Journalists caught in Cape crossfire

A political storm is breaking around a Cape Town journalist who has been suspended over his alleged moonlighting for the Western Cape provincial government and for links through his wife’s company to supporters of Premier Ebrahim Rasool.

Joy van der Heyde, who is married to Cape Argus writer Ashley Smith, is one of two directors of Inkwenkwezi Communications, the other is businessperson Zain Orrie.

No firm evidence has emerged to indicate that Smith and Argus politi-cal editor Joseph Aranes, who was suspended with him, received direct benefits from the company.

It is reliably understood, however, that Smith did do some proof- reading and editing work for government departments while employed on a contract basis by the Argus.

At the heart of the allegations against the two are concerns that their work for government departments aligned with Rasool may have influenced their reporting on the bitter split in the African National Congress that pits his “home for all” supporters against the “Africanist” group led by provincial secretary Mcebisi Skwatsha and chairperson James Ngculu.

Orrie dismisses the allegations as a political plot. “I reject with contempt the rumours/allegations or suggestions that [a] journalist at Independent Newspapers has or had a financial or other interest in any business venture with myself,” Orrie said in an SMS text to the Mail & Guardian.

“These rumours must be seen as part of a strategy hatched by certain individuals within the ANC Western Cape.
This strategy was discussed at a secret meeting held at Fezeka in Guguletu months ago in the run-up to the ANC provincial conference. Several targets were discussed including journalists/ANC politicians and prominent public/business individuals ... This strategy is viciously driven by bitter individuals,” he added.

The Argus has broken numerous stories on the strife within the party, many of them perceived by the Africanists as hostile. They were particularly angry about articles implicating Skwatsha in tender irregularities and a report by Smith outlining what happened at the Fezeka meeting. According to his report, the strategies discussed by leading members of the Africanist grouping included leaking damaging stories to favoured journalists and undermining others seen as sympathetic to Rasool.

In August Ngculu and his ANC executive met the paper’s editor, Ivan Fynn, to raise concerns about the newspaper’s reporting.

The suspensions were also discussed at the provincial executive committee (PEC) of the ruling party as part of “the environment of the province”, Skwatsha confirmed this week. “It’s quite interesting to find journalists of this seniority being suspended. We must watch this space.”

Rasool’s adviser, Edgar Pieterse, told the M&G, that Inkwenkwezi had done work for the housing department, but not for the premier’s office.

“It is important to stress that the work they did do for housing went through the normal tender process and we have provided Independent Newspapers with documentation to that effect.”

Orrie’s links to Rasool are clear from company records, which list him as a director of at least 10 other companies, some of whose co-directors have included prominent individuals with ties to the premier’s support network.

Yusuf Pahad, the chairperson of provincial investment promotion office Wesgro, is a director, with Orrie, of Gem Oil Traders, as are Beryl Kerr, Alan Roberts and Buyiswa Jack.

Gem Oil Traders, which stakeholders say is dormant, was created in 2001 to capture a slice of the Western Cape oil industry, vigorously promoted by Rasool during his tenure as economic affairs and tourism minister.

Kerr, Roberts and Pahad were among the private individuals who then transport Minister Tasneem Essop in 2003 asked to monitor performance of her department, which has since been taken over by Skwatsha.

Jack was nominated by Rasool supporters as deputy secretary general at the last ANC provincial conference in June and was described in an article ahead of the congress by Aranes as “punted” by Rasool supporters.

Cape Argus editor Ivan Fynn said the two journalists were suspended to avoid prejudicing the investigation, called in the wake of “ongoing allegations”.

“It is time to separate facts from rumours in the interest of the newspaper and the two journalists involved,” he added.

Nic Dawes

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