OPINION: At the heart of the current furore about the request (not instruction) by Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille, that provincial government departments not renew subscriptions to the Cape Times when they expire is an article published in the newspaper on 5 March. The article alleged that the dop (tot) system, which has been illegal for more than a decade, was still being widely used on Western Cape wine farms and that this played a major role in the prevalence of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) on these farms. Ed Herbst analyses the story.
“Which brings me back to the Cape Times piece. Half the piece is plagiarised from a three year-old article, and the other half contains a vague personal story of a baby and his mother as well as an anonymous quote about the continued existence of the dop system on certain farms.”
Helen Zille, ‘Some very strange reporting from the Cape Times’ 15/3/2015
“A source from Wellington (who does not want to be named) said being paid wages partly in cash and the rest in wine is still common practice on many farms.”
Foetal alcohol syndrome’s sad legacy, Cape Times, 5/3/2015
From a media analysis point of view there are four important aspects of the article which need to be examined:
- Is it true that the dop system is still widely implemented on Western Cape wine farms and is it true that it is the major cause of FAS on these farms?
- Was the article sincerely researched?
- Is Cape Times editor, Aneez Salie, ethically justified in citing “protection of sources” as a reason for refusing to divulge the identity and whereabouts of the alleged victims who were used as a case study for the article? They are, allegedly, the alcoholic mother, ‘Rose’ – a “grape harvester who was paid in bottles of wine per kilogram of grapes she picked” – and her child ‘Baby Thomas’ – who is allegedly so mentally retarded as a result of the dop system that he is “unable even to attend a special school for children with learning disabilities”. When provincial health authorities approached Salie with a request for information because they were concerned that ‘Rose’ and ‘Baby Thomas’ needed special care and counselling, his response was one word, “No.” This is not surprising coming from a newspaper which is becoming notorious its lack of courtesy but it does raise a concern about how these alleged victims will benefit by being denied the specialised health care and assistance they clearly need.
- Even the most cursory examination of the two articles on Gill Moodie’s Grubstreet website proves that Zille’s accusation of plagiarism is entirely justified yet editor Salie has refused to answer questions in this regard from Moodie and from Glenda Nevill, editor of The Media Online website.
Was the article sincerely researched?
Any reporter wishing to write a credible, accurate article on whether the dop system is still used on Western Cape wine farms and, if this is the case, to research the role it played in the prevalence of foetal alcohol syndrome would, obviously, contact the individuals and organisations who could provide the answers.
I have established that the Cape Times did not contact the following organisations and this raises the question: did the newspaper contact anybody in writing the article or was it just a combination of a stressed-out reporter carrying out an instruction combined with some particularly inept plagiarism?
- The Foundation for Alcohol Related Research was founded in 1997 and has its headquarters in Rondebosch, Cape Town.
- Agri-Wes Cape which, since 1980, has represented more than a hundred agricultural and affiliated associations and their tens of thousands of members. Its CEO, Carl Opperman is always available to reporters and always walks the extra mile in attempting to answer their queries I know that from personal experience.
- WIETA, the Agricultural Ethical Trade Initiative was established 12 years ago. According to its website, “… it is a multi-stakeholder, non-profit voluntary organisation which actively promotes ethical trade in the wine industry value chain through training, technical assessment and audits to assess members’ compliance with its code of good practice. Stakeholders include producers, retailers, trade unions, non-governmental organisations and the government.” WIETA’s code of conduct specifically states that, “Members will not promote or any practices that perpetuate a culture of alcohol dependence. Where alcohol dependence or abuse is identified as a problem, members shall take reasonable steps to address this at the workplace.”
How is it possible that the Cape Times could, with apparent ease, find examples of the dop system which WIETA is unaware of?
- The Women on Farms Project which was registered as an independent NGO in 1996 and had its genesis in a “Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) initiative aimed at meeting the specialised needs of women who live and work on farms (farmwomen).”
