Multimillionaire businessman Robert Gumede launched a smear campaign against the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday night in response to questions posed to him by the newspaper’s investigative team.
Read the statements
Gumede accused the paper’s investigative journalist Sam Sole of receiving payments from Gumede’s former business partner and adversary John Sterenborg to expose Gumede as a corrupt businessman. The allegations were carried on the prime-time bulletin of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
The national broadcaster only approached the M&G for comment shortly before the 7pm news bulletin, giving the paper inadequate time to comment substantively.
The newspaper explained in a statement released on Wednesday night that Sole was working at the time for the investigative magazine Noseweek, and that its editor Martin Welz reached an agreement with Sterenborg that Mr Sterenborg would cover the cost of Sole flying from Durban to Johannesburg to hear Sterenborg’s story.
“Noseweek could not afford such expenses at the time for a speculative journey. This was Mr Welz’s decision not Mr Sole’s,” said the Mail & Guardian in its statement.
“In the end Mr Sole paid for the ticket and was reimbursed by Mr Sterenborg and this payment constituted no benefit to Sole. Sterenborg’s story, which included allegations about Mr Gumede, was not backed by sufficient evidence and no story was ever written by Sole for Noseweek, let alone published. The attempt by Mr Gumede to portray this as ‘bribery’ or ‘corruption’ is simply unsustainable.”
Gumede also laid an unprecedented pre-emptive complaint with the press ombudsman, the press appeals panel and the chairperson of the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), prior to the publication of any story.
“Mr Gumede is seeking to portray our investigation as driven by malice and as a personal vendetta, but it is not. He launched a personal attack on editor Nic Dawes, Sam Sole and [former M&G investigative journalist] Adriaan Basson based on unsubstantiated innuendo that he himself purports to decry and which would not meet basic journalistic, never mind legal, standards,” said the M&G statement.
Editor Nic Dawes said on Wednesday night Gumede’s assertion that the M&G had “threatened and intimidated” people to provide the newspaper with information was laughable.
“If Mr Gumede’s pre-emptive attack is an attempt to bully the M&G into silence, it will fail. This paper will continue to investigate matters of public interest without fear or favour.”