Volume 11, No. 26, 26 July 2012
The unholy trinity – the roots of corruption in our society
By Jeremy Cronin, SACP 1st Deputy General Secretary
The scourge of corruption in South Africa has tightened its grip on our society over the past decade, threatening our democratic achievements, eroding the capacity of the state to advance serious socio-economic transformation, and often undermining the solidarity culture of our broad movement. The SACP was amongst the first formations to actively launch a mass campaign against corruption – A Red Card Against Corruption. Tragically, there are already martyrs in the struggle against this corrosive evil – among them Mpumalanga SACP cadre, Radioman Ntshangase, and Rustenburg municipal councilor and former NUMSA shopsteward, Moss Phakoe. Both were gunned down for their courageous stands against corruption.
But what lies behind this terrible contagion?
Various explanations are advanced in the South African public debate. Often it is reduced to bad individual behavior calling for moral condemnation – a “few bad apples”, of whom “an example” must be made. Clearly this is not entirely wrong – those involved in corruption must be dealt with, regardless of who they are, regardless of their political affiliations. In fact, we should expect and demand a higher level of conduct from those who are members of our broad democratic movement and especially from those in public service.
But, sadly, we are dealing with something much more systemic than simply a “few bad apples”. In an attempt to find a more generalized explanation for corruption we sometimes encounter syndicalist left-wingers unwittingly echoing “free market” right-wingers in their exaggerated suspicion of the state (or at least the democratic state in a capitalist society) defining it as inherently and in its totality “corrupt”. “Power corrupts”, we are frequently told – often by an oligopolistic commercial media that likes to conceal its own massive market power.
The idea that politicians and the state are, more or less by definition, corrupt is liable to undermine our determination to use state power (along with social activism) to deal decisively with corruption. It also helps to obscure the fact that where corruption occurs in the public sector there is, invariably, a private sector corrupter, a Glenn Agliotti or a Brett Kebble. For every black property tycoon working in collusion with senior public servants to lease buildings at hugely inflated prices to government there is typically a big bank. The bank might well not literally be breaking the law, but its own senior staff involved in the lease will know exactly what is going on. They will quietly earn inflated bonuses for bringing in business, while the bank chairman publicly condemns the corruption of the new “extraordinary breed of politicians.”
Other explanations for corruption in our society belong to the anti-majoritarian pseudo-liberal current of thought. Corruption is blamed on some supposed generalized tendencies within post-independence, Third World liberation movements, for instance. Other explanations border on racial stereotyping, on the supposed propensities of the “new elite” (as if the old elite were not often deeply complicit in past and present corruption).
As it happens, the “new elite” is the key focus of two recent thoughtful interventions by Professor Njabulo Ndebele and cde Joel Netshitenzhe. Writing in the City Press (“A meditation on corruption”, 22 January 2012), Ndebele argues that the “new elite”, since being installed in power in the post-1994 reality, has been tugged between competing imperatives – individual redress versus substantial social development, redistribution versus systemic transformation. Although he doesn’t quite say this, Ndebele correctly implies that the competing logics of these very different imperatives were often blurred in language as if they were one and the same thing. “Transformation”, for instance, came to mean not the radical transformation of the systemic features of apartheid-colonialism, but a touch of racial representivity within essentially the same unchanged realities – the same boardrooms, the same wealthy suburbs, the same elite golf clubs.
Ndebele argues that the “new elite” was increasingly torn between its own “personal material needs…shaped by historical deprivation” on the one hand, and the “social commitment that once gave meaning to the struggle for liberation” on the other. In Ndebele’s view, “access to state wealth” meant that relatively quickly individual redress became individual entitlement and these values then trumped social transformation, side-lining it into little more than a “niggling ethical burden”.
Writing in ANC Today (“Competing identities of a national liberation movement and the challenges of incumbency”, 15 June 2012) Cde Joel Netshitenzhe follows a similar trajectory to explain corruption. He invokes concepts like the “sins of incumbency” and the problem of “growing social distance” between the new political elite and its mass base. Like Ndebele, he analyses the roots of corruption in the psycho-sociological challenges confronting an “emerging middle class” without historical assets to support large extended families, leading it to take on excessive debt. “Having dipped their toes in that lifestyle, but with no historical assets as are available to the white middle and upper strata, some then try to acquire the resources by hook or crook.”
