For those who do not know, Rampedi is a critically acclaimed journalist in South Africa who exposed the shenanigans of a secret surveillance unit that operated within SARS. ~ Ayanda Mdluli IOL 1/12/2019
The importance of the judgment – apart from the obvious – is that it removes all doubts about the veracity of the main planks upon which Mkhwebane, the EFF and other’s contention that the HRIU was engaging in criminal activity has been constructed over the years. The Sikhakhane report, Kroon panel report, KPMG report and the report by the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence (OIGI) have since 2015 all been discredited, disavowed, overturned and set aside in some form or another. (Not even to mention the fake reportage of the investigative team at the Sunday Times with Piet Rampedi and Mzilikazi wa Afrika now in senior roles at Iqbal Survé’s Independent Media, maintaining the fiction.) Unlawful and irrational: How the toxic campaign against the SARS investigative unit was killed off. ~ Pieter du Toit 8/12/2020
The denunciation by the North Gauteng High Court on 7 December of the Sunday Times reporting on the mythical SARS ‘Rogue Unit’ which started in October 2014 was justifiably excoriating.
The Sunday Times reporting on the so-called ‘SARS Rogue Unit’ was, ruled Judges Selby Baqwa, Leonie Windell and Annali Basson, “… fake news, propaganda fiction”.
Their judgment vindicates:
- The resignation of Pearlie Joubert from the Sunday Timesin 2015 without other employment in prospect because she did not want to be associated with this nefarious and destructive journalism
- The adverse finding against the Sunday Timesby the SA Press Council in December 2015
- The apology by former Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko in October 2018 for the SARS ‘Rogue Unit’ lies and the acknowledgment that: “While we were interrogating, investigating and reporting these stories, there was clearly a parallel political project aimed at undermining our democratic values and destroying state institutions, and removing individuals who were seen as obstacles to this project. We admit that our stories may have been used for this purpose. It is this project that also tarnished our reports on SARS.”
Independent Media’s IOL website only mentioned this breaking news story a full four hours later but this initial article did not focus on the main thrust of the judgment, the reliance by Busisiwe Mkhwebane on discredited reports.
Yet another attack
Instead it devoted its first article on the judgment to yet another attack on Gordhan under the headline ‘Judges slate Gordhan over Mkhwebane comments in Sars ‘rogue unit’ ruling. As is usual with this type of reporting on IOL, the author of the article was not identified and the by-line was ‘IOL reporter’.
This suppression of the article writer’s identity is perhaps not without significance and raises the question as to whether this article was even written by a reporter.
Some two hours later, a factual article about the main thrust of the judgment was posted – six hours after the story was broken by rival news companies. This time the reporter was identified by name, Siviwe Feketha. So why did Independent Media decide not to reveal the identity of the author of the first article, the attack on Gordhan?
Two points are relevant here in the context of who wrote the article attacking Gordhan.
- Survé’s antipathy towards Pravin Gordhan is a matter of public record
- In his testimony before the Mpati Commission, former AYO executive Siphiwe Nodwele claimed under oath that editorial independence did not exist in Independent Media and that Survé dictated news coverage. To quote Nodwele’s testimony about Survé’s iron-fisted control of news content: “Anything he says he wants to be published, will be published.” On page 96 of the Mpati Commission’s transcribed testimony on 8 April 2019, another former AYO executive, Kevin Hardy – also testifying under oath – said Survé would tell one of his news executives, Adri Senekal de Wet, what articles to write. Their experiences are confirmed by articles written by other former Independent Media journalists such as Dougie Oakes and Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya and by the book, Paper Tiger by former Independent Media editors, Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield – see here and here and here and here. Furthermore, current Survé’s employees disclosed to Ferial Haffajee how the news manipulation system works – Survé’s instructions on what news to cover and how to cover it are conveyed to newsroom staff through notes passed to them by a senior executive, Howard Plaatjes. Plaatjes has not denied this claim by Haffajee about his alleged role in the news manipulation process.
You can decide for yourself whether there is any veracity in Survé’s claim that his newsroom staff have absolute autonomy and that he has never dictated news coverage – but the failure to reveal the author of the article attacking Gordhan is troubling.
A timeline of how the major news organisations covered the North Gauteng High Court judgment nevertheless tells its own story.
Times Live – 10:30
News 24 – 10:30
eNCA – 10:45
EWN – 11:30
Daily Maverick – 11:30
The Citizen – 11:30
SABC – 12:03
IOL – 14:30
IOL – 16:30
Note that Independent Media (which currently employs former Sunday Times ‘Rogue Unit’ reporters Piet Rampedi and Mzilikazi wa Afrika) was the only news organisation to use the judgment to attack Pravin Gordhan in support of public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and that it did so before reflecting for its readers the gravamen of the judgment – that it utterly destroyed the false and venomously destructive ‘rogue unit’ narrative.
SARS welcomed the ruling: “It is a seminal judgment that brings necessary closure to the unfortunate distracting narrative surrounding the establishment and functioning of the SARS High Risk Investigation Unit. Moreover, it confirms SARS’ powers to gather intelligence relating to tax offences.” ~ SARS
The Sunday Times reporting did incalculable reputational damage to the country and, if you doubt that, listen to what one of the world’s most influential financial reporters, CNN’s Richard Quest, said at Davos from 3 minutes and 52 seconds of this interview in January this year.
What is deeply disturbing was the evidence revealed by Anton Harber in his recent book, that Rampedi – now assistant editor of Survé’s Sunday Independent newspaper – was colluding with former SARS commissioner, Tom Moyane, in spreading the now juristically condemned ‘SARS rogue unit’ narrative which was used by Moyane to persecute and dismiss SARS employees such as Pete Richer to the immense detriment of their professional and personal lives.
Harber told me that there has been no response from Rampedi to what he wrote in his book. There has also been no response by Rampedi and wa Afrika to a Marianne Thamm suggestion about what they need to do to resolve concerns about their integrity as journalists:
‘Many have suggested that the only way for Rampedi and wa Afrika to defend their conduct at the Sunday Times was to appear at either the Nugent or the Zondo Commission. They have not taken up the challenge.’ ~ Marianne Thamm
Ed Herbst is a veteran journalism and media commentator.
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