How the Cape Times Demonizes Farmers

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“Independent Media is a company that is devoid of leadership. It is a company where the owner, backed by a group of lackeys, does pretty much as he pleases.

I’ve never come across a group where lies have been peddled with such glib assurance.

And yes, it is a company that has made itself guilty of racist behaviour.” – Dougie Oakes Daily Maverick 26/10/2018

In an article calling for the criminalisation of unethical and fake news, published in April this year, the editor of Iqbal Survé’s Business Report supplement, Adri Senekal de Wet, called for a national debate on such matters.

I’d, therefore, like to challenge her and the editor of the Cape Times, Aneez Salie, to testify before the SANEF inquiry next year about the relentless bias and censorship by omission by this newspaper against farmers in general and the Western Cape farming community in particular.

In a previous article highlighting the antipathy of the Cape Times towards white South Africans, I pointed out that Salie is on record as saying ‘F*** you boere’ and that, shortly after he became editor, the Cape Times published a bizarre article, utterly devoid of truth, claiming that Western Cape farmers had embarked on a genocidal campaign to create wide-scale foetal alcohol syndrome in the children of their employees. In my article rebutting this evil claim, I challenged Salie to call a press conference and to name and shame the farmers guilty of such practices. For obvious reasons, he did not respond because the article was a pack of lies from start to finish and the alleged victims, the alcoholic mother, ‘Rose’, and her foetal alcohol syndrome-impaired child, ‘Baby Thomas’ do not exist.

Since then, with the clear approval of company owner Iqbal Survé, he has abused his media influence to demonise our food producers who are leaving the country in increasing numbers thereby jeopardising our food security.

If a farmer appears in court on a charge of common assault, this immediately becomes the front page lead in the Cape Times and posters across the city proclaim this fact.

Throughout the country, hundreds of people are released on R1000 bail for common assault every day, people from every calling in life. But you never see Cape Times posters announcing ‘Accused mechanic’s R1000 bail extended’ or ‘Police arrest another nightclub bouncer.’

Inflame ethnic hatred

There are never follow-up reports on these cases because, in my subjective opinion, they serve a singular purpose – to inflame ethnic hatred against those for whom Salie clearly harbours an abiding hatred. Former colleagues tell me  that this is motivated by what he and his former wife, Shirley Gunn, experienced  when they were arrested as MK operatives and mistreated by the apartheid–era security police.

The even more important question which will hopefully be answered before the SANEF inquiry into unethical and dishonest news practices next year is why Iqbal Survé has given Aneez Salie free rein for the past four years to abuse the reach and influence of a once-respected newspaper in this way.

The hypocrisy of a newspaper which constantly lauds the healing role that Nelson Mandela played in our history while at the same time constantly seeking to widen the ethnic divide by scapegoating whites in general and farmers, in particular, is nauseating.

Another important question which needs to be answered is whether this sort of campaign –  and the political climate it creates – in any way motivates the bestial hate crimes, unique in the world today, to which our farmers are regularly and routinely exposed.

As I write this article, an elderly farming couple in Bonnievale, a 90-minute drive from Cape Town, has been shot dead in what Agri-SA says is already turning out to be a murderous festive season for our food producers.

All the available evidence shows that the Cape Times gives saturation coverage when farmers err but does its best to avoid publicising attacks on them that would create empathy for them or covering events which might redound to their credit. There is incontrovertible proof of this contention:

When a world-famous Stellenbosch farmer, Charles Back, was attacked and left for dead, the Cape Times, unlike Die Burger did not interview Back and when another world famous Stellenbosch farmer, Jeffrey Zetler, was murdered, Die Burger interviewed his widow and their daughter, but the Cape Times did not.

In October last year Back, the most famous and influential wine farmer in the country, was named ‘Farmer of the Year’ and in 2015 he received a lifetime award by the industry.

Now have a look at this video clip by a Naspers team in February

70 stitches

It was filmed hours after robbers had attempted to murder Back, bludgeoning him with a crowbar and leaving him momentarily unconscious and with wounds that required 70 stitches on his head and face.

By any standards, this was a significant news story. The most famous and influential winemaker in the country, whose wine estate attracts more than 300 000 local and foreign visitors a year, is attacked in his home by robbers who try to murder him. Displaying exceptional tenacity and courage he drives, despite severe injuries, and with hands still bound, to alert neighbours and sound the alarm.