There are certainly strong elements of readily recognizable truth in both Ndebele and Netshitenzhe’s descriptions. But that is also part of the problem – they tend to remain descriptions, and somewhat one-sided descriptions at that. As a result they are also unable to offer serious anti-corruption programmatic interventions, beyond the very important but limited pedagogical appeal for a change in moral values.
In the public discussion in SA about corruption insufficient attention has been paid to class struggles within our movement, and between our movement and incumbent capital, over the direction of our post-1994 democracy. In particular, there is a failure to recognize that the established white bourgeoisie did not stand idly by in the face of the new, post-1994 political reality. They continued to pursue the agenda of late-apartheid, namely to build a relatively substantial “buffer” black middle strata. This was already the agenda of big capital in the early 1990s negotiations period, for instance. It was no longer a question of preventing the ANC coming to power, but rather to ensure that the ANC that came into power would be hegemonised by the “doves”, the “sensible moderates” who would distance themselves from the dangerous “radical populists” and their volatile “mass base”.
Much has been made in certain anti-alliance quarters about the woeful consequences of “cadre deployment” – as if (as ANC secretary general, cde Gwede Mantashe likes to point out) the corrupt promotion of someone ill-suited and unqualified for a position on the grounds that they happen to be a political associate was “cadre deployment”. But in all of this debate very little has ever been said about the systematic “cadre development and deployment” that key circles of big capital (both domestic and international) implemented in the immediate pre- and post-1994 period. How many key ANC-aligned individuals, for instance, were quietly taken out for internships in arch neo-liberal corporations in the United States, like Goldman Sachs? (Goldman Sachs has recently been deeply discredited, by the way, for its role in provoking and in profiteering from the Greek debt crisis.) Those who “benefited” from this neo-liberal cadre development were then deployed back into strategic positions in government. If I am not mistaken, at least two recent Treasury DGs were graduates of the Goldman Sachs cadre school.
The “social” (and of course ideological and moral) “distance” that cde Netshitenzhe evokes might not have been a conspiracy, but it was certainly part of a deliberate strategy. It was not just an inevitable psycho-sociological syndrome related to historical deprivation, to large extended families, and to the newfound privileges of incumbency.
By the mid-1990s, a key strategy for engineering “social distance” and for consolidating a buffer black elite stratum was the policy of “black economic empowerment”. This amounted to a social pact between elements within the new political elite and established big capital. From the side of established big capital it represented in many respects a re-run of how mining and banking capital had once accommodated itself to the 1948 Afrikaner nationalist political victory. But it was also a strategy that was embraced and actively developed by a dominant tendency within the ANC and government (what the SACP has described as the “1996 class project”). For this revisionist tendency within the ANC and government, the creation of a new BEE elite was seen as an active counter-balance to the influence of the SACP, COSATU and the ANC’s own township and rural mass base. The strategy found active ideological expression in key ANC documents, including the vulgarization of the concept of “revolutionary motive forces” – with the argument being advanced that all forces that “stood to gain” from the national democratic revolution “were motive forces”. This amounted to a local version of the free market “invisible hand” credo that the selfish pursuit of individual satisfaction inevitably leads to the greater good of all.
The first wave of BEE advancements were not necessarily all corrupt (although many questions still surround key early BEE-related moves – notably the arms deal). But the canonization of “BEE” as a central programme of government brought into play a dangerous nexus between political office, personal enrichment, and established capital. The narratives of Ndebele and Netshitenzhe tend to leave out the critical last component of this corrosive, unholy trinity. Let me underline that I am not evoking established capital in order to deflect attention from the culpabilities of the other two components – those who brazenly declared that they “hadn’t struggled to be poor”.
However, unless we grasp the triadic nexus, this unholy trinity, we will not begin to understand the systemic roots of corruption in our society. Nor will we be able to develop an effective multi-pronged counter-strategy. For instance, the “social distance” that cde Netshitenzhe and others invoke is not just a metaphor – in South Africa, in which we have not transformed apartheid colonial spatial injustices, social distance is also a yawning geographical reality. For those familiar with the childrens’ board-game, our untransformed social reality can easily pitch the new middle strata into a political game of snakes and ladders, in which the snakes and the ladders are exaggeratedly long. If you land on the right square, by securing a regional chairpersonship in the ANC for instance, you might suddenly find yourself on a heady upward ascension. But if you lose your footing, you are liable to fall rapidly down a very long snake, back to zero and abject poverty.
