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NOT the news. More damage expected in Sunday Times fake news fallout

The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) will meet on Monday to discuss the fallout of the Sunday Times newspaper’s now discredited reports on the Cato Manor “death squad”, illegal Zimbabwean extraditions and the Sars “rogue unit”.

Sanef has welcomed editor Bongani Siqoko’s announcement of the return of prize money and awards won as a result of the reports.

Siqoko said he accepts that “there was clearly a parallel political project aimed at undermining our democratic values and destroying state institutions and removing individuals who were seen as obstacles to this project …”.

“We admit that our stories may have been used for this purpose,” Siqoko added.

“Our particular role is to uphold ethical journalism and the fact that the Sunday Times is going to return the prize money for us is something that shows a commitment to ethics. Our sense is that that’s a positive thing,” Sanef’s executive director Kate Skinner told the Mail & Guardian.

Sanef says it wants to strengthen ethics within the industry, specifically within the areas of training and support for journalists across the industry to ensure this does not happen again. According to Skinner, this saga has highlighted the “tricky” political situations which journalists have to navigate.

Former Hawks spokesperson Macintosh Polela took to Twitter to say, “If called upon by a competent forum to reveal the names of three journalists who were paid to report false information, I shall do so. Two of them now hold senior positions in newsrooms. One in Johannesburg, and another in Durban.”

Polela — who himself is a former journalist — said in his capacity as a member of the Hawks he had warned journalists at the embattled newspaper that they were being fed false information with regards to the Zimbabwean renditions story. He claims he was ignored.

The newspaper also confirmed Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter are no longer in the employ of Tiso Blackstar. It is unclear whether they were fired or resigned and if any disciplinary action was taken before their departure.

Hofstatter, Wa Afrika, Rob Rose and Piet Rampedi were among Sunday Times journalists, who penned articles which led to the dissolution of a number of careers within the South African Revenue Service (Sars) and the Hawks and investigations were consequently compromised.

Rose — who is now the editor of the Financial Times — is yet to make a public statement detailing his role in the saga. Rampedi is now editor of the African Times but has thus far escaped any tangible action for his Sars rogue unit stories.

Ray Hartley — the editor of BusinessLIVE — was the editor at the time of the Cato Manor “death squad” and Zimbabwean renditions articles. He stepped down and was replaced by Phylicia Oppelt in February 2013. 

In February 2015, senior Sunday Times journalist Pearlie Joubert resigned, saying in an affidavit the Sars rogue unit stories were false, calling them “an orchestrated effort by persons to advance untested allegations in a public arena”. She further explained that she was not “willing to be party to practices at the Sunday Times which I verily believed to have been unethical and immoral”.

Joubert claimed the former husband of Oppelt, Advocate Rudolf Mastenbroek, had influenced its reporting of the Sars ‘rogue unit’.

READ MORE: My role in sorry saga of  Sars  ‘rogue unit’

In November 2015, Oppelt resigned from Tiso Blackstar, the holding company of The Sunday Times, Rand Daily Mail and the Financial Mail.

Former Kwazulu-Natal Hawks head Major-General Johan Booysen (Timeslive)

Former Kwazulu-Natal Hawks head Major-General Johan Booysen — who was implicated and subsequently axed over the fallacious death squad allegations — called the articles “a series of probably the most damaging media publications to our democracy”, which “ultimately culminated in the decimation of Sars and the Hawks”.

“The current editor of Sunday Times, Bongani Siqoko, who inherited the chaos his predecessors Ray Hartley and Phylicia Oppelt left behind, will be lauded by future generation journalists for his brave and unprecedented steps to initiate a catharsis in the journalism fraternity of South Africa.”

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Kiri Rupiah
Kiri Rupiah is the online editor at the Mail & Guardian.

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