Minister, premier deny apartheid spy allegations

Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota and KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sibusiso Ndebele are taking the City Press newspaper to court over an article that alleged they were apartheid spies.

“This is after the City Press newspaper refused to apologise and retract in full its report of August 7 2005,” Lekota said in a statement on Monday evening.

The article, which appeared on the newspaper’s front page, says Lekota and Ndebele “spied on the ANC [African National Congress] and their own comrades — unwittingly, it would appear”.

A book written by former operative Riaan Labuschagne, titled On South Africa’s Secret Service, was the basis for the article.

“Masquerading as a journalist and researcher on liberation theology, Labuschagne writes that he infiltrated the ANC to its top leadership circles in KwaZulu-Natal.

“He made friends with former UDF [United Democratic Front] members with the help of Lekota and Ndebele at a time when the two were chairperson and secretary of the ANC in the province respectively,” the article read.

It said the book accuses Lekota and Ndebele of providing confidential ANC information to the apartheid-era National Intelligence Service.

It went on to say that Labuschagne said his association with Lekota had given him considerable access to ANC circles.

“Nevertheless, by the middle of 1989 I had established contacts with, and interviewed, most members of the ANC and SACP [South African Communist Party] leadership in Durban and Pietermaritzburg through an unwitting Lekota,” City Press quotes from Labuschagne’s book.

According to Lekota, the article misrepresents the content of Labuschagne’s book.

“Nowhere in the book does it say that Minister Lekota and Premier Ndebele spied for the apartheid regime,” he said.

Lekota also says the book was published in 2002 and that there was no reason for the newspaper to rehash the matter after such a long time.

“The report has caused incalculable damage and political embarrassment to Minister Lekota and Mr Ndebele and they want to set the record straight,” the statement read.

Mathatha Tsedu, editor of City Press, told the Mail & Guardian Online on Tuesday: “The word ‘spy’ should have been in quotes. We had a correction about that a week later. That was all we were prepared to do. The rest is in the book.

“They should be taking the author of the book to court. But if they want us, we’ll meet them there.”

Tsedu accepted the City Press editorship in February last year, following his dismissal from the Sunday Times after being accused of underperformance.

He was sacked after one of his political reporters, Ranjeni Munusamy, leaked a report he had refused to publish — regarding former National Prosecuting Authority chief Bulelani Ngcuka allegedly having been an apartheid spy — to City Press.

The report led to the establishment of the Hefer commission, which investigated the spy claims and found that Ngcuka had not been an apartheid spy. The report and its subsequent debunking before the Hefer commission cost the then City Press editor Vusi Mona his job.

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