This heady, insecure world of rags-to-riches and riches-to-rags opens up enormous possibilities for strategic (including corrupting) leverage over the new democratic state and over our own alliance formations by those who are well-established and well-resourced. The struggle against corruption and the material conditions that foster it has, therefore, to be a struggle for a much more egalitarian society. We have literally to abolish, amongst many things, the social distance engraved in our persisting apartheid spatial patterns through the accelerated planning and implementation of mixed-used, mixed-income settlement patterns. But this means taking head-on the vested interests of the established capitalist class (the value of their residential properties, for instance), and the venal interests of a comprador elite that has been promoted as a buffer against serious transformation.
By Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary
The recent remarks by FW de Klerk would not be worth our time and response as he is a politician who has long reached his sell-by date, and an apartheid political dinosaur in the true sense of the word. But for the record it is important to comment about the SACP and the National Democratic Revolution so that no one must be misled by this last president of the illegitimate, minority apartheid regime.
All what de Klerk is saying about the SACP is nothing but an attempt at resuscitating the classical, but failed, apartheid ‘rooi gevaar’ tactic which was used by his now extinct National Party and its criminal apartheid regime not only to persecute communists but as part of the whole armoury to fight against the liberation movement. The apartheid regime of which he was a part for his entire adult life, committed acts and pursued policies that were rightly declared as a crime against humanity by the international community. This was often done by the apartheid regime in the name of fighting communism and communists.
De Klerk’s latest anti-communist burst is nothing more than rehashing this nonsense, and in fact exposing that the likes of him no longer have any relevance in today’s South Africa, if they ever did at all. Not so long ago he let the cat out of the bag by clearly stating he still firmly believes that the bantustan policies were the correct ones for South Africa.
It is indeed a shame that the SABC even ran some of de Klerk’s comments as headline news in some of its radio stations, as if what he is saying is anything profoundly new, insightful or remotely progressive. We hope the public broadcaster won’t be tempted to hark back to the days of Radio Bantu, Radio South Africa and Springbok Radio, especially by those of its elements in the Board and news services who share de Klerk’s anti-communist and anti-SACP sentiments!
We need to remind de Klerk that the reason why his National Party is extinct today, and the SACP has just emerged from its largest Congress ever, with the largest membership in its history, simply reflects the starkly different roles that these two formations have played in the history of South Africa. The National Party till today still remains guilty of one of the most heinous crimes against humanity, whilst the SACP has a proud history of having fought against this evil and the National Party-led apartheid regime!
The tone of de Klerk’s speech and accusations against the SACP is as if some of the things he is saying about us we had ever denied. Yes, the SACP unashamedly stands and is struggling for a communist society, as the only logical alternative to the barbarism of capitalism, which has brought only misery and starvation to billions of people in the world. It is a system that, as we speak, is in a deep crisis, throwing additional millions of people into poverty, and even threatening to destroy our planet and the survival of humanity itself.
We know de Klerk makes these points in order to resuscitate another old apartheid trick that the ANC is remote-controlled by the SACP. This is yet another failed attempt used by the apartheid regime to try and discredit the ANC and to implant hatred and mistrust between the ANC and the SACP. Even in this day and age de Klerk still hopes that this trick will work. You cannot teach an old dog new tricks!
Whilst the SACP has acknowledged the many mistakes made by sections of the international communist movement and some of the erstwhile communist governments, this must not blind us to two other realities. Firstly, it was the international communist movement that made enormous contributions and sacrifices in the defeat of fascism in the 1940s, at a time when the Western imperialist powers were hoping that Hitler’s invasion of the then Soviet Union would weaken and collapse the communist governments at the time. It was the Red Army of the Soviet Union, under the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that defeated Hitler and fascism in the Second World War, thus saving humanity from apartheid’s twin evil of fascism. Interestingly the very same National Party of de Klerk was an open admirer of Hitler’s fascism! It was this reality of the similarities and collusion between apartheid and fascism that is well captured in our own Brian Bunting’s excellent book, ‘The Rise of the South African Reich’ published in 1986.
