Former Sunday Times columnist David Bullard has laid criminal charges against South African National Editors Forum chairperson and Avusa editor-in-chief, Mondli Makhanya. The charges stem from a wrongful dismissal case that Bullard brought against Avusa after he was fired in 2008 for a column – Uncolonised Africa Wouldn’t Know What It Was Missing – that the Sunday Times said was racist.
A few days after the column was published, Makhanya, who was editor of the Sunday Times at the time, apologised for publishing it, saying that “by publishing him (Bullard) we were complicit in disseminating his Stone Age philosophies”.
Bullard, in turn, says he apologised for the offending column and offered to resign, but says that Makhanya refused his resignation – only to fire him shortly afterwards. Bullard believes this was a deliberate attempt to make scandal capital out of the whole affair, and filed a wrongful dismissal suit.
But now, after the civil case against Avusa is still going on, four years later, Bullard has filed criminal charges. “Through various nefarious ways, and gross dishonesty, Avusa has dragged this out,” Bullard told TheMediaOnline. “I decided to call their bluff.
“So, under advice from my lawyers, I have laid charges of forgery and uttering, fraud and attempting to obstruct the course of justice against Mondli Makhanya. In our opinion the case is clear cut….if Makhanya signed an affidavit claiming that a document he knew to be fraudulent was genuine then he has broken the law. Further charges of perjury may result from an investigation,” Bullard says.
The document in questions relates to a hearing on February 8, 2010 about the wrongful dismissal case brought Bullard against Avusa before the Statutory Council for the Newspaper, Printing and Packaging Industry. At the hearing, Makhanya asked for permission to introduce a new document as evidence after the lunch recess.
“Although this was a bit irregular we agreed to it and the document was produced. It purported to be Fred Khumalo’s contract and the purpose of introducing it was to demonstrate that my contract was different and that, therefore, I couldn’t have been an employee of the company and thus the case would be dismissed.
“My attorney Ari Soldatos noticed that the contract was on Avusa notepaper and dated July 21, 2004. He drew my attention to it and we both agreed that Avusa had only started trading in 2008 which made it impossible for this to be a genuine document. Our suspicion was that it had been cobbled together during the lunch recess with the sole purpose of misleading the commissioner hearing the case,” Bullard says.
The case then had to be reheard on September 1, 2010 at extra expense. “Makhanya was called as our witness and claimed that he had ‘sought answers to the highest level’ as to how this document came into existence but had received no answers. He claimed it was what the HR department had given him but conceded that no disciplinary action had been taken. (A recording exists of his testimony.)
“On re-examination by his own lawyer, he claimed that Fred Khumalo had looked for the original contract but couldn’t find it. He had apparently had the builders in and the implication was that they had stolen it (for what commercial gain we are unsure),” says Bullard.
“Both Fred Khumalo and Mondli Makhanya have signed sworn affidavits in front of a commissioner of oaths that the document is genuine. Unless they didn’t know the name of their employer in 2004 this is highly improbable,” he says.
Bullard believes the purpose of the fraudulent document “was to affect the outcome of my case against AVUSA for wrongful dismissal”.
Bullard says he’d like the outcome to reflect the fact that it was Makhanya and his team who had let the column through in the first place. “They should have played the ball, not the man,” he says. “The media is already suffering a crisis in credibility, and this kind of thing doesn’t help.
“I don’t give a damn about popularity. I want justice. I lost my job, was called a racist and lost business for a few months afterwards. People crossed the street because they were too embarrassed to face me. I tell you, I found out who my real friends were during that time,” he says.
Approached for comment, Makhanya did not respond to questions from TheMediaOnline. But Avusa is reported to be putting it down to “a labour dispute involving a former freelance writer”.