Back’s farm is less than an hour’s drive from the CBD headquarters in Cape Town of the Cape Times and Die Burger. Die Burger news team immediately drove to the farm after news broke of the attempted murder of the most famous wine farmer in the country. They posted a video clip of an interview with the bloodied Back on the News 24 website and an article and photograph of him in the newspaper.

The Cape Times deliberately ignored this attempted murder but cannot have been unaware of it because Back posted news of the attack on social media and Agri SA issued a media release condemning the attack which was widely covered in both the daily and the specialised press and on television.

Had the Cape Times phoned the farm, photographs of Back and his injuries could have been emailed to the newspaper within minutes. It chose not to and one hopes that Adri Senekal de Wet and Aneez Salie will testify in this regard before the SANEF inquiry next year and explain whether there is any connection between this clearly-deliberate censorship by omission and his published ‘F*** you boere’ comment.

What is equally significant in this context was the failure by the Cape Times to send a reporter to do an in-person interview with the widow of murdered Stellenbosch strawberry farmer Jeffrey Zetler who was stabbed to death by robbers on June 23 this year – his wife Beverly’s birthday. Over decades, millions of people from all over the world have visited this farm, adding significantly to our tourism revenue.

Die Burger sent its senior feature’s writer, Willemien Brümmer, to interview his widow and his daughter, Nicole Shapiro and her article occupied two-thirds of the op-ed page on July 6.

The headline was ‘Asof hulle wraak soek’ (As if they sought revenge) and the strap head read:  ‘Nicole Shapiro, dogter van die vermoorde arbeiboer Jeffrey Zetler, bly sien die kringtelevisie van die noodlottige middag in haarmaterial middag in haar kop en haar ma, Beverly, vra: Hoekom?’ (Nicole Shapiro, daughter of the murdered strawberry farmer Jeffrey Zetler, continues to see in her mind, the CCTV footage of the fatal afternoon and her mother, Beverley, asks: Why?)

His widow told Brümmer of what was to be seen on the CCTV footage, of how the three masked attackers had repeatedly stabbed Zetler although he showed no resistance, of how the paramedics had pulled her away from Zetler’s motionless body and told her that they had done what they could but that her husband of 39 years was beyond saving.

She speaks of how she had not slept for nights on end and her fears of the loneliness to come, of how her husband’s forebears had started to farm in Stellenbosch in 1904, how June 23 was the fifth time that he had been attacked.

Frenzied orgy of stabbing

Her daughter had asked to see the CCTV footage to understand what had happened and said she had been unable to expunge those images from her mind. She does not understand why it had been necessary to murder her father because he would have given them the money in the safe had he not died in a frenzied orgy of stabbing.

You can see a YouTube clip of the interview here.

Many if not most of the dwindling number of Cape Times readers – its daily circulation has, as a result of Aneez Salie’s openly-stated antipathy towards white South Africans, now dropped below 30 000 for the first time in the newspaper’s modern history – will have visited the farm to pick strawberries, eat at the farm’s restaurant and take photographs of its world-famous scarecrows.

Why then, was the experience of Jeffrey Zetler’s widow and daughter made available to the readers of Die Burger but not made available to the readers of the other morning newspaper in Cape Town? Could it be because, on the watch of Iqbal Survé, the Cape Times deliberately avoids covering events which could create empathy for white South Africans?

I ask the question because in yet another flattering interview published in his own newspapers on 23 November 2014 Survé says: ‘I am a non-racialist at heart. That’s what Madiba fought for.’

And, at 50 minutes of his speech at a meeting of the UCT Association of Black Alumni (UCTABA) hosted in the Kramer Building at the university on 7 April 2015, Survé says: “My entire life I’ve lived a principled position, I’m a non-racialist.”

(This is ironic because, during the speech, he called for a purge of white UCT staff.)

But wait, there’s more.

Faced with the worst drought in living memory, the farming sector in the Western Cape has cut back substantially on irrigation to save water. Despite this, on 6 February, farmers in the Grabouw and Elgin valleys, major producers of deciduous fruit for export, released millions of litres of water to assist the people of Cape Town in their water shortage crisis and you can watch a video clip on the Naspers News 24 website.