Any reporter will tell you that the easiest way to explain and convey information about a matter of social concern is to select an involved individual as a case study. The Cape Times has chosen the mysteriously unavailable “Rose” and “Baby Thomas” but even the most cursory Google search would reveal that the ideal person to give an audi alteram partem response – if that was the approach and the intention – would be wine farmers Beyers and Anri Truter of Beyerskloof winery in Stellenbosch – a phone call, email or 45 minute drive from Newspaper House. They set up the Beyers Truter Foetal Alcohol-Syndrome and Interrelated Treatment Help Fund (FAITH) as a section 21 company. They are not quoted in the plagiarised Cape Times article and neither are any of their peers, Jan ‘Boland’ Coetzee, Paul Cluver, Danie de Wet and dozens of others. Why? Could it be that the Cape Times definitely did not want to have a ‘good story to tell’?
In addition to confirming that it was not contacted by the Cape Times prior to the publication of the controversial article, FARR also made the following points about the attempt by the newspaper to create the impression that the dop system is pervasive on Western Cape wine farms and that it is the major cause of foetal alcohol syndrome:
- Since FARR started (1997) to date, they have interviewed 5 000 mothers nation-wide and less than 3% had ever been exposed to the dop system. (My emphasis).
- There is no recent evidence linking existing Western Cape vineyard owners/managers to the dop system, though there is the ‘occasional rumour’. (My emphasis).
- There are now mobile shebeens in the form of bakkies that do the farm rounds and it’s really all about the easy access to and abuse of alcohol.
So much for the attempt by the Cape Times to create the impression that the dop system – which was outlawed by the revised 2003 Liquor Act – still prevails in the Western Cape wine industry. A year later the industry initiated ultimately successful attempts to have one of its most profitable products, the papsak, legally banned – precisely because the commercial availability of cheap wine is a major contributory in the prevalence of FAS.
I believe that my own research not only confirms and supports the FARR contention about shebeens playing a far bigger role than the tot system in the extent of alcoholism and foetal alcohol syndrome on Western Cape farms but that my research adds a far more sinister dimension – crystal meth aka TIK.
The African National Congress, through the statements of its members like Tony Ehrenreich and Marius Fransman, has made no secret of its intention to “take back” Western Cape farms and in the past decade it has seized upon two tragic incidents to wage a nefarious war against farmers in the area, a political war based on calumny and lies.
The first was in Rawsonville in 2006 when a farm worker, 22–year old Anneline Davids, was coerced into making false accusations that she had been gang raped by four local farmers and that a youth, also living on the same farm, had been assaulted by the same farmers with an iron bar and left brain damaged. She later recanted the lies she had told under duress ((“Ek het go-jok – plaasvrou” Die Burger 11/1/2007).
I wrote about the Anneline Davids case in an article ‘Raw Deal in Rawsonville?’ in noseweek issue #87. (January 2007)
A few months later I arranged an interview with the falsely accused farmers for a Cape Argus reporter. They said they had been targeted because they were investigating a widespread trade in drugs such as TIK (crystal meth) in the area by shebeen owners. The shebeen owners would, at the end of the month, escort the addicted farm workers who had bought drugs and liquor on credit, to collect their social grants which were then taken from them. They said that drug addiction and alcoholism fuelled by the shebeens were causing massive absenteeism among their employees and they were forced to try and collect their own evidence of nightly drug drops at these shebeens. This was because their pleas for intervention by the police, government departments and trade unions like Cosatu were met with indifference. It was easier they said, for these institutions and organisations to vilify farmers with false accusations of gang rape and attempted murder than to confront armed drug dealers, many of whom had spent time in the nearby Brandvlei Prison.
Professor Denis Viljoen of FARR indicates that there are now mobile shebeens in the form of bakkies that do the farm rounds. Is it entirely beyond the bounds of possibility that these bakkies could also be selling addictive drugs to farm workers and would this not pose an exponentially greater threat to farm workers than allegations of the “dop system” which the Cape Times would have us believe is ubiquitous but is refusing to substantiate?
Dereliction of duty.
