Nelson Mandela and the Cape Times

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Whatever Dasnois says about her resignation from Independent Media (she was never dismissed), she will forever be known as the only editor in the world who did not publish former president Nelson Mandela’s death as the front page lead of the paper she edited.

The Mandela wraparound, no matter how much she tries to spin it, will never be considered the front page lead.

Alide Dasnois: The only editor who did not lead with Mandela’s death Ayanda Mdluli 23/11/2019

While Independent Newspapers does not agree with the decision taken by Alide Dasnois, as editor, to publish a special wraparound, Independent Newspapers acknowledges the following:

  1. that her decision was not intended by her in any way to show disrespect for Nelson Mandela or his legacy, or to embarrass Independent Newspapers, its owners or management, and was a decision, in respect of which Alide Dasnois was exercising her prerogative as editor;

 Alide Dasnois and Independent Newspapers reach settlement GroundUp 9/5/2016

At the Cape Town launch of Paper Tiger, one of its authors, Alide Dasnois, made the irrefutable point that the front page of the newspaper’s Nelson Mandela memorial wraparound on 6 December 2013 – later judged by Time as one of the fifteen best front page Mandela obituaries in the world – had all the legally-required attributes of a front page: the Cape Times masthead, the date and the barcode which is scanned at sales points.

The same point was made in the court papers by the Dasnois pro bono legal representatives, Cheadle, Thompson and Haysom which led to the subsequent settlement referred to in one of the anchor quotes to this article. In other words, Survé’s lawyers acknowledged that a) the wraparound was the front page and b) that it was Dasnois’ prerogative as editor to choose the format of the Mandela obituary.

Given the opportunity to contest this point in court by testifying under oath in the presence of his former Cape Times employees, Iqbal Survé chose rather to capitulate and settle her claim for wrongful dismissal.

There is no ambiguity here – Ayanda Mdluli’s claim that Alide Dasnois was the only editor in the world who chose not to make Nelson Mandela’s death the front page lead on 6 December 2013 is demonstrably false.

His article contains another falsehood:

Also, by deciding not to lead with Mandela’s death, she prevented tens of thousands of Cape Times subscribers from reading about it the next day. Her decision to do a wrapper delayed the distribution of the Cape Times and other newspapers of the Independent Media group by more than five hours, resulting in many Cape Town citizens not seeing the news of Mandela’s death on the front page.

Mdluli was not present on the evening when, a small team working to an incredibly tight deadline and with antiquated equipment produced a Mandela memorial front page that brought huge lustre to local journalism when Time  voted it as one of the best in the world.

Two people who were there, the former head of news Janet Heard and former chief-sub-editor Glenn Bownes, were also at the Cape Town launch of Paper Tiger and they put Mdluli’s falsehoods into perspective.

At the launch, Heard stated that there was not sufficient time before deadline to create a completely new front page. Bownes, on page 16 and 17 of Paper Tiger adds further perspective:

Glenn Bownes, concerned that there was no time to remake the paper completely, agreed with Dasnois that a special wrap- around four-page edition would be the best bet. ‘As we started putting together pages, it became clear that stripping the front page (and at least four other pages inside), and the knock-on effect of that, would make us very late for the presses and the trucks that needed to deliver the paper. As chief-sub, I felt strongly that a wraparound would be the best approach — both from a deadline perspective and because it would make for a more powerful tribute edition.’

Faced with the same deadline pressure, Die Burger and the Daily Dispatch also followed the same time-proven route and created wrap-around memorials to Mandela but the difference was that the respective editors were not dismissed and neither did the editorial teams responsible suffer the subsequent vilification and persecution experienced by the Cape Times staff.

