Opinionista Branko Brkic 17 February 2021

Editor’s note on retracted Jacques Pauw column about his arrest at the V&A Waterfront, and an apology to our readers

Dear reader, In the aftermath of the controversy caused by Jacques Pauw’s column and the subsequent retraction and apology, I would like to apologise for publishing it and shed some light on events that transpired before and after publication.

On Monday, 8 February, I received a call from an external contributor, Jacques Pauw, in which he informed me about his arrest on Saturday, 6 February. He was livid with the way he was treated and asked Daily Maverick to publish a column about his experience. 

A first draft was sent on Tuesday and the final version of the column arrived on Wednesday. 

Upon reading it, we decided to publish it as a column, as opposed to our own report. Given the nature of the allegations in his piece, we also decided to check the veracity of Pauw’s claims – an unusual extra step for an opinion piece.

Over the next two days we contacted the V&A Waterfront, SAPS and the unnamed restaurant, requesting their side of the story and also an opportunity to review any CCTV footage of the incident.

The results of our efforts were affixed at the bottom of Pauw’s column when it appeared:

Update: On Friday Pauw was due to lay a charge at the police station and then submit his affidavit to the IPID for unlawful arrest, assault and theft.

The V&A Waterfront’s Senior Operations Manager, Deon Sloane, declined to comment. “The matter is being dealt with by SAPS at Table Bay Police Station (copied in on email) as it’s sub judice and we would request all further requests to be directed to them.”

When asked if Daily Maverick could view the CCTV footage, he said the matter was sub judice.

SAPS Western Cape spokesperson Federick van Wyk responded: “The accused was arrested for theft whereby he allegedly could not pay for his bill at the restaurant. A warning statement was obtained from him and he was released on a warning to appear in court. The case has been postponed to 2021-03-30.”

The restaurant owner declined to comment. The name of the restaurant has not been disclosed as Pauw’s complaint is against the police, not the restaurant.

Editor’s note: Daily Maverick made additional independent enquiries to add other voices to Pauw’s story. Nobody was willing to go on record at the time of publication.

I believe that one of South Africa’s foremost investigative journalists being arrested, mistreated and thrown into jail on Saturday night is indeed important news that merits publication, even if in the form of an opinion piece and not a full-blown investigation. This is especially true in a country with a culture of police brutality and wrongful arrest.  

In our work we encounter many people who ignore our requests for comments/clarification/confirmations and it is not unusual that no such thing is forthcoming for a majority of stories. Should the “no comment” or “not going on record” be a bar too high, a good 50% of stories would never see the light of day – a lack of cooperation from people involved is nothing new in our daily business. At the time of publication and with the information we had, and after our work in the background, we felt compelled to publish.

We have also offered a right to reply to the as-yet-unnamed restaurant involved, an offer which still stands.

We continued with our fact-checking even after the opinion piece was published. We have now managed to obtain security footage of the incident. We are conducting our own investigation, and we will inform you of the results should they be different from the details in Pauw’s statement.

Pauw contacted me on Tuesday, 16 February and indicated that his story had changed and that he would have to issue a statement of apology. After submitting several drafts he went ahead and posted it on Twitter before Daily Maverick could publish, another puzzling and unethical act. 

Our note at the top of his statement said:

A note from Daily Maverick Editor: Last week Friday Daily Maverick published an opinion column by investigative journalist and author Jacques Pauw after he alerted us to his arrest at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. We did so after contacting both the unnamed restaurant involved as well as the police and the V&A Waterfront offering them an opportunity to comment. The restaurant declined to speak to Daily Maverick on the record. Requests for CCTV footage were also declined. We published the comments we did obtain from SAPS and Waterfront as footnotes. We took these steps because Pauw’s column made serious allegations around his arrest, including that the police had stolen cash he had on him and that the restaurant had refused any alternative efforts to settle the bill. We informed the restaurant that we would be publishing Pauw’s column and it was in their interests to give their version of events.

Prior to publication, Daily Maverick interrogated some of the elements in Pauw’s column with him and edited it accordingly where appropriate. Although Pauw admitted he had been drinking, he assured Daily Maverick his version was correct and he pointed to the waiter’s statement to police as corroboration. Once published, we continued our investigation and obtained the CCTV footage.

Pauw issued a statement on Tuesday after meeting with the restaurant and V&A Waterfront management on Monday.

We are publishing Pauw’s latest version of events and apology as a matter of urgency, to put the record straight. We undertake to continue our investigation and update readers if there are any further developments or findings that are at variance with Pauw’s statement.

