The Department of Communications called a press conference on Monday to encourage the Sunday Times to stop publishing investigative stories into the minister Dina Pule. This is after it issued a statement on Friday to say that she would not apologise to the paper for attacks she launched against it and its journalists at the end of April. This is all just a curtain-raiser for the hearings before the joint committee on ethics and members’ interests, which were sparked by the ST reports. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
On 22 April, communications minister Dina Pule called a press conference to finally respond to a series of articles published by the Sunday Times. The allegations against her were big: last year the department hosted an ICT Indaba, from which her alleged boyfriend Phosane Mnqibisa benefited to the tune of millions through contracts. The same man allegedly placed his friends on the boards of state-owned enterprises like the SA Post Office and the SABC, and has a direct hand in the appointment of other senior figures.
The investigation “uncovered evidence of an internal audit showing that Mngqibisa engineered getting friends and relatives on the boards of the Post Office, Sentech, Usasa and the SABC with the full knowledge of Pule – offering decisive evidence of just how unsuited the minister is to her job.”
Pule did not tender her resignation that day. Rather, she launched a heated attack on the ST and its investigative reporters Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter.
Now, the communications department has decided to adopt a similar tactic, and called its own press conference to warn off the ST.
The paper recently published a report saying that Pule’s previous claims that Mnqibisa was not a lover were proved to be false by a document it obtained, which showed that she listed him as a ‘companion’ on official trips, a term reserved in the official ministerial handbook to family, spouses or long-term romantic partners whose travel expenses may be covered by the state.
“The department has noted that the Sunday Times has relied on certain documents for their story which was published in yesterday’s newspaper with the headline, ‘Romance, lies and a credit card trail’,” department spokesman Wisani Ngobeni said.
“As the department of communications, we wish to state categorically that we do not have the Sunday Times relied upon for their story. We do not know the source of these documents and we do not have these documents in our records. We are unable to express a view on documents which we do not have knowledge of.
“The Sunday Times is well aware that because of these on-going investigations by the parliament’s ethics committee and the Public Protector, the department and minister Pule cannot publicly respond to these allegations because they are the subject of formal process,” Ngobeni said.
An attorney called Ronnie Bokwa had allegedly also told the paper that the department’s deputy director-general Themba Phiri phoned him to broker an armistice.
“He told me things were placed in the public space by the minister that should not have been placed in the public domain… We have wronged the Sunday Times,” Bokwa is quoted as saying.
None of the allegations made against the minister will stick, the department’s spokesman said. The stories were also apparently designed to influence the outcomes of the formal investigations against her.
“We believe there is an attempt to convict the minister and the department in the court of public opinion. We must be careful as South Africans,” Ngobeni said.
Last week, the Democratic Alliance’s shadow minister for communications Marian Shinn announced that the police had agreed to open a formal investigation into Mnqibisa. This is separate to the Public Protector and the parliamentary investigations, and is only a fact-finding mission rather than the pressing of charges.
Despite the department’s confidence that the investigations into Pule and Mnqibisa will not stand, the ST has called on the minister to come forward with any evidence that she has against its reporters. In a statement issued after that dreadful Pule press conference, the editor Phylicia Oppelt said, “We find it unfortunate that rather than dealing with the essence of the claims against her, she proceeds to attack the messenger of the stories. We also find it disturbing that the minister would use her office to call an ‘important’ press conference, as she did today, to launch a personal attack on both the Sunday Times and its journalists.
“The numerous articles this newspaper has written about Pule in the last year have been in the public interest, with no other motivation in mind. If the minister has any evidence to the contrary, we invite her to give this to the newspaper so we can deal with it appropriately.”
Considering the fact that Pule’s time at the helm of the department has not been brilliant, it is hard to imagine why she enjoys the protection of President Jacob Zuma, or will for much longer. Not only is the SABC board once again in disarray, but South Africa has fallen behind very badly on rolling out digital television technology. Zuma usually delays pronouncing on such things for as long as possible, but there is no such inhibition from other tripartite structures and figures. There has simply been no rallying around Pule.
It is no wonder the department felt that their boss needed a little moral support. Unfortunately it will not be enough to save her job when the inevitable end to this sorry saga finally comes. DM
Photo: Dina Pule in Mangaung, 18 December 2012 (Daily Maverick)
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