‘Foetal alcohol syndrome’s sad legacy,’ effectively accuses – and justifiably so if the article is true – the department of labour and Cosatu of a gross dereliction of duty.
This is because the working conditions of our agricultural labour force is supposed to be monitored by the department of Labour and farm workers are, or should be, one of Cosatu’s major constituencies.
The silence of both in this regard indicates one of two things.
- If the article is true then their silence indicates an unforgivable breach of their covenant to improve the lives of farm workers.
- If the article is not true, then their ignorance of the cynical and criminal exploitation to which the Cape Times article refers is not only understandable but justified.
In justifying his refusal to disclose the whereabouts of the alcoholic Rose and her mentally handicapped son, Baby Thomas (who can’t be a baby if he is of school-going age as the article makes clear) so that health specialists can assist and counsel them, Cape Times editor, Salie, said the greater good was being served if they were deprived of such care because he needed to “protect” his sources.
Salie did not specify what the “sources” needed to be “protected” against. Murder perhaps? Rape? Arson? Assault? Blackmail? And who would want to that?
Zille succinctly and pithily articulated two ethical flaws in Salie’s argument: “Of course, we didn’t need the name of the source in order to help Baby Thomas or to prosecute offending farmers.” (My emphasis)
She went on. “Deliberately trapping people in crippling addiction is a terrible crime. But when this is done to women of childbearing age, thereby inevitably resulting in any children they may have being delivered into a life of hopeless disability, it is simply unforgivable. It warrants the harshest sanction that the law and society can hand out.”
I am, in particular, interested (in a media context) in this specific element and again Zille articulates these ethical dilemmas well:
“Furthermore, failure to report a suspected crime against a child is, in itself, a crime. (my emphasis) Perhaps the Cape Times will report to the police the details of the farms in the Wellington district, where unborn children are allegedly being put at severe risk of permanent disability by illegal labour practices; and where such children, when born, are not receiving the care and support they require.
“Even if the newspaper is not legally obligated to divulge any information to the Western Cape government, surely there is a moral obligation to help? Particularly when the tone of the piece is deeply concerned and sympathetic towards ‘Baby Thomas’ and the victims of the allegedly ongoing ‘dop system’. If the paper is so dismissive of our requests for assistance to find this child and the alleged perpetrators of crimes against similar children, one must ask the question: what exactly is at play here?”
What Salie is effectively saying is that to “protect his sources” against unspecified threats he is entitled to abrogate what should be a bounden duty of the media in a civilised society – not to remain silent when evidence, not merely of crime but unspeakably evil crime as Zille points out, becomes manifest. What Salie is effectively saying is that “protecting sources” is more important than alleviating the suffering of two people who, if they exist, have experienced the worst of life’s travails.
If Salie’s managers, Iqbal Survé, Karima Brown and Vukani Mde support and endorse this stance, then do they not become complicit in a crime which, as Zille points out, “…warrants the harshest sanction that the law and society can hand out.”?
The challenge is very simple to respond to: Without naming sources the Cape Times must identify, say, a dozen wine farms where farm workers are being paid a portion of their contractual wages in wine rather than money. Given the claim in the newspaper that this is happening on “many” farms, this should be very easy to do. Armed with this information, Cosatu can then call a news conference and allow the many workers who have been so immiserated to tell their own story. The deadline for this easily-achievable objective (if the “Rose/Baby Thomas” has a shred of truth) would be 5 April, one month to the day of the publication of the original article.
Even the most cursory comparison of the two articles on the Grubstreet website illustrates the irrefutable truth of Zille’s contention that most of ‘Foetal alcohol syndrome’s sad legacy’ was copied from another article.
Zille has expressed the view that the “Baby Thomas Story” is potentially the South African equivalent of the notorious “Jimmy’s Story” by Janet Cooke which plunged the Washington Post into crisis 34 years ago and saw Cooke being dismissed in ignominy. Her journalist critics, SANEF in particular, ignore this concern. Why?
Glenda Nevill, editor for this website and Gill Moodie of Grubstreet put the plagiarism question to Aneez Salie and he refused to answer it. Why?