Given the factual inaccuracies in the original column, Daily Maverick has unpublished the piece.

Could we have done anything different? We certainly could, but hindsight is 20/20 vision. In the real world, we’re always busy writing the first draft of history. It is also important to note that we did not leave the story after publishing the column but decided to investigate further. In extreme cases, a draft needs to be thrown in the garbage can, where it belongs. 

As a commitment to our readers, we will institute a review and will endeavour to further tighten up our editorial processes. 

Where I am truly sorry is that, regardless of who’s guilty in this unnecessary distraction and the form it took, incorrect information reached you, the reader. We at Daily Maverick at all times strive to tell you the truth to the best of our abilities. This time I failed you, and for that, I apologise unreservedly. DM

PS: Jacques Pauw will no longer be part of Daily Maverick’s team of contributors.

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All Comments 34

  • Moral of the story: never make decisions/write anything when angry, they backfire in the worst possible way. Always get someone to read what you have written before hitting send, so as to mitigate the worst errors.

  • The only enduring disappointment in this whole sorry saga is DM deciding to cancel any further contributions from Jacques Pauw. Unless it has now been adjudicated that Mr Pauw is an unrehabilitatable liar then it seems we are silencing a critical voice and are the poorer for it.
    The entire story was/is odd. Personally I hold nothing against DM for the factual inaccuracy of it. It was published as an opinion piece and if every opinionista was fully fact-checked I think that there’d be little to publish. The silence from every apparently wronged party is even more odd.
    Jacques Pauw’s mea culpa was newsworthy for no other reason that it it scarcely ever happens that anyone admits they lied or got it wrong, especially in a case like this where it appears that he has now committed such a High Crime that his career must be ended.
    The righteous indignation and virtue signalling is overdone.

    • Agreed. Here’s what I posted on 16/02 under Pauw’s article titled “Statement regarding my arrest and detention at V&A Waterfront”:

      “While it’s understandable that people want to extrapolate Pauw’s misreporting of an event involving him personally and directly all the way out to a general mendacity in, or at least dubiousness of, his other accounts and narratives, further impartial reflection should dispel such notions something sharpish. After all, the specific incident in question involved Pauw himself in a significantly stressful and disturbing way, so subjectivity, even after the fact, is entirely understandable. Moreover, it takes a distinctly fervid leap of faith to infer that all Pauw’s other work, as well-substantiated as it usually is, immediately becomes questionable as well, most especially in view of the fact that in those other cases, he’s about as close to an impartial observer as it is possible to. Making such a ludicrous inference would be a clear case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, tub too.

      “In any case and direct personal involvement aside, Pauw had the vertebrate rigidity, so sorely lacking in virtually all of our public officials and politicians, to come clean, openly, voluntarily, and publicly. Had he not, the naysayers wouldn’t at this point have a grumble in the first place.”

    • Agreed. To err is human; to forgive divine.

      Neither Pauw nor DM failed us: each accepted responsibility for their respective roles in this sorry saga. That is far more accountability than we have from leaders in business, education and government.

    • Well said Martin. I absolutely agree! Unless there is WAY more to the story, I think the punishment exceeds the crime. For me, apology accepted from both DM and JP.
      But PLEEEEESE don’t exclude JP forever, it will be our loss and yours!

    • I somewhat agree on this point. But there is an integrity issue and DM’s enemies will drag this out whenever they can (especially since Pauw has exposed some of the antics of fervent DM agitators). Alas, in some situations there aren’t second chances – at least not until everyone forgets about what happened.

  • It sounds a bit harsh unless the full story, which we have not heard, is worse.
    For instance was there a charge made or not and if not what was withdrawn.
    Did the restaurant refuse part payment of R1000 which doesn’t sound likely.
    Did he have R1000 on him. Did it disappear or not and if so, who had it.
    The whole story was odd.

    • 100% agree, the police statement to DM was “The accused was arrested for theft whereby he allegedly could not pay for his bill at the restaurant.”But if the Restaurant or waiter had not laid the charge and the police where conveniently waiting, then who did and why did JP apologise to everyone. DM is so busy trying to cover its own butt that they are making the dirty waters even more turbid.

      • It all sounds very strange – he does have enemies in high places. Not saying he was not at fault but it seemed that there were conveniently people there to use the situation.

  • Storm in a teacup. We all human, and we all make mistakes and, most times, are made to pay the price.
    This will blow over, rather sooner than later, and JP will continue with his work regardless.

  • Pauw has done himself and his noble profession a huge disservice. I appreciate the DM distancing itself, and look forward to hearing the full story.

