South Africa

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Jacques Pauw takes legal action against Piet Rampedi over Twitter allegations

Jacques Pauw, left, and Piet Rampedi, right. (Photos: Daily Maverick | Twitter / @_AfricanSoil)

Investigative journalist Jacques Pauw has brought a lawyer to a Tweet-fight. Pauw is demanding an apology and retraction from the Sunday Independent’s Piet Rampedi – after Rampedi took to Facebook and Twitter to accuse Pauw of racism and child molestation. At the heart of the matter: the never-ending saga of the SARS ‘rogue unit’.

The Sunday Independent’s investigations editor Piet Rampedi did not take kindly to an 18 February article published by investigative journalist Jacques Pauw on Daily Maverick pointing out the glaring flaws in the so-called SARS “rogue unit” story still being peddled by Rampedi.

Rampedi took to Facebook and Twitter in response, labelling Pauw a “racist liar” and demanding that Pauw “clear serious allegations that he molested young boys in Mozambique on SABC assignment in early 2000”. The tweet containing the molestation claim has been retweeted more than 400 times, including by EFF leader Julius Malema.

Now Pauw, in conjunction with his publishers NB Books, has issued a lawyer’s letter to Rampedi demanding a retraction and apology within 24 hours. If Rampedi fails to comply, a defamation action against him will be launched.

Pauw declined to give further comment at this time due to the pending legal action.

Rampedi confirmed to Daily Maverick that he had received the legal communication. He asked that a tweet he posted on Wednesday evening be considered his official comment on the matter, namely:

“I have received a ‘cease & desist’ lawyer’s letter from [Pauw], who demands a retraction & apology. I will NEVER be intimidated by a racist liar like Jacques Pauw, who thinks the world revolves around him. I’m consulting a lawyer with a view to defending the situation in court.”

The letter sent on behalf of Pauw, from attorney Willem de Klerk, labels Rampedi’s allegations against Pauw as being “devoid of any truth, highly defamatory” and infringing on “Mr Pauw’s constitutional right to dignity”.

It continues:

“As an experienced journalist yourself, you are no doubt well aware that the publication of false and defamatory statements is unlawful and possibly even criminal. As the Group Investigations Editor at Independent Media, you are no doubt also aware of the well-known principle in law, namely that a person who publishes a defamatory statement that was made by another is as much the publisher of the defamation as the originator is. It is therefore clear that you acted with malicious intent, in reckless disregard of the law.”

The feud between Rampedi and Pauw has been brewing since the publication of Pauw’s 2017 book The President’s Keepers, which examined the networks enabling former president Jacob Zuma to maintain power.

Rampedi has repeatedly claimed in public that Pauw accuses him in the book of accepting money from the Gupta family and the government to bankroll his newspaper African Times. In 2018, Rampedi contracted a lawyer to demand that Pauw retract this assertion from the book.

In response, Pauw’s lawyers wrote back stating that “despite a detailed reading” of the book, “we have been unable to find any statement that conveys the meaning” that Rampedi and his associates received financial backing from the Gupta family or the government in order to establish the newspaper.

A response from Rampedi and his lawyer was, according to De Klerk, never received.

The passage from The President’s Keepers that occasioned Rampedi’s wrath reads as follows:

Rampedi started a newspaper called the African Times (who the hell starts a newspaper these days – unless you have government or Gupta funding!) and has ever since raved like a wounded animal about “white racist monopoly capital”. The fact that communications minister Faith Muthambi – a mampara of prodigious proportions and a Zuma acolyte – congratulated Rampedi on the launch of the paper says everything. Not long after the first edition, the press ombudsman ordered Rampedi to apologise to [SARS executive] Ivan Pillay about yet another invented tirade.

Rampedi has also accused Pauw of being a member of a “cabal” of journalists who have conspired on behalf of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan to discredit the so-called SARS “rogue unit” narrative.

Rampedi was one of the original team of Sunday Times journalists who published dozens of stories in 2014 asserting the existence of an unlawful unit within the revenue collector which spied on Zuma. This claim has failed to be substantiated by multiple investigations and legal opinions. 

In October 2018, Sunday Times retracted all ‘rogue unit’ stories, together with Cato Manor ‘death squads’ and Zimbabwean ‘rendition’ stories.

But Rampedi and the Independent Newspaper Group have continued to push the “rogue unit” narrative, with Rampedi altering the story in recent months to now reflect the claim that the unit was working to support Zuma rather than attack him. This version of the tale was also given by Malema at a press event in Cape Town on Friday 14 February.

Pauw’s subsequent unpacking of the myriad contradictions and absurdities in the evolving “rogue unit” narrative for Daily Maverick was the catalyst for Rampedi’s most recent attacks on Pauw.

On Wednesday, Rampedi also referred to Daily Maverick as “propaganda media”, and to editor Branko Brkic as “a modern-day Joseph Goebbels”. DM

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