Though South Africans have become accustomed to irrational, knee-jerk and often dangerous rhetoric from politicians of all persuasions, the ANC’s regional boss in the volatile Eastern Cape metro of Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth), Nceba Faku’s apparent recent call to commit arson transcends most. It has now emerged that Faku, a former mayor, may have good reasons to want to see The Herald in ashes. By MICHELLE SOLOMON.
Press freedom and freedom of expression in South Africa took some hard knocks last week, adding to a litany seldom seen in 17 years of democracy. On the eve of local elections last week it was revealed that Anton Hammerl, a South African photojournalist thought to be captive in Libya for six weeks, had been killed while with the Libyan rebel movement 40 days prior to the news.
Then at an ANC victory rally, less than 24 hours after news of Hammerl’s death surfaced, Nelson Mandela Bay ANC chairman Nceba Faku attempted to incite supporters to burn down the offices of The Herald, one of the country’s elder and most respected newspapers. Standing in front of the Port Elizabeth City Hall, only a few hundred meters from The Herald’s office, the former PE mayor reportedly told the gathered crowd: “Burn Herald, burn; pasop [beware] Herald, pasop!” and “We’ll fight bullet with bullet”. This was according to journalists working for The Herald and the Cape Argus, who both ran stories on Friday about Faku’s comments. They reported there were between 100 and 400 ANC members and supporters, who cheered when Faku not only threatened to torch The Herald, but said black citizens that vote for “white parties” should go “to the sea, or to Europe”.
Heather Robertson, The Herald’s editor, said this week the newspaper’s staff were “shaken up” when they first heard of the threats. “When the journalists returned from the rally we decided to lock the security gates,” she said, “and we’ve even had additional security meetings.” Robertson added she was concerned for the safety of her staff in the field.
“But the support we’ve received from our colleagues in the media has really been encouraging, and we thank them for that,” Robertson said. On Monday, the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) slammed the threats to The Herald, and called for immediate disciplinary action against Faku from the ANC headquarters. Sanef, chaired by Avusa editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya, emphasised the very real dangers such incitements can have on press freedom and freedom of expression. “Aggression against the media will not only endanger journalists and their colleagues in newspaper employment, but restrict the ability of the press to inform the public of what is happening in their communities and the nation as a whole.”
This week, ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said if Faku had made the threats, they were “unacceptable”, while secretary general Gwede Mantashe condemned Faku’s statement – with the qualification – “if [Faku] did make it”.
On Tuesday, The Herald published a full-length open letter written to them by Faku, which he had posted on his Facebook page on 23 May. In his letter, Faku claimed he had never made the statements attributed to him, and blamed “mischievous” journalists for the alleged inaccuracy.
“…at no time did I say: ‘Burn down The Herald’ or imply such, as reported in the introductory paragraph in the front page lead report. What could be well considered[sic] as intentional mischievous reporting and/or sub-editing, on the part of The Herald, is an example of irresponsible journalism that has over the years frustrated and infuriated me… The skewed reporting of what I said, could provoke individuals to commit arson, putting at risk the lives of innocent people, including municipal firemen and women who would no doubt be called to extinguish such a fire. I would not do or say anything which would compromise the discipline of my organisation as your paper falsely attributes.”
Cape Argus’s Andisiwe Makinana also reported on the rally, and on Friday the newspaper also quoted Faku as calling on supporters to “burn the Herald”. News editor of the Cape Argus, Natasha Joseph, said ANC supporters had apparently also tried to intimidate Makinana. When queried about the accuracy of Makinana’s report, Joseph said: “She [Makinana] is a bloody good reporter. I’d vouch for her not getting it even remotely wrong.”
Faku was also quoted by both papers as having said: “We will fight a bullet with a bullet”. This volatile armed struggle rhetoric is particularly dangerous for The Herald – it is not the first time the Port Elizabeth paper has been threatened. Former editor Derek Smith said that in the 1990s, shortly after Mandela’s release and before South Africa’s first democratic elections, The Herald had faced the threat of being burnt down.
“During that time there was a lot of unrest going on as people tried to make their particular views known through demonstrations and violence, and The Herald… disapproved of all this violent action that had been taking place, and we believe that it was a result of that, that they [the protesters] held a meeting and decided to boycott the paper,” Smith said. He explained that later a senior ANC leader in the region led a group of protesters to The Herald’s head office and demonstrated in front of the building.
“They had a lot of newspapers, which they then set fire to in front of the main door. One of them tried to throw one of the burning newspapers into the foyer of the building, but he was stopped. They gave us a memorandum, which we considered… and there were no further attempts to burn down the building, as I recall.”
Faku was mayor of Port Elizabeth between 1994 and 2006, and has been mired in controversy in the city for some months now, if not longer. According to Herald reports, in 2009 the Eastern Cape provincial local government department commissioned a lengthy investigation into the operations of the apparently troubled Nelson Mandela Bay metro, and a report was completed in 2010. The Herald has attempted to gain access to the full “Kabuso Forensic Report”, by using the Promotion of Access to Information Act, but has been denied. Robertson said the newspaper’s application was filed in the Port Elizabeth High Court on 18 March. In the weeks that followed a “senior ANC leader” leaked a summary of the Kabuso report and an attached legal opinion to The Herald, which then reported extensively on some of the findings.
The Kabuso report summary refers to The Willows Resort, a caravan and camping park on Nelson Mandela Bay municipal property. According to the report, the municipality and a company, East Cape Show Case (Pty) Ltd, entered into a lease for the land which placed “developmental obligations” on the company with regards to The Willows Resort. The legal opinion, attached to the report summary, notes that then-mayor Faku approved a grant of R2 million to Madiba Bay Resorts (Pty) Ltd for upgrading The Willows Resort. Curiously, this company has the same directors as the East Cape Show Case (Pty) Ltd.
According to the legal opinion, the “truly incomprehensible” transaction constitutes criminal fraud and it recommends charges of fraud and “related criminal offences” be laid against both Faku and the directors of Madiba Bay Resorts. The opinion further stresses that money paid so far must be reclaimed from the relevant parties in terms of the Local Government Transitional Act for unauthorised expenditure.
The Kabuso report summary also alleges Faku again approved and facilitated an grant to Isimilo BEE, the lessees of another resort complex in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, in December 2005. More than R600,000 was apparently paid to the company without council approval and the legal opinion emphasises that not only must the municipality reclaim the money from Faku and Isimilo, but “criminal charges be laid against Councillor Faku. I do not lightly impute fraud of those mentioned,” wrote the author of the legal opinion.
The report summary also implicates Faku in the “fruitless and wasteful expenditure” of more than R1.4 million, when he apparently contravened the metro supply chain policy by appointing, without tender procedures, a company to build the mausoleums at the Red Location Museum. The accompanying legal opinion recommended summons be issued to recover the money from both Faku and then acting municipal manager, and says Faku “believed himself entitled to interfere with construction tenders”. Additionally, the transaction was reportedly “condemned” by the national treasury.
All this was revealed in a front page exposé in The Herald on 5 April by investigative reporter Brian Hayward. Hayward also noted that in March the present Eastern Cape MEC for local government Mlibo Qoboshiyane described the findings of the Kabuso report in a letter to the National Council of Provinces as likely to “impact negatively on the economics and financial welfare of the municipality, Eastern Cape, and the republic as a whole”. DM
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