‘The M&G let Bam play them like a violin’




Dear reader,

You may have seen two stories published by this newspaper that included my name with worrying, unfounded and unsubstantiated claims made by businessman Lonwabo Bam. The stories were “Mabuyane sold ANC-donated Jeep” (September 20) and “Eastern Cape ANC bigwigs in loan fracas” (May 17).

I am writing to share factual information that readers were not given in the two stories.

The work of journalists is regulated by the South African Press Code, which places ethical responsibilities on journalists to be fair and ethical in their reporting so that you, the reader, can form your opinion based on correct information.

I do not think this was done in the story published last week.

My expectation was that the Mail & Guardian would treat this story and me with the same ethical considerations, not because I am a politician who is a premier of the province but because I am human being.

There are a couple ethical flaws in the story “Mabuyane sold ANC-donated Jeep”, in which Thanduxolo Jika claimed I transferred the ownership of the ANC vehicle to myself.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, this headline is misleading the reader because it reports information falsely and presents lies as the truth.

When Jika contacted my office, he asked the following questions:

1) Being in mind of your prior responses, why did the premier take ANC’s property and transfer it to his name and subsequently dispose of it himself?

2) Why did the premier ask for the vehicle to be bought in Johannesburg instead of the vehicle he had already chosen at Ronnie’s Motors?

3) Was the vehicle ever handed over to the ANC as a donation? If so, why didn’t the former provincial treasury know about it and record it in the ANC books as such?

4) Was this vehicle handed over at the ANC headquarters or at East London’s International Convention Centre?

In May, we told Jika that the Jeep Cherokee was donated to the ANC for use by the provincial secretary, a position I occupied until October 2017, when I was elected provincial chairperson.

Because the car was an asset of the ANC, it was important that Jika be referred to the ANC administration to ask questions about how the party disposed of its asset.

He ignored our response referring him to the ANC. Instead, Jika preferred to incorrectly report that the newspaper did not get comment from me.

This false report is an example of the newspaper coming at me instead of being fair and ethical. Jika also ignored our written response that I did not transfer the car to myself.

There is no way an individual can transfer ownership of a vehicle owned by an organisation to him or herself. That is why at a point of the disposal of the vehicle, when the car was almost out of the motor plan, I was given first right, because I was a full-time functionary at the time of the donation and had used for the vehicle for that long.

An arrangement was agreed upon between me and the ANC about how that transaction would be done. Yes, the car was legitimately transferred into my name by the ANC on that understanding. I did not transfer it to myself as insinuated by the M&G.

At the time of the donation, the vehicle donated to the ANC was registered as the property of SALP Holdings, which purchased the vehicle from the car dealer and then transferred it to the ANC as a donation. This is diametrically opposed to the claims reported by this newspaper. When the ANC disposed of the car, it transferred it to my name and it became my property.

When Jika sent my office questions in May, he said Bam told him he bought the car for me and yet, the car was for the ANC, something Jika verified. My issue was he decided not to report this as a false claim by Bam in his story published in May.

Instead of examining information given to it by Bam in order to get the facts, the newspaper allowed him to play them like a violin.

I have not received undue benefits from anyone and I have not been captured by MEC Babalo Madikizela, as claimed by Bam and the M&G.

I strongly feel that in the reporting of these two stories — especially the second story — the newspaper failed to report according to their commitments as outlined in the press code.

You may ask why am I not reporting this newspaper to the press ombudsman for these glaring, ethical flaws in their reporting. My concern is that the office of the ombudsman is moving like a snail in adjudicating a complaint I lodged with them in May against the M&G. This will also be lodged but I am worried that their slow pace is not helping me. I withdrew the complaint about their breach in reporting about the Jeep. There is now evidence to bring it back as a fresh complaint.

It is worrying that this newspaper takes what is given to it by Bam as gospel truth without independently scrutinising the information, in order to give readers correct information to empower them to make informed decisions.

The insinuation made by the newspaper that as the provincial secretary of the ANC I wielded power and influence over the provincial government is mischievous, suggesting there was wrongdoing in the relationship I had with the deployees of the ANC in government.

The provincial secretary of the ANC works to implement the decisions of the ANC to ensure a healthy relationship between the party and the members it has deployed to various government institutions to implement our manifesto. This relationship is not illegal but it is a political relationship within the constitutional framework of the country.

Going forward, newspapers, including the M&G, must not allow sources to direct their reporting, because that makes them off-ramp from ethical reporting.

Lubabalo Oscar Mabuyane is the premier of the Eastern Cape and the ANC provincial chairperson

M&G responds

The Jeep Cherokee was bought by Lonwabo Bam and proof of payment was provided to the Mail & Guardian, including evidence that the purchase of the vehicle was with money that originated from a tender in Mbizana. Mabuyane was given more than a week to respond to questions from the M&G, which he failed to do. The M&G also contacted Mabuyane’s spokesperson, Mvusi Sicwetsha, and the ANC spokesperson in the Eastern Cape, Gift Ngqondi, neither of whom responded to our queries. Furthermore, in the story published in May regarding what Mabuyane calls a loan from his friend and fellow politician, Lubabalo Madikizela, it was established by the M&G that the money came from Bam. Mabuyane has never produced any evidence to the contrary. The M&G will continue to report factually based on clear evidence. We do so without prejudice.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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