Mdluli should explain this and also answer the obvious questions that arise:

  • Can he explain why he alone is writing articles vilifying esteemed journalists like Alide Dasnois and Ferial Haffajee?
  • Can he explain why former employees of Iqbal Survé who are not white have been so condemnatory of his news manipulation – see here and here and here ?
  • Can he explain why all the journalists Survé hired at the time of the Sekunjalo takeover – Vukani Mde and Karima Brown and Amy Musgrave and Gasant Abarder – subsequently resigned?
  • Can he explain their silence about the 9 October raid by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) on Survé’s plush, R140 million offices in the exclusive Silo precinct of Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront? Why have they not raised their voices in support of him?

The background to the Mdluli articles is that Sekunjalo Independent Media and other companies owned by Dr Iqbal Survé are facing an uncertain future and his articles are a typical counter-attack that we have experienced in the past.

  • Survé is being investigated for alleged share price manipulation which, according to the Sunday Times, carries a penalty of ten years in jail, a fine of R50 million or both.
  • Sekunjalo Independent Media is technically insolvent and Survé is facing claims by the Public Investment Corporation and the Government Employees Pension Fund of more than five billion rand.
  • According to a noseweek article, apparent cash flow problems may have led to Survé ceasing to pay the monthly million-rand subscription fee to his African News Agency wire service which kept it alive financially. This, in turn, led to the CEO Grant Fredericks and CFO Lisa de Villiers resigning and senior editorial staff requesting and being given severance pay-outs and the remaining staff being moved onto the AYO payroll because that’s where – for the moment – the government employee pension fund money is. What this means is that, contrary to Survé’s grandiose claims, ANA has never and will never be competition to African wire service giants like Reuters and Bloomberg.

Ad hominem attacks

The ad hominem attacks by a newspaper owner and the reporters doing his bidding now being experienced by Alide Dasnois and Ferial Haffajee and Sam Sole simply never occurred in the South African newspaper industry prior to a political decision by PIC head Dr Dan Matjila in 2013 to hand control of the biggest group of English newspapers in the country to a self-acknowledged ANC supporter.  The ANC no longer wants this support but Mdluli makes no mention of this in his articles.

The ethical provenance of Mdluli’s articles attacking Dasnois and Haffajee is open to question because, according to the sworn testimony at the Mpati commission of former AYO executive, Siphiwe Nodwele, Survé’s news staff write what he tells them to write.

It matters not, however, because at the time of Survé’s out-of-court settlement with Alide Dasnois in the unfair dismissal dispute, his lawyers acknowledged her prerogative as editor to choose the front page layout and that layout complied with all the legal requirements of a newspaper front page.

Furthermore, Time chose it as one of the best front page memorial tributes in the world to the life and times of Nelson Mandela.

What is relevant here but was not communicated to readers by Ayanda Mdluli is that when Ahmed Kathrada died in March 2017, several Sekunjalo Independent Media newspapers commemorated his death with wrap-around front page obituaries. Those editors were, however, not dismissed neither did the people involved suffer subsequent persecution as happened at the Cape Times.

On 20 January 2014 Aneez Salie published an article in the Cape Times disparaging the front-page wraparound tribute to Nelson Mandela which Time heralded as one of the best in the world.

Here’s the irony and it provides the last sentence in Paper Tiger…

And on 6 December 2018 the Cape Times marked the fifth anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela … with a wraparound.

It was the decision of Aneez Salie as editor to use a wraparound Cape Times tribute to Nelson Mandela on 6 December 2018 – the very person who had attacked Alide Dasnois for doing the same thing five years earlier.  The hypocrisy is nauseating but Ayanda Mdluli did not disclose this in his article attacking Dasnois. If it was acceptable for Aneez Salie to use a wraparound commemoration of the 5th anniversary of Mandela’s death in 2018, why was it not acceptable for Alide Dasnois to do so five years earlier?

Ayanda Mdluli’s claim that Alide Dasnois was the only editor in the world not to feature the death of Nelson Mandela on the front page is manifestly devoid of truth but that is hardly surprising in a newspaper company where lies are routine and truth is a rare commodity – ask Terry Bell and Dougie Oakes and Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya and Helen Zille and Mark Povey  and Gill Moodie  and Sam Sole  and SANEF –  they’ll tell you.

