RIGHT OF REPLY
The page-two story in last week’s Mail & Guardian , Thuli reads ANC the riot act was a sensationalised and heavily redacted account of the public protector’s report titled State and Party, Blurred Lines . The article failed some basic tests of ethical journalism, namely fairness and accuracy.
In failing to offer me the right of reply to the contents of the report and the article itself, your correspondent did a great disservice to M&G readers. In choosing to omit critical facts and findings contained in the report, the reporter reaches certain conclusions about the “damage” caused to me as the former minister of social development – when it is apparent that the reporter has either not read the report in full or has chosen to use selective extracts.
There are inconsistencies between what the public protector’s report’s findings actually were and what the article reports. The report relates to a complaint lodged by the Democratic Alliance social development spokesperson to do with an event in 2009 at Heinz Park and Philippi in Cape Town, where food parcels were distributed to a needy community by the then president of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema.
The public protector had to consider whether the said event was organised by the State Social Security Agency (Sassa), which falls under the purview of the department of social development, and whether I, in my capacity as minister of social development, had “instructed” Sassa officials to have food parcels organised for distribution at the event and, following on this, whether this amounted to improper conduct or maladministration.
On the very first issue, the report is clear. On page 6, it found that the allegation that Sassa improperly organised the event is “unsubstantiated”, noting that it was organised by the Youth League “in terms of its own internal resolution and using its own resources”.
On the second, it is equally clear. On page 8 of the report, the claim that I instructed Sassa officials to have food parcels organised for distribution at the event is found to be unsubstantiated.
The reporter states in a footnote that “at the time of the incident, Sassa insisted that the food parcels had been donated to Molewa by private companies, but she had not been present to hand them out herself”, leaving the reader to draw inferences that this ultimately proved to not be the case.
It is important to dispel this notion that state resources were improperly used, because the article takes potshots not just at the department of social development but at the ANC itself, in an attempt to suggest that the organising of food parcels through Sassa is a common practice.
On page 6 and elsewhere, the report notes that a private company donated the food parcels which were distributed at the event.
The complainant in this matter used, in support of the claims, an article that originally appeared in this very newspaper in 2009 – which stated that Malema handed out the food parcels with Sassa officials, and that “Sassa paid for the food parcels”.
The public protector’s office conducted interviews with a number of Sassa officials, and also relied on footage of the event provided by the SABC. The report says that not only is there no evidence to back up the claim that Sassa officials were distributing food parcels but also that the television footage could not “successfully disclose the identity of the person who handed the food parcels to Mr Malema to distribute”.
That the public protector’s report does not recommend sanction against me personally is indicative of the fact that no evidence of wrongdoing on my part exists. Therefore the assertion that this report is “far more damaging” for me is conjecture.
In seeking to infer mala fides on my part, the M&G should note my submission to the report, in which I say: “I cannot be faulted for things that happened in my absence, without my knowledge and control, if they indeed happened.”
The M&G should exercise responsible reporting that is not based on misconstruing facts.
Edna Molewa is now the minister of environmental affairs
Clarification: The first edition of this story incorrectly stated that the public protector’s report, State and Party, Blurred Lines, found the claim that the then minister of social development instructed Sassa officials to have food parcels organised for distribution at the said event to be “unsubstantiated”. In fact, the report notes on page eight that the claim was “substantiated”. Further clarification will be added when it is provided.