The Mail & Guardian‘s decision to report allegations that North West Premier Popo Molefe sexually molested a pre-teen girl is certain to arouse controversy.
It will be pointed out that police investigated the matter, but decided not to press charges because of a lack of sufficient evidence. There will be reference to the fact there was no agreement among the doctors who examined the child that she was abused. It will be argued that Molefe’s prime accuser is his recently divorced wife, who may have an axe to grind. It will also be argued that the North West is a politically fractious region where Molefe’s many enemies may be using a scurrilous rumour to destroy him.
The decision to publish was not taken lightly. We know that because mud sticks, and reputations can be permanently harmed by such allegations, it is vital for a newspaper to behave responsibly and exercise due care.
Our starting point is that the holders of high office, who shape public policy, serve as role models and exercise power over others, must be beyond reproach. It is for this reason that we have been consistently critical of the African National Congress’s management of the Tony Yengeni affair, and of the Democratic Alliance’s reluctant and weak-kneed response to the JÃ¼rgen Harksen funding imbroglio.
Because of the influence they exert, and the trust vested in them, leaders with high public profiles should be morally impeccable. There is an especially heavy onus in matters affecting the weak and the vulnerable, like children. South Africa’s shameful child rape statistics demand that its politicians, and particularly male politicians, should be above the slightest whiff of suspicion.
Our assessment is that, taken together, the circumstances warrant publication of the allegations against Molefe. His ex-wife has been willing to place on the record an explosive claim about a prominent public figure that will blow up in her face if it proves to be baseless. Tumi Plaatje-Molefe is a well-known community worker and political activist who has herself taken part in protests against child abuse and has vowed not to rest until the matter gets to court. She insists the police dropped the case because they were leant on.
The preponderance of medical evidence is that the child was sexually abused. There is the report of the therapist at the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children in Johannesburg, which finds not only that the medical examination was consistent with sexual abuse, but also records the child’s detailed account of a rape after she shared a bed with Molefe. There is the fact that the matter has been deemed sufficiently serious to warrant the attention of senior ANC officials.
Most telling of all, perhaps, is the premier’s silence on the allegations. The M&G spoke at length to his media liaison officer on Wednesday, detailing the claims, explaining that the newspaper planned to publish them and asking for Molefe’s reaction. The spokesperson expressed confidence that the premier would speak on a matter of such grave import. The following day he would say only that Molefe refused to comment.
Given the gravity of the allegation, and his public standing, Molefe cannot use the politician’s stock response to nosy journalists. At stake is not some minor detail of governance, but whether he has the required moral character to preside over one of South Africa’s provinces. He owes his constituents, his party and the country a full explanation.
For the love of the game
Several cricket commentators, particularly those from that little island off the French coast, have belittled Kenya’s achievements in this World Cup, saying the East Africans are in the semifinals thanks only to the incompetence of the International Cricket Council and the
vagaries of the weather.
If, they moan, games scheduled for Nairobi and Harare had been moved to South African stadia and if rest days had been assigned so that rain-affected matches could be replayed, then real teams — for that read England, Pakistan, the West Indies or South Africa — would be in the Super Sixes instead of Kenya and Zimbabwe.
This is at best sour grapes and at worst racism. If any of these so-called superior teams had truly objected to any of the rules (and, in the South Africans’ case, the Duckworth-Lewis section in particular), they could have made their grievances known months ago. As it is, under the rules of the tournament the best teams are in the final stages.
And the Kenyans have got better and better. Their team spirit and enthusiasm is in stark contrast to the divided Pakistanis, numerically challenged South Africans and rudderless English. They bring home something that most World Cup squads seem to have forgotten: it’s just a game, and one that should be enjoyed by those who take part.
It’s much more pleasant to watch the keen Kenyans than the whingeing Poms.