Opinionista Floyd Shivambu 18 August 2015

Dear Steven Motale, #SorryForWhat?

There is no way the reasons The Citizen editor Steven Motale gives for his apology to President Jacob Zuma are the only ones. A thorough investigation shows them to be utterly false. Motale’s sudden change of heart also comes at a time when Zuma is compounding his sins. So the question is: What is the real reason for Motale’s apology?

Recently, an opinion piece by a lesser known journalist and editor of The Citizen newspaper received more exposure on various media platforms than any other opinion piece ever published by The Citizen. Unsurprisingly, the opinion piece gained attention because it defied basic logic by offering an apology to President Jacob Zuma for what the journalist, Steven Motale, claims was unfair treatment of and reports on Zuma by sections of the media. In offering the apology to Zuma, the journalist made a lot of hilarious, illogical and utterly false observations on the recent history and current developments around Zuma.

Because as activists, political formations, and elected public representatives, we have an obligation to inform, educate, and organise society around what we believe are superior truths and logic, we take this opportunity to remind the journalist of the obvious and objective facts he narrowly and subjectively recounted as a basis of apologising to Zuma. We do so because at times, one or two circumstances and developments in one’s material and spiritual life, can lead to a situation where one is overwhelmed by subjectivity to the point of failing to reason, and this often leads to undue apologies and submissiveness. We hope this does not define Steven Motale, but we will only know once he insists on apologising even when the facts are laid bare.

We should save Motale from ignorance by demystifying all the reasons for his apology, and maybe he will apologise for his apology to Zuma.

The first reason for Motale’s apology to Zuma is his insistence that the Supreme Court of Appeal judgment on the 2006 criminal conviction of Schabir Shaik relied on newspaper editorials to define a “generally corrupt relationship” between a convicted fraudster and conman, Schabir Shaik, and Zuma. On this basis, Motale argues that the media convicted Zuma of corruption in the court of public opinion without due process, not mentioning the fact that some of those who first used the phrase “generally corrupt relationship” are fervent Zuma defenders, Karima Brown and Vukani Mde. What Motale does not say is that even after Judge Hilary Squires publicly clarified the contents and meaning of his judgment, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) cogently rebutted such by pointing to the legal fact that they have a right to make independent findings outside the findings of a trial court, based on an exhaustive review of the evidence and the record of the trial court.

Now, even if the SCA had not established “generally corrupt” relationship between Zuma and Shaik, Squires had said on page 6556 of the original judgment that:

It would be flying in the face of common sense and ordinary human nature to think that he (Shaik) did not realise the advantages to him of continuing to enjoy Zuma’s goodwill to an even greater extent than before 1997; and even if nothing was ever said between them to establish the mutually beneficial symbiosis that the evidence shows existed, the circumstances of the commencement and the sustained continuation thereafter of these payments, can only have generated a sense of obligation in the recipient.

If Zuma could not repay money, how else could he do so than by providing the help of his name and political office as and when it was asked, particularly in the field of government-contracted work, which is what Shaik was hoping to benefit from. And Shaik must have foreseen and, by inference, did foresee that if he made these payments, Zuma would respond in that way. The conclusion that he realised this, even if only after he started the dependency of Zuma upon his contributions, seems to us to be irresistible.

In all fairness, the court finding of a mutually beneficial symbiosis between criminally convicted Shaik and court-evading Zuma is evidence enough that Zuma was liable for criminal litigation, and a view that a “generally corrupt relationship” existed between the two is a fair observation. More than Motale, I am aware of the intra-African National Congress (ANC) spin machine that influenced the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to drop the charges against Zuma because when this happened, we were naively at the forefront of securing Zuma’s presidency of the country, due to a lack of options. For this, South Africa deserves an apology, and, on fair and reasonable basis, we have apologised for being among those who naively supported Zuma’s rise to political power. Our frustration with the neo-liberal offensive under his predecessor somewhat made us believe that Zuma would allow for the Left’s interpretation of the Freedom Charter.