The international communist movement also made a unique and incomparable contribution to the national liberation struggles of the 20th Century worldwide. Without the principled support of the international communist movement, led by the Soviet Union, many countries in the world would not have been liberated today from the shackles of imperialism and apartheid. Indeed our own liberation owes the Soviet Union and the international communist movement enormous debt and gratitude for their unselfish contribution in the struggle against apartheid and in the material and other support to our own national liberation movement.
Secondly, the SACP must also remind de Klerk and all other South Africans about the one other crucial difference between the National Party and the South African Communist Party. The National Party was the principal force repression, darkness and all that has been evil in humanity whilst, on the other hand, the SACP was part of the forces that fought together with the forces of national liberation and democracy, and was therefore part of the victorious forces that defeated the apartheid regime. Today, the National Party is extinct and the apartheid regime is no more, thanks also to the dedication and sacrifices made by South African communists, under the leadership of the South African Communist Party! That is why as South African communists we can proudly say today - as we have always said even in 1950 when the criminal apartheid regime outlawed us – that the SACP belongs to the future of this country, whilst the National Party (of which de Klerk was its last leader) belongs not only to the past, but to the museum of shame in South Africa!
Lest de Klerk, and other liberal fellow travellers, forgets, it is not his generosity that liberated South Africa from the shackles of the apartheid regime, but it was the struggles of the millions of ordinary South Africans – led by the ANC and its allies - that defeated the apartheid regime and dislodged it from power!
Whilst we do not opportunistically distance ourselves from mistakes made by the communist movement, at the same time the history of the SACP is the history of a heroic and principled struggle against national oppression in South Africa, and international solidarity with all other progressive forces in the world in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.
Again, we have never hidden our views about the national democratic revolution (NDR). The SACP is part of the forces driving our NDR, and we believe that the attainment of the key objectives of the NDR (non-racialism, non-sexism, democracy and a more egalitarian South African society) is an important objective in itself that is worth fighting for. This will go a long way towards the full emancipation of the majority of the people of our country - politically, socially and economically. It is the necessity to continue struggling for the attainment of the objectives of the NDR that binds our alliance together.
However, it is our firm belief as the SACP – as we are being vindicated once again by the current global capitalist crisis – that our people will never attain their full emancipation under capitalism, thus necessitating the intensification of the struggle for socialism. In fact the current capitalist crisis provides even more fertile ground for intensified spread of socialist ideas amongst the masses of the working and poor people globally and in our own country, as part of the offensive to ultimately overthrow the capitalist system.
In fact our answer to de Klerk must be for the SACP, emerging from its highly successful congress, to intensify the spreading of socialist values and ideas in the widest possible sections of South African society, deepen the critique of capitalism as a system, organize the working class as a political force for democracy and socialism by building an even stronger SACP.
By Cde Gwede Mantashe, ANC Secretary General, article appeared first on Sowetan’s edition of 26 July 2012.
THE article "North West infighting report back to haunt the ANC", July 20, once more reflects the dangers plaguing the media sector, which we have been at pains to caution against.
First, we have sought to highlight to various editors that it is imperative that they endeavour to employ knowledgeable, experienced and dedicated reporters.
The critical challenge is that the South African media industry suffers from a dearth of journalistic quality. The newsrooms abound with junior reporters lacking in the most basic skills associated with the trade, including those of checking and crosschecking information.
Related to that would be the examination of the source(s) so as to ascertain reliability, especially in the context of the matter being investigated. These qualities we have referred to inform the content placed in the public arena.
The credibility of the report finds resonance in two of the three key elements sacrosanct in journalism, namely accuracy and balance. All these factors are meant to place the reporter in a position of one without reproach. It also assists a reporter in avoiding being perceived as a factional writer.
The second aspect we have cautioned against is that journalists should take heed and avoid acting as couriers of factional agendas inside political parties, in particular the ANC.
When a journalist lacks the aforementioned qualities, they tend to depend on gossip or corridor talk peddled as authentic information. Journalists become cannon fodder to groups or factions seeking to advance their own views, or seeking to project a particular perception about the organisation or certain individuals.
This cautioning seems to have evaded the Sowetan reporter responsible for the erroneous article. We would like to believe that the error emanates from a lack of basic skills in journalistic etiquette, as opposed to being aligned to factional reporting. Therefore, the workings of a political organisation such as ours are beyond him.
