigative unit which published a series of fake news stories with regard to the SARS ‘rogue unit’ as well as the ‘Cato Manor death squads’ during 2013 and 2014. The Sunday Times later, after a ruling by the Press Ombud, retracted and apologised for the stories while in March 2019 the conveners of the prestigious Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism withdrew runner-up awards to Hofstatter, Wa Afrika and Rob Rose,” she said.
Fact number five
While it is well known that the Cato Manor stories were co-written by Wa Afrika, Rob Rose and Stephan Hofstatter, Thamm excludes Rose from a list of “fake news reporters” for reasons known only to her and her clique.
Back to the real issue, It is well known that we have challenged Siqoko’s apology for both the SARS unit and the Cato Manor stories, for being bogus, staged and based on a nefarious motive of trying to influence court cases in favour of senior police officers who were charged for their alleged role in the deaths of Cato Manor taxi owners.
We still do not know why Siqoko, who was not a Sunday Times employee when the two stories were published and thus had nothing to do with them, found it necessary to “review” them and apologised” on the basis of unspecified “representations” from implicated parties.
Apart from the journalists who co-wrote the Cato Manor stories, other parties rejected the same apologies from Siqoko that Thamm attaches value to.
Ray Hartley, who was Sunday Times editor when the Cato Manor story was published, said Siqoko had “cast serious doubt” over the publication of stories under his watch in 2011. “He points out that only 12 of the killings, not 18, were suspicious. To his mind, this makes a difference. To mine it does not,” said Hartley.
“This was a story about the excessive of force by a police unit which resulted in lives being taken, not a speculative blog post about a conspiracy.”
Mary De Haas, a researcher that has spent years following the activities of the Cato Manor police, also dismissed Siqoko’s apology in an open letter copied to the Zondo Commission.
After listing specific cases of deaths in the hands of Cato Manor police, Haas said: “So, in conclusion Mr. Editor, having hopefully read what I have written, please tell me if I have missed something important regarding the reporting on the Cato Manor Unit, and please tell everyone why you think the journalists who wrote the Death Squad story have, like those writing during apartheid, distorted the truth – and provide us with the factual bias on which you have apparently decided the story is ‘fake news’.”
Wa Afrika is also legally challenging Anton Harber’s decision to withdraw the Taco Kuiper Award. He has already sent him a lawyer’s letter.
* Piet Rampedi and Mzilikazi wa Afrika are members of the Independent Media Investigations Unit.