While criminal litigations are not based on emotive wishes, all reasonable and sound legal experts concur that there is prima facie case against Zuma, which should be answered in a neutral court of law. Zuma is also aware of this, hence he tried many times to prevent the NPA acquiring additional evidence from Mauritius and other parts of the world. Why would a guiltless man go all out to prevent the gathering of evidence by the NPA? Why would a guiltless man preside over the demolition and destruction of the Scorpions? More than anything, the destruction of the Scorpions was one of the many mechanisms devised to keep Zuma out of prison. Zuma might be statutorily innocent in terms of Shaik’s corruption case, but he is not free of guilt, particularly when one closely reads the judgments of Squires, the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court. Despite this stark evidence, Motale is apologising to Zuma.

By the way, in 2008, the Constitutional Court issued a judgment on the same question and its findings included the following:

The payments were made by Mr Shaik in order to influence Mr Zuma to promote Mr Shaik’s business interests and, in attending the meeting in London in July 1998, Mr Zuma did as a matter of fact promote Mr Shaik’s interests. I conclude therefore that the state has established as a matter of fact that both benefits in issue in this case flowed from Mr Zuma’s support for Mr Shaik and the Nkobi group of companies as evidenced at least by his intervention on July 2 1998 in support of the appellants’ claim to participate in the acquisition of ADS.”

What else does Motale need to illustrate the simple fact that the relationship between Zuma and Shaik was based on corrupt intentions and practices? That Zuma has not yet been prosecuted is not sufficient evidence that he is guiltless.

The second falsehood on which Motale bases his apology is that all opponents of Zuma are praised by sections of the media he accuses of convicting Zuma in the court of public opinion. To substantiate his point, he claims, among other things, that Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) president Julius Malema is currently the media darling because he is opposed to Zuma, and that he was not a media darling when he supported Zuma. This is not only false, but reveals a desperate attempt to justify a hilarious point of view. The dominant characterisation and narrative of the radical struggle for economic freedom led by commander-in-chief Malema has not changed, and, as before, there are minute exceptions where sections of the media acknowledge the superior logic in pursuing the path pursued by the EFF and Malema.

Motale does not have to search very far to discover the extent of the media’s bias and unfair treatment of Malema and the EFF, because the newspaper of which he is editor is at the forefront of spreading pure drivel and allegations about the EFF. Virtually all EFF headlines in The Citizen are about how corrupt, directionless, irrelevant and uninformed the EFF is, and often with trivial and non-existent evidence to warrant a newspaper report.

When the City Press first reported on allegations of corruption and financial mismanagement in the EFF, The Citizen became the official newsletter of former members of the party who were trying to discredit the organisation. The former members would proudly circulate text messages and social network posts encouraging whoever cared to listen to read The Citizen because it was the platform to discredit the EFF. This does not apply to The Citizen only, but to many newspapers, and none of those have projected the EFF in good faith despite the reality that we are the only organisation in South Africa with the highest levels of transparency, openness, and the candidness to fight corruption despite all forms of adversity.

Of course Motale will ask why we are not approaching the relevant authorities and the press ombudsman to record our displeasure with his newspaper. As a matter of fact, the EFF issued many public statements against The Citizen and even without the party approaching the authorities, all their lies and slander were proven to be false through independent auditors’ confirmation that the EFF’s finances are properly managed and no money from the head office and Parliament was unaccounted for. Also, The Citizen is too insignificant a newspaper to assign lawyers to a media statement from the EFF normally reaches more people through social networks and word of mouth than The Citizen newspaper’s entire circulation.

The third hilarious reason for Motale’s misreading is his misunderstanding of the illegal construction at Zuma’s private residence in Nkandla. Motale argues that Zuma knows nothing about construction, except breaking rocks in Robben Island. Motale says:

There is no doubt the upgrades to Zuma’s private home in Nkandla saw unacceptably obscene amounts of public money being spent on the project – that is no longer in dispute. But who can honestly say they know for a fact that Zuma knew what Public Works was doing and how it was dealing with the matter? Did he tell anyone what to charge and how much to pay? We don’t know, but most of us assume he did.”

