Chairperson of the African National Congress, Baleka Mbete, has complained to the Press Ombudsman for what she calls “malicious reporting and headlines published by the Mail & Guardian newspaper”. The story relates to an exposé by the newspaper in which it claims Mbete allegedly took what amounted to a R28 million ‘bribe’ in the form of a substantial shareholding in a Gold Fields BEE deal.
The ANC asked the M&G to retract what it says were “clearly defamatory statements made about her” but that its request “fell on deaf and obstinate ears”. It said the story “provides no proof or evidence of this so-called bribe nor does it substantiate the very damaging aspersions it casts on the National Chairperson in her capacity as an ordinary citizen and as a leader of the African National Congress”.
The M&G refused, standing by its story. In its response to allegations that its story was “flimsy, unsubstantiated … an exercise in slander”, journalists Craig McKune and Drew Forrest asked, “What could be more substantial than the verdict of reputable New York law firm Paul Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, hired by Gold Fields itself to interrogate the 2010 transaction?
“It found ‘credible evidence’ that the company violated the anti-bribery provisions of the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by hugely increasing Mbete’s stake, from R2.2-million to R28.6-million, to stop the threatened scuttling of an empowerment transaction at Gold Fields’s South Deep mine.
“Crucially, the black economic empowerment (BEE) deal was a condition for the conversion of old-order mining rights at the company’s most important South African asset.
“Another hard fact is Gold Fields’s announcement last week that the US Securities and Exchange Commission has launched an inquiry into the empowerment transaction. Gold Fields has a secondary listing on the New York Stock Exchange.”
The ANC is not convinced. In a statement announcing its complaint to the ombud, spokesman Jackson Mthembu said Mbete had “reiterated that she has never solicited nor received a bribe from Gold Fields, from anyone associated to Gold Fields or the Black Economic Empowerment transaction in question”.
It said the headline to the story, ‘Gold Fields bribed ANC Chair’ (sic) – the actual headline was ‘Gold Fields bribes Mbete’ – was “deliberately crafted to be misleading, defamatory and unfair”.
The ANC also has issue with a follow up story a week later, under the headline ‘Mbete looks out for Number One’. It says this story is a “spirited attempt to prove and justify the earlier unsubstantiated claims that the national chairperson was bribed in order to influence the BEE deal”.
The ANC objected in particular to the statement that Mbete “puts her political progress before principle” and accuses the newspaper of peddling a “collection of factual inaccuracies, innuendos and suppositions brought together with the sole intention to defame the National Chairperson and the standing she enjoys from her organisation and the people of South Africa”.
The newspaper pointed out that Mbete has in the past been accused of other ethical infractions, a stance the ANC said shows a “commitment to tarnishing the image of the ANC and its leadership at all costs leads to shoddy and gutter journalism that betrays the noble profession of journalism”.
Mbete is convinced the M&G has “deliberately sought to distort and misrepresent information with the intention of defaming and discrediting the National Chairperson and by necessary implication, the African National Congress”. The ANC shares “her considered view that this is a politically motivated campaign being waged by the Mail & Guardian, intentionally or otherwise, with the sole intention to tarnish the image of the ANC and its leaders as we approach the general elections in 2014”.
In the Mail&Guardian multimedia video below, journalist Craig McKune discusses the story and lays out the newspaper’s facts.