So how was this ‘good news’ story about the selfless kindness of farmers reflected on the IOL website and in the newspapers owned by Dr Iqbal Survé – most specifically, the Cape Times?

Google ‘Farmers donate water to Cape Town’ and the first news item reflected is from the Naspers website, News 24. Thereafter you can scroll through page after page of links and the only reference to this magnanimous release of water on the IOL website is buried in a single paragraph halfway through an article highlighting a call by an ANC MP for privately owned dams – such as the one from which the Grabouw and Elgin farmers released the water for Cape Town – to be nationalised.

Farmers steal our water

Having effectively suppressed the news of this goodwill by farmers, the Cape Times then carried a front-page lead headlined ‘Farmers steal our water’.

But wait, there’s still more Sekunjalo Independent Media bias against farmers.

On 30 October 2017, farming communities throughout the country marched to protest against the never-ending murder of farmers and their families, often accompanied by depraved levels of prolonged torture. These murders are without precedent anywhere else in the world today.

Unsurprisingly, Iqbal Survé’s online IOL news portal couched its coverage of the Black Friday march in an ethnically-divisive context.

In two Politicsweb articles, Marie-Louise Antoni outlined how prominent media personalities had sought to downplay the extent of these brutal hate crime murders in their response to the Black Friday March.

The fact that the murder rate of farmers in South Africa is eight times higher than in any other country in the world or the fact that the ANC has attempted to justify these murders, was not mentioned in the comments by these detractors of the Black Friday march.

Iqbal Survé’s newspapers emphasise farm murders as a percentage of the total murder rate in the country but don’t disclose the hate-crime element with its primaeval level of barbarity.

I doubt if any of the journalists or columnists Marie-Louise Antoni names have ever visited the scene of a farm murder, covered one of the very few trials that have resulted, interviewed the bereaved families and relatives of the victims, or have visited the monuments to those so murdered – the White Cross Monument near Pietersburg or the one at Nampo Park near Bloemfontein.

Hate-filled ethnic slurs

For me what was most disturbing, but perhaps not surprising given that it involved Sekunjalo Independent Media, was the way the bereaved Black Friday marchers were denigrated by Kevin Ritchie, former regional executive editor, Gauteng, for Independent Media. His hate-filled ethnic slurs included words like ‘mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging, two-tone khaki, kak haircut, vellie’ and he subsequently urged those who, for example, mourned the incomprehensibly evil murder of two-year-old Wilmien Potgieter – among hundreds of others – to emigrate.

These hate-driven murders, accompanied by unimaginable levels of violence, result in international opprobrium which is not reflected locally as the Kevin Ritchie articles illustrate.

Should this abuse of media power and influence to fuel ethnic tension, particularly against white farmers, not be seen in the context of what Terence Corrigan calls the deliberate attempt to create and nurture the ‘brutal farmer stereotype’?

For the record, Wilmien Potgieter was first slashed across the head with a panga and then shot in the head at point blank range. Her body was thrown in a box which filled up with her blood. Her mother died after being shot in the neck, her father succumbed to 151 stab wounds from a pitchfork. Their killers left a note, written on cardboard in Sotho, on the farm gate which read, ‘We have killed them. We are coming back’.

The book, Kill the Boer by Ernst Roets is dedicated to her memory.

That an editor of an Independent Media newspaper could so denigrate those honouring the memory of murder victims like Wilmien Potgieter and Sue Howarth and Joubert Conradie and that such appalling sentiments could be published, speaks volumes about the corporate ethos of the Sekunjalo company.

So, too, does the Daily Maverick article by the former political reporter and op-ed writer at the Cape Times, Dougie Oakes. As he puts it, based on his experience as a Cape Times employee: I’ve never come across a group where lies have been peddled with such glib assurance.’

This damning article by Oakes has not been challenged or denied and we are indebted to him for giving us a deeply disturbing insight into the corporate ethos of Sekunjalo Independent Media and how white staff are treated at the Cape Times – something which has seen an exodus from the company of more than a hundred of the most respected editors, columnists and reporters in South African journalism.