  • I don’t think Daily Maverick has done anything that deserves brickbats, and I personally admire the way that Branko and the DM have “fronted up” on the issue.

    We have all at various times done and said things in the heat of the moment that we wish we could somehow just pluck back, but reality is what it is. I also have a great deal of sympathy for Jacques whom I am sure is a thoroughly decent guy as well as being an excellent journalist, who has done sterling work over many decades and none of which is at all tarnished by recent history – certainly not in my eyes. I recall the bible has something to say on who has the right to cast the first stone. How you recover from missteps often says more about the man – and the reactions of both Mr Pauw and the DM, taking it on the chin and apologising reflets well on both.

  • Hknestly, whether JP writes for the DM or not is immaterial for me. The real question is: have we just lost the country’s top investigative author? I hope not.

  • Honestly, whether JP writes for the DM or not is immaterial for me. The real question is: have we just lost the country’s top investigative author? I hope not.

    • I read his book. At one point he wrote about how his laptop was stolen and suspected it was the work of government spooks. I can’t believe what this man says. I suspect he never was the top investigative author after all.

  • I look forward to reading the results of the DM’s own investigation into this story. I for one am enormously grateful to the courage of the DM’s journalists, literally risking their lives to bring us the truth about corruption in SA. I include Jacques Pauw in that. I would hate to see the excellent work he has done relegated to history dustbin because of this incident. He has come forward to correct and quite promptly. We are not party to Mr Pauw’s psychological state, drunk or otherwise (alcoholism, ptsd?), when this incident occurred. He has unreservedly apologised. Let us have the full story before he is “written off”. I think that we owe him that (and probably more).

    • Fully agree. JP has done amazing work in the past. Every single one of us messes up one or more times in our lives. Both DM & he need to review in future and move on.

  • A suggestion for DM’s management/editorial bigwigs: While I understand very well that editorial decisions aren’t to be taken ad populum, it may in this case be worthwhile submitting Jacques Pauw’s dismissal, variously recusal, from DM’s team of contributors to a readers’ census (which could be limited to just DM Insiders) for a final verdict. That way you will be able to gauge more accurately the effect of JP’s ostensible delinquency.

  • Now that is what I call a sincere apology, that tells the full story with available evidence and where mistakes are owned. No blame game, no obfuscation, tell it all and ask for forgiveness. None of the “I’m sorry if I offended you” nonsense. That’s how trust is restored. Jessie Duarte, hint, hint.

  • Apology seems acceptable. Reading between the lines, it seems that alcohol played a significant role in the altercation. This is a very common problem in society. If alcohol was the contributing factor in the wrong behaviour, a DM article would be useful to highlight the dangers of alcohol that can bring down anyone, using this incident as an example. Everyone is responsible for their actions, even when intoxicated. There have to be consequences for wrong behaviour and actions. Good luck…

  • A difficult one, this. Throwing the first stone and all that? People in glass houses? His “sin” is not that he misbehaved, but that he dragged DM into it. That is just not right. Sies Jacques.

  • Agreed. We do not know whether Mr Pauw resigned, or whether DM fired him. But in the absence of any explanation, a reasonable inference is that he was pushed. If that is the case, then DM’s action has placed it squarely on the side of the ‘cancel culture’ mob.

  • I am sure that there is actually more here than what meets the eye. DM looked for comments prior to publishing, with none deliberately forthcominh. Prof Pierre de Vos will tell you that this sub judicé rule is a load of bollie. It was reported elsewhere that the restaurant withdrew the ‘theft’ charges against JP after his apology. Who is BS’ting who here? My admiration to both JP and DM for manning up to the issue, and hope that JP will not be banned to the wilderness forever. I for one am completely unable to pick up the first stone…

  • It seems to me that one of our biggest problems as South Africans is a lack of grace – we are so quick to condemn. How quickly we forget the positive impact of Jacques’ courageous work as an investigative journalist, how willing we are to dismantle his legacy on the basis of his human failing – as if we are all completely innocent of any darkness in our own lives. (His sin has been exposed; ours is still hidden – for the time being). It saddens me that in this case DM appears to be so willing to write Jacques off and distance themselves from him over this matter. Nevertheless, I continue to be a strong supporter of DM and its mission.

  • Very sad it all had to come to this. This potentially could have totally damaged DM’s credibility, the currency with which it trades. Letting Pauw go was therefore necessary. Hopefully a more rigorous editorial process will prevent this happening again. I’m still in, for what it’s worth.

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