Turning to the facts of the situation regarding the national working committee meeting with the North West provincial executive committee (PEC), the following should be stated:
First, there was neither reference to nor discussion of the alleged two-year-old report he refers to. Second, the reporter's investigative skills are found wanting. Had he done proper research, he would have known that the last provincial executive committee of the North West was disbanded after the national executive committee received three reports which pointed to the fact there was paralysis in the province. The province was then run by a provincial task team for about 18 months. The current PEC is in office for one year and five months, which is less than two years. Third, on challenges facing the ANC and its ability to carry out its mandate, we have been ready to engage this paper and furnish it with information.
We remain determined to continue offering the Sowetan opportunities to engage the ANC, because we understand this to be in the interest of informing the public of what the ANC is doing in North West. The organisational problems in the province are being attended to with the necessary seriousness.
We hope that the Sowetan will also make an effort by seeking to interact with the ANC in an honest and genuine manner, ensuring that our organisation stays accountable. It would be commendable were the Sowetan to recognise the fallacy of its report and correct it. At face value these issues seem petty. However, these are fundamental if the profession is to continue playing its part of informing and educating the public and ensuring those in power remain under scrutiny, and are made to account for what they do or say.
Among the recommendations made by the Media Freedoms Commission is one on the need to step up the training of journalists, as a mechanism of protecting the prestige of the profession. More than the prestige of the profession, at stake is the matter of the media being beyond reproach and informing rather than misinforming society. Misinformation weakens citizens and makes them gullible to sensationalism. Members of society are disempowered from making reasonable conclusions about challenges facing them.
We publish below a ruling made by the Deputy Press Ombudsman on the complaint laid by the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, against Sowetan. Readers will see for themselves what Sowetan has been instructed to carry out. We have deliberately left out the section where the ombudsman dictated the wording to be published.
At the time of publishing Umsebenzi On Line Sowetan had not carried out the ruling. We can only assuming they locked somewhere with a team of lawyers reading the ruling line-by-line trying to find a loophole for appeal. That’s their right and we must defend it.
However, reading the article published here above, recalling the ugly scenes of the front page story of correctional officers engaged in fornication and the subsequent public outcry, and reading the ruling below we can come to no conclusion but that the editor of Sowetan, Mr. Mpumelelo “Public-Interest” Mkhabela must hang his head in shame.
It is surprising that Mr. Editor doesn’t practice what he preaches about those who hold public office and commit errors. Has he considered resigning like how he and his ilk would have made a call had one public official erred? Why did he allow his membership of the Midrand Group to blur his judgment at the detriment of a credible publication like Sowetan? For how long will the Editor be allowed to implement restructuring programmes that have demoralized field journalists so much in order to secure profits for owners at the expense of the quality of output from the newsroom?
We hear that Ray Hartley is on his way out. We hope the owners of AVUSA wont make a mistake of promoting our good editor to go and rubble The Sunday Times.
July 24, 2012
This ruling is based on the written submissions of Ms Vuyelwa Qinga, for Mr Blade Nzimande, and the Sowetan newspaper.
Mr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and General Secretary of the SA Communist Party, complains about a column and an accompanying cartoon in Sowetan on 11 June 2012. The article was headlined Calling analysts ‘dogs’ is dangerous – In defending Zuma, Blade Nzimande insulted people.
Nzimande complains that the:
To this, I add Nzimande’s right of reply.
The column, written by Prince Mashele, says that Nzimande said that political analysts “are ‘a pack of dogs’.” It then goes on to criticize him on several issues. (Mashale is the CEO of The Forum for Public Dialogue and teaches politics at the University of Pretoria.)
This was based on an earlier story on June 1 in which the newspaper reported that Nzimande said: “When you look at the analysts that there are in the media, they are like a pack of dogs criticizing the ruling party and government.” That story reported that Nzimande uttered these words while addressing vice-chancellors of universities at the University of Johannesburg.
The cartoon sketches an angry, barking dog (Nzimande) in front of five political analysts.
Political analysts ‘dogs’
The column states it as fact that Nzimande said that political analysts “are” a pack of dogs.
Nzimande denies that this statement was true. He states that he said that there was “a lack of diversity in the media in South Africa, and the media attacks like a pack of wild dogs when it is criticizing the government or the ruling party”.
He adds that this misleading statement suggested that he was rude and insulted people without provocation and complains that it impacted negatively on his public image and reputation.
