Max du Preez: I can no longer be associated with the Independent group

Dear Karima,

I’m sure you have noticed that I have been feeling increasingly uncomfortable about my association with the Independent Media group through my weekly column in three of your titles. 

I have written about what has been happening at your group since the takeover by Sekunjalo on more than one occasion, especially after the infamous axing of Alide Desnois as editor of the Cape Times, and have been in debate with some of your senior colleagues on social media. 

You probably also know about my private letters to the editor of the Cape Times, Gasant Abarder, when it became known that veteran journalist Tony Weaver was charged with “disrespecting the authority” of his seniors.

Your decision to accuse me (you called me a “seasoned journalist” in your statement) of factual inaccuracies in my column on President Jacob Zuma and to apologise to him came as a shock – especially since I gave you a full explanation of what I was referring to beforehand. 

You did not even have the decency to send me your apology in advance or to inform me that it was going to be published. I thought my explanation would have convinced you that an apology in this matter would have been a travesty.

All readers interested in this matter now know that there was no inaccuracy in my column. The question is: did a judge call the relationship between Zuma a corrupt one? The answer is: yes. In fact, that judge was backed by four others on the bench of the Supreme Court of Appeal using their own words, not those of Judge Squires. 

You knew this when you went ahead and apologised anyway to please the presidency and the party he leads.

And yet I read in Die Burger this morning that Abarder said that Independent Media stood by its apology. Breathtaking. Abarder did not even have the guts to publish my version of events, he merely recorded that I distanced myself from the apology.

My unease grew even more when I saw that you and your colleague, Vukani Mde, had donned ANC clothing when you attended the ANC’s birthday party on the weekend. When I read your and Mde’s arguments about your political allegiance and your attacks on those who thought this was outrageous behaviour for any journalist, I thought I must be living in a parallel universe.

I suddenly understood why you were swayed to knowingly publish a false “correction” and apologise to the president of the party you have pledged allegiance to on the basis of that falsehood.

It appears to me as if your political party’s interests now weigh more heavily with you than ethical journalism.

I became a journalist as a very young person in 1974 when I joined first Die Burger and then Beeld. When I started doing political reporting, I quickly became disillusioned with those newspapers’ support for the National Party and apartheid oppression. 

I decided to abandon what was clearly a promising career at Naspers and joined the then Times Media Group. I had running battles with several editors and decided to leave when I joined Van Zyl Slabbert’s initiative to talk to the ANC in exile in Dakar in 1987, again abandoning a promising career.

In 1988 I started Vrye Weekblad. Our stated objective was to expose the evils of apartheid and to let the voices of the majority and of the liberation movement be heard in the Afrikaans community. In the process I not only completely bankrupted myself, but I picked up five criminal convictions, inter alia for quoting banned ANC leaders and furthering the aims of a banned organisation, and escaped an assassination attempt and an office bombing.

When Vrye Weekblad was closed down in 1994, I joined the SABC where you and I were colleagues. Six years later, I was unceremoniously fired because I insisted on professional and independent journalism. 

The SABC bosses (all since departed under various clouds of suspicion) told the media I was fired because I didn’t respect the senior leadership at the broadcaster. I could not deny that charge.

I am there again. I’m writing a column for a group with leadership that I no longer respect.

I feel tainted by my association with the Independent Media group. It is time to depart once again. I will betray my own past if I don’t.

I will no longer be writing a column for your group.

A last thought. You, Karima, have on several occasions declared that those criticising your group’s decision-making are simply against transformation. You consistently dismiss those asking questions of those in power as “liberals” or “neo-liberals”.

The transformation the media in South Africa needs is not a replacement of critical voices with loyal ANC cadres. The transformation we need is for the media to fight harder for a clean and accountable government; to hold up a mirror to our entire society rather than just to the urban elite; to champion the cause of the marginalised rather than comfort the already comfortable.

Yours sincerely,
Max

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

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Max Du
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