As a matter of fact, the public protector’s findings are in line with the Constitution, which empowers her office to take remedial action, and most importantly the Public Protector’s Act and the Executive Members Ethics Act. Section 182 of the Constitution gives the public protector the power “to investigate any conduct in state affairs, or in the public administration in any sphere of government, that is alleged or suspected to be improper or to result in any impropriety or prejudice”, and most importantly, “to take appropriate remedial action”. This is what the public protector has done, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with sections of the media defending the Constitution.

All available evidence points to the reality that Zuma was aware of the illegal construction of his residence, and was made aware through a Parliamentary question when the costs were still at about R65-million. The public protector is correct to point to section 195 of the Constitution, which imposes an obligation on public functionaries to take action to prevent or arrest an irregularity that has been brought to their attention. The irregularities in Nkandla were brought to Zuma’s attention and he did not do anything, and Motale is apologising to Zuma for not knowing. What should we make of such an apology?

Even if he did not know, the reality is that Zuma and his family unduly benefitted. “Improper or unlawful enrichment” is covered in section 6(4)(a)(iv) of the Public Protector Act, and those who have unduly and irregularly benefited are required by law to return or pay back the monies or benefits that were paid to them. In this regard, whether those who unduly benefited did so through corruption or criminal activity is immaterial.

Zuma’s refusal to pay back the money is therefore in direct violation of the law, which is established as per section 182 (2) of the Constitution, which states that the “public protector has the additional powers and functions prescribed by national legislation”. How a repenting journalist in the form of Motale, ignores these open and self-explanatory sections of South Africa’s law escapes our imagination.

The fourth reason for Motale’s apology is on the basis of the ANC’s newsletter, The New Age, which is run by Zuma’s friends with extensive access to state resources and influence. This is the ANC-influenced newspaper established as part of implementation of the 52nd national conference resolutions, which said the ANC government should establish a newspaper sympathetic to it, meaning a newspaper that turns a blind eye to massive government corruption, gain an advantage over the other newspapers through usage of advertisements rate cards that do not correspond to circulation numbers, and report on decisions of which even those affected or senior ANC leaders are unaware.

All these reasons, which have been proven to be false through thorough indictment here are reasons why a journalist apologises to Zuma. There is no way that what the journalist lists as his reasons for saying sorry to Zuma are the only reasons. He has revealed that his predecessor’s bias towards the Democratic Alliance (DA) could have been due to the DA’s deployment to the newsroom, hence the erstwhile editor was rewarded with a position as councillor position after leaving The Citizen.

We do not know why Motale has had a sudden change of heart, particularly when Zuma is compounding his sins. Under Zuma’s leadership and political guidance, workers in Marikana and ordinary protesters were killed by the police and no one is being held accountable. Under Zuma’s leadership, South Africa is confronted with massive energy, economic and possibly water crises never seen before and the simplistic explanation Zuma gives is that we should blame all of these on South Africa’s apartheid past.

Under Zuma’s government, mediocre managers are promoted to very important state-owned enterprises, often due to their close relationship with the president. Under his leadership, the government will commence a procurement process which will procure nuclear energy technology which will cost the country trillions of rands, and possibly contribute to the huge government debt created by the extremely dodgy and escalating costs of building coal power stations.

The only visible and evident progress made since Zuma assumed office is the enrichment of his family and close acquaintances who charge businesspeople money to gain access to him. Motale is aware of all these realities and he chooses to apologise to Zuma in 2015, and the question we ask is: Apologise for what? What is Motale sorry for? We could give Motale the benefit of the doubt on the basis of pure ignorance, but it is highly possible that the apology was manufactured in Saxonwold, the home of the infamous Guptas who think South Africans are stupid enough to be fed unsophisticated propaganda through lousy newspapers and television platforms. I for one will not be shocked when Motale takes a senior job in one of the Guptas’ media platform. He is a correct candidate. The hashtag and question in our minds is: Motale is #SorryForWhat? DM

Floyd Shivambu is deputy president of the EFF.



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