Sowetan replies that it was represented at the meeting by a senior reporter, an intern and a photographer. Its education reporter took notes and immediately thereafter wrote the story – and concludes that Nzimande did make the remark – “that analysts writing in the media were like a pack of dogs”.
Qinga writes: “In terms of the English grammar, I understand this to be referred to as a simile – i.e. likening the behaviour of journalists in reporting on government or the ruling party to how a pack of wild dogs attack and NOT saying that analysts or even the media are actually dogs (or wild dogs).”
I asked Qinga twice if I could possibly get a recording of Nzimande’s speech. No co-operation was forthcoming, so I eventually decided to carry on with my finding without the benefit of listening to such a recording.
Firstly, let me try to find some common ground here:
Therefore, it is not in dispute that Nzimande said that analysts were like a pack of dogs.
The strongest argument, however, come from the notes taken by the journalist. They said: “…many analysts (are) like (a) pack of wild dogs…”
This is conclusive, I would suggest.
I pointed out to the Sowetan (email on 17 July) that unlike the 1 June story, the column stated that Nzimande said that they “are” dogs. I noted that this was not the same thing, and told the editor that he was welcome to comment on this observation – which he did not do.
It is indeed one thing to say that someone acts (verb) like a dog, and quite another to state that s/he is a dog (noun).
To the Sowetan’s argument that the column was about an analyst’s interpretation I need to say that more is on the plate here – the fact of the matter is that Mashele changed Nzimandi’s words and then based his interpretation on the “new”, but false (even according to the editor) version.
It is true that the Press Code guarantees freedom of expression when it comes to comment, but it also builds in the provision that comment should “take fair account of all available facts which are material to the matter commented upon”.
I also refer to the Constitutional Court’s ruling in April 2011 in this regard (Robert McBride vs. National Media) which said: “Criticism is protected, even if it is extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced, as long as it is an honest opinion, without malice, in the public interest and founded on true facts.” (own emphasis)
Seen together, this means that an analyst may not change (or ignore) a material fact, present the changed version as fact, and then continue to criticize the “new”, but untrue statement. That is simply not fair.
This is exactly what has happened with the column.
Note: The editor says that “as things stand” Nzimande never challenged the original story. But why would he, as the story merely reported that the Minister said that analysts were “like a pack of dogs” (which is not in dispute)? It is the assertion that they “are” dogs, as reflected in the column, that Nzimande challenges – hence his press statement, and his complaint to this office.
Call for violence
Mashele argues in his column that the use of the word “dog” was inflammatory. He explains that readers would understand this as inciting violence, and argues that “words kill” – as was the case with the genocide in Rwanda (after Hutus called Tutsis “cockroaches”).
He goes even further: “Quite clearly, Nzimande is not different from Hutus. Hutus called Tutsis cockroaches, Blade calls political analysts ‘dogs’. Fortunately, there is a difference between the Rwandese and South Africans. Even as Nzimande wishes death upon Habib, Friedman and Brown, South Africans are generally not murderous.” (emphasis added)
Nzimande says that to be called a dog among Africans (Sowetan’s readership is predominantly black) “is an insult that can even lead to a violent confrontation”. He also complains that Mashele’s linking of “dogs” to a call for a stoning made by a church-group (against the artist who painted a naked image of Zuma) suggests some acts of violence against the analysts. He also objects to the parallel that Mashele drew with the Rwandan context. He says the inference that can be drawn was that he was fanning the flames of violence against political analysts in the same manner than the Hutus did in Rwanda.
The newspaper does not respond to this part of the complaint.
Firstly, Mashele based his argument on sand as he made much out of nothing (as argued above).
Secondly, I am not too sure that the reference to “dog” as such would have or may have led to violence.
However, going by the gist of the column Nzimande was justified in complaining that this kind of comment falsely implied (“inference drawn”) that he was fanning the flames of violence. In fact, I would have worded the complaint even harsher if I were in his shoes. Mashele’s statement that Nzimande whished death on some analysts (he wrote “even as”, not “even if”) leaves little doubt that the writer directly accused him of murderous intentions.
This is the most unethical (especially read: unfair) comment that I can recall after having dealt with approximately 500 complaints in this office. Let me repeat: I cannot recall ever having seen irresponsible journalism on such an ugly scale as this. It does not get any worse.
The Preamble to the Press Code states: “As journalists, we commit ourselves to the highest standards of excellence, to maintain credibility and keep the trust of our readers. This means striving for the maximum truth, avoiding unnecessary harm and acting independently.” (emphasis added)
Mashele has succeeded in accomplishing the exact opposite.