This vendetta by the Cape Times to inflame racial tensions and to widen the ethnic divide manifestly carries the imprimatur of Iqbal Survé. So, given the contention by Adri Senekal de Wet that unethical news coverage should be criminalised, one awaits with interest her explanation, when she testifies before the SANEF commission, about how Aneez Salie’s anti-farmer bias can be rationalised in the context of the following policy statements by Iqbal Survé:

All our stories must adhere to the highest standards required.

This means they have to be balanced, fair and accurate. What they can’t be is one-sided, inaccurate and prejudicial. I have always valued the principles of transparency, fairness and independence.

  • An interview with him published on 23 November 2014 is headlined Best safeguard of editorial independence is to be fair and balanced.

 

    • On 21 August 2017, in an apology for yet another falsehood from the Sekunjalo Independent Media fake news factory he stated: … we expect our journalists, including freelance journalists, to have the highest ethical standards and to at all times ensure that the news reported is accurate and is able to withstand scrutiny, so that our readers have confidence in both our print and online publications.
  • In an article  headlined We vow to be balanced, free from bias and fair’ published on 27 September 2017  Survé states: I reiterate the commitment of this group of newspapers and news platforms to reporting news that is balanced, free from bias and fair.

My commitment, as a media owner but most of all as a citizen like you, is that our group will tell it like it is, without fear, favour or prejudice.

Racism stops with me

In February 2016, Sekunjalo Independent Media launched a ‘Racism Stops With Me’ campaign and the campaign poster filled the entire front page of the Cape Times.It might help if someone pointed out to Aneez Salie that this applies to him as well because, according Dougie Oakes who worked there – as the anchor quote on this article indicates – white staff are constantly discriminated against in Newspaper House, home in Cape Town’s CBD to the Cape Times and the Cape Argus and you will search in vain for the by-line of a white reporter or photographer in the Cape Times – draw your own conclusions from that.

There is ample proof of his contention:

  • Alide Dasnois and Donwald Pressly were dismissed shortly after the Sekunjalo takeover because of the coverage that had been given to the subsequently withdrawn tender which formed the basis of Thuli Madonsela’s  ‘Docked vessels’ report.
  • Survé’s newly-employed senior executives, Karima Brown and Vukani Mde wrote an article overtly threatening white staff.
  • Iqbal Survé got his lawyers to write a threatening letter to two outstanding employees with decades of loyal service to the company, Chris Whitfield and Melanie Gosling. This was without precedent in South African media history and both subsequently left.
  • Articles attacking Alide Dasnois, Tony Weaver and Janet Heard were written by, among others, Aneez Salie, for their role in producing an obituary tribute to Nelson Mandela which Time voted as one of the best in the world. All three subsequently left Survé’s employ.
  • The newly-employed editor of the Cape Times, Gasant Abarder, (who had absconded from his previous employer) started dismissing beloved columnists like John Scot –  in three-sentence emails – not because there was no demand for his work or because he had done something wrong, but because he was white.

This resulted in an exodus of senior staff which continues to this day – and the resulting drop in editorial standards is constantly obvious.

Ironically Karima Brown, Vukani Mde and Gasant Abarder – having first-hand experience of what Iqbal Survé’s concept of ‘transformation’ has meant for a once-respected newspaper company – have all voted with their feet and are no longer in his employ.

Now, after the second round of retrenchments, the few remaining Independent Media staff members face another threat to their job security.

Hundreds of thousands of civil servants await the testimony of Iqbal Survé before the Lex Mpati commission of inquiry, the farm murders continue and what you won’t find in the Cape Times is a review of War of the Flea   or of Farm Murders – Victims tell their Stories.

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Ed Herbst started his news career as a photographer with the Natal Witness in 1968 but quickly switched to reporting while retaining an interest in photography. He joined the SABC in its Pretoria news office as a camera reporter in 1977, one year after television was introduced in South Africa. In 1978 he was seconded to the SABC’s Windhoek office for six months to cover the run-up to the country’s UN-monitored election and was then posted to the SABC’s Sea Point news office. He asked for early retirement in 2005 because of pervasive SABC corruption, news censorship and unaddressed abusive treatment of staff. From 2007 to 2009 he was employed as a consultant in the media department of the Cape Town municipality but became a pensioner when personal circumstances forced him to retire. He now writes without remuneration for local websites about the interface between media and politics. He is writing a book on media capture after 1994.

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