Nevill wrote: “The Media Online asked Cape Times editor Salie to respond to various questions on the matter, including why the newspaper didn’t name and shame the wine farms believed to be perpetuating the dop system, and for his response to accusations of plagiarism by the premier. But we received only a statement from Salie via the group executive of communications and marketing, Lutfia Vayej.
“In it, Salie accused Zille and her cabinet of ‘unprecedented abuse of power’ which was ‘completely unacceptable’.”
Question: Independent Media’s Chief of Staff Zenariah Barends, at 4 minutes 22 seconds of this interview with Stephen Grootes of Eye Witness News, promises a “peer review” on the plagiarism question. On 27 January 2014 Karima Brown wrote about the Independent Groups’ editorial charter which, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to be revealed more than a year later. Could a deadline, thus, not be given for when the results of the peer review will be announced. Will it be within a few days, a week, a month, or a year?
Request or instruct – cancel or not renew?
It is important to precisely define what is at stake here.
Here is what Business Day wrote:” However, the recent instance in which the Western Cape provincial government cancelled (my emphasis) its subscriptions to the Cape Times newspaper due, it said, to poor journalism and production quality, is cause for concern.”
Here is what the DG in the Department of the Premier, advocate Brent Gerber, wrote, according to City Press: “As we get newspaper cuttings every day, cabinet considers it to be fruitless expenditure to renew Cape Times subscriptions. You are therefore requested (my emphasis) not to renew or initiate further subscriptions.”
That is a fundamental and important difference. According to Business Day the subscriptions have already been cancelled, according to City Press there is a request that, when the subscription expires, it is not renewed. Which newspaper is right?
Who guards the guards?
Mpumelelo Mkhabela and Adriaan Basson of SANEF have strongly criticised Helen Zille for the decision that Western Cape provincial government departments should not renew subscriptions to the Cape Times when they expire.
Their silence, however, was deafening when on 19/12/2013 the Treasury issued an instruction that all subscriptions by all government departments should cease forthwith:
“ 15) All newspapers and other publications for employees should be discontinued. In instances where a department, constitutional institution or public entity has an existing contract for the supply and delivery of newspapers or other publications, such contracts should not be renewed.”
Question: Why did Mkhabela and Basson remain silent about the government edict in December 2013 if they consider the DA approach so reprehensible now?
In an article, ‘Journalists also close ranks’ carried in Business Day on 25/9/2003, Rhoda Kadalie wrote: “Journalists do not differ in any way from politicians when it comes to silent diplomacy about those who, in their own ranks, transgress accepted ethical codes.”
Mkhabela and Basson have also remained silent about the clear proof of plagiarism in an article, which seems to be of dubious provenance.
How ethical is that?
Does the silence of Mkhabela and Basson not confirm Kadalie’s contention that journalists, like politicians, close ranks to protect their fellows who have transgressed “accepted ethical codes”?
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
- Question: What is Dr Iqbal Survé, renowned philanthropist and world business icon who has drawn so much inspiration from Madiba’s Ubuntu, doing to improve the life and lot of “Rose” and “Baby Thomas”?
- Question: Can editor Salie at least provide the details of the charges he must have laid with the police if the facts provided in Foetal alcohol syndrome’s sad legacy are true?
- Question: When will Independent Media’s peer review findings on the proven plagiarism in the “Rose/Baby Thomas” article be made public?
- Question: If SANEF finds the recent decision by Helen Zille on Cape Times subscriptions so reprehensible, why did it remain silent about the Treasury decision in December 2013?
- Question: Have we forgotten the price paid by one of our finest talents, Darryl Bristow-Bovey, when it was revealed that he had plagiarised someone else’s work and, if not, when is SANEF going to take a stand on the plagiarism in the Rose/Baby Thomas article?
* Opinions expressed in posts published on The Media Online are not necessarily those of Wag the Dog Publishers or the editor but contribute to the diversity of voices in South Africa.
IMAGE: Wine papsak / Steve Crane / Flickr / NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic