Fired journalists defied Uhuru company policy

The article “‘Brown envelope’ man accused again” (February 10) was riddled with untruths and unverified allegations. This misleading article raised three issues:

  • The controversy about alleged payments to journalist Joseph Aranes to ensure that favourable reports of the former Western Cape premier, Ebrahim Rasool, were published in the Cape Argus while Aranes was the political editor;

  • That I used my position as publisher of Eland News to further my own political and business ambitions in the Northern Cape, particularly in the Richtersveld; and

  • That I unfairly dismissed former Eland News deputy editor Charles Jackson (Zenzile Khoisan) and former editor Deborah Hendriks.

The correct and accurate position is as follows.

Jackson was dismissed in March last year for failing to carry out the policies of Eland News, among them, that the newspaper be a mouthpiece for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable rural communities of the Northern Cape. Jackson and Hendriks refused to adhere to these policies and, after due process, were dismissed.
Since then they have waged a vendetta against me personally as well as the publishing company I chair, Uhuru Communications.

Despite several warnings urging Jackson to refrain from public derogatory and defamatory statements against me and Uhuru, he persisted. An application is in process in the Northern Cape High Court to obtain an interdict against him.

Our involvement in the Richtersveld was as the result of a 2007 request from the Nama Council, representing the indigenous Nama people of the Richtersveldt, for help with the challenges they have faced since their successful land claim application. It was directed to me because requests to other institutions and individuals had been unsuccessful. I accepted because of my interest in the traditions and cultures of South Africa. Uhuru supported my involvement.

The request for help had mainly to do with a lack of understanding of the claim settlement agreement and with the fact that they remained poor and could not understand why. Our investigations revealed a divided community: one section did not support the settlement as advised by the Legal Resource Centre; the other, led by Willem Diergaardt, supported it. The Nama group felt they had been bulldozed by the Diergaardt group into accepting the agreement.

Yet, after the agreement was made an order of court, the majority of the community was excluded from the establishment of the structures required by the Community Properties Act. We tried to mediate and bring the parties together, but it proved fruitless. The Nama people then united with another Richtersveld group, the Basters, and we received a signed mandate from 1 300 community members to help them. Diergaardt refused to co-operate.

The community exhausted all constitutional efforts to correct this state of affairs. After much deliberation, we decided we could not leave the community to a life of abject poverty while a select few reaped the rewards of the claim. A court order reinstated expelled community members, appointed a monitor to conduct proper elections and a membership audit, and the state-funded mediation process is now under way.

It is a sad day when a small company decides to try to help the downtrodden, only to be subjected to abuse by the media. Media space would be better used to interrogate the abuse of power and enrichment of a few, instead of the ranting of a disgruntled former employee and self-confessed alcoholic.

We employed Aranes after he resigned from the Argus. We knew of the “brown envelope” controversy and followed due process in appointing him. We checked the facts and established that Aranes was not subject to a disciplinary inquiry relating to the controversy by the Argus. At the time of his resignation, no disciplinary inquiry was contemplated. The Hawks investigated and indicated that no evidence has been found to substantiate the allegations and the receiver of revenue cleared Aranes.

We accept the constitutional principles that all South Africans are presumed innocent until proven guilty and that we are free to associate with all South Africans. We, as a company, found no moral or legal impediment to our using Aranes’s journalistic skills or in associating with him. We have also been advised that Aranes has lodged a complaint with the press ombudsman and is still waiting for an outcome—two years later. Until his sheet is clean, we see no reason why we should not employ Aranes.

Desmond Sampson is chief executive of Uhuru Communications

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