Specific well-known political analysts
The column starts as follows: “Professor Adam Habib is a political analyst. He is a dog. Karima Brown is a political analyst. She is a dog. Indeed, Aubrey Matshiqi, Steven Friedman and many other political analysts. They too are dogs. This is according to…Nzimande.”
The cartoon also identifies these people.
Nzimande complains that he never referred to these well-known analysts as dogs. “This is another lie used to further prop up the first lie.”
The newspaper does not respond to this part of the complaint.
My argument above is also valid here.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Nzimande did say that media analysts “are” dogs. Even then, though, I do not think that he would have meant each and every analyst without exception. It was therefore again not fair to identify some prominent analysts, and then to conclude that Nzimande called them dogs.
But let me refer to the journalist’s notes again. According to that, Nzimande said that “many” analysts are like a pack of wild dogs – many, not all. Mashele was therefore not justified in saying that Nzimande called specific analysts “dogs”.
There are borders to the freedom of expression, and basing comment on true facts is one of them.
The cartoon does not portray the analysts as dogs. However, it does the opposite – it sketches Nzimande as one.
But again, I do not believe that this would necessarily inflame violence; it was also within the boundaries of freedom of expression.
Mashele writes that, when Nzimande called political analysts dogs, “he was also defending Zuma”.
Nzimande complains that this statement is untrue and unverified.
The newspaper does not respond to this part of the complaint.
Since I have no evidence at my disposal, including a recording of the speech, I am not able to come to a finding on this part of the complaint.
The headline reads: Calling analysts ‘dogs’ is dangerous, with the sub-heading: In defending Zuma, Blade Nzimande insulted people.
Nzimande complains that neither the headline nor the sub-heading reflected the truth.
The headline indeed incorrectly implies that Nzimande called political analysts “dogs”.
I am not able to come to a finding on the sub-heading for the same reason as the (Zuma) issue mentioned above.
Right of reply
Sowetan says that Nzimande initially did not complain and that it later offered him a right of reply of the same length and prominence – an offer that he rejected.
Nzimande replies that he is not interested in a right of reply, but rather in an apology.
To this, the newspaper responds that by demanding an apology Nzimande is merely attempting to avoid taking responsibility for what he said.
I am not suggesting that the June 1 story or Mashele should have asked Nzimande for comment – is not normal practice to ask for comment when reporting on a speech, or when writing a column.
However, after the column Nzimande denied that he called analysts “dogs”, as Mashele alleged. The editor then afforded him a right of reply – and yet the same editor refused to publish Nzimande’s media statement (in which he denied that he ever called analysts “dogs”).
I would have thought that that statement was his reply, and that the newspaper was ethically duty-bound to publish that denial.
In conclusion, Nzimande says that the column was an embarrassment to him, that it brought his integrity into question and caused damage to his public image.
Indeed it did, and unnecessarily so. Sowetan owes him an apology – and a big one at that.
Political analysts ‘dogs’
Mashele used a material fact (“many analysts are like a pack of dogs”), changed it (“analysts are dogs”), and then criticized the latter – which Nzimande never said. This is in breach of Art. 8.3 of the Press Code that states: “Comment by the press shall be an honest expression of opinion, without malice or dishonest motives, and shall take fair account of all available facts which are material to the matter commented upon.”
Call for violence
As Nzimande never said that analysts were dogs, the column falsely implied and stated that Nzimande had been inflaming violence - which caused huge and unnecessary harm to his dignity, reputation and integrity.
This is in breach of:
Specific well-known political analysts
The column falsely implies that Nzimande referred to specific political analysts as “dogs”. This is in breach of Art. 8.3 of the Code.
The complaint regarding the cartoon is dismissed.
The headline incorrectly implies that Nzimande called political analysts “dogs”. This is in breach of Art. 1.1 of the Code that says: “The press shall be obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.”
No finding on the sub-heading.
Right of reply
I shall direct the newspaper to publish Nzimande’s denial, which is contained in the text below.
The Sowetan is directed to apologise to Nzimande for:
The newspaper is severely reprimanded for publishing comment that amounted to such enormous unnecessary damage to Nzimande’s integrity, reputation and character.
Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.
Deputy Press Ombudsman