The obvious question which Ayanda Mdluli fails to ask in his ad hominem attacks on Dasnois and Haffajee is this: Has the Iqbal Survé era enhanced the local and international reputation of the Fourth Estate in South Africa?

Al Jazeera journalist, Azad Essa, has already provided the answer.

The next obvious question is whether the Cape Times has benefited from the removal of Alide Dasnois.

I put that very question to Tyrone August, editor of the Cape Times from 2003 – 2006 and now a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of English at Stellenbosch University, who facilitated the discussion at the Cape Town launch of Paper Tiger.

The Cape Times is now, he said, “A pale shadow of its former self”.

In responding to the attack on her by Ayanda Mdluli and exposing its falsehoods, Ferial Haffajee writes of Iqbal Survé:

Day after day, both the front pages of his titles and the business title Business Report are weaponised to fight his battles.

The Cape Times was weaponised against UCT and its former Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price as outlined in his interview with Professor Jonathan Jansen for the latter’s book, As by Fire. This was made a matter of academic record in the honours thesis of Ricky Stoch. Emboldened by the support of the Cape Times and its owner, the Fallists then began persecuting renowned UCT cardiologist Professor Bongani Mayosi leading to him committing suicide. At his funeral, his widow and sister bitterly denounced the Fallists who were encouraged from the beginning by Iqbal Survé and the Cape Times.

What is significant is that Carlo Petersen, the author of these attacks on UCT and Price, has left the Cape Times and has told former colleagues that he regrets his role in them.

Verbal abuse

What Mdluli was careful to omit from his article attacking Dasnois was the unchivalrous verbal abuse she experienced from Iqbal Survé. First there was him hysterically accusing her of racism at her trumped-up disciplinary hearing where he promised to use his ‘billions’ to destroy her reputation and future employment prospects. She then she suffered further embarrassment on 20 June 2014 at a SANEF function where she was given the Nat Nakasa award for journalistic bravery. Then deputy president Cyril Ramphosa was the keynote speaker.  Survé interrupted the function, repeating the absurd racism charge in a display devoid of grace and gravitas, devoid of couth and class.  Mdluli doesn’t have to take my word for the extent to which Survé has become an embarrassment to South African journalism and continuously brings the profession into disrepute, he need only read about this incident on page 130 of Paper Tiger as narrated by Angela Quintal who was, at the time, SANEF treasurer and editor of the Mail & Guardian:

As Iqbal tried to walk out, a furious Ronnie Mamoepa [Ramaphosa’s spokesperson] accosted him and started to berate him. It went something like this: “Who do you think you are? This is not the way to behave in the presence of the Deputy President of the country. It is disrespectful.” Ronnie was on a roll. ‘Iqbal appeared apoplectic with rage. I recall that he summoned Karima (Brown), who was at an adjacent table, and they both marched out. Some of those present applauded when he walked out, not in support, but in derision.’

Since 2013, Iqbal Survé has repeatedly brought South African journalism into disrepute.

Nothing Ayanda Mdluli can write will take away that truth, that reality

The attack by Mdluli on Alide Dasnois and Ferial Haffajee simply replicates Iqbal Survé’s attack on Carol Paton and the ‘Stratcom’ attack by Adri Senekal de Wet on Sam Sole which was justifiably criticised by Brendan Seery and which SANEF aptly described as disgusting.

The Sekunjalo Independent Media tragedy replicates the Gupta-led strategy with the New Age newspaper and the ANN7 television station. Each has been a propaganda medium for the Zuma–faction of the ANC, each has involved huge losses of taxpayer money and each has seen a brutalised staff desperate to find other employment.

In a few days’ time the Mpati commission will hand its report to President Cyril Ramaphosa and one can but hope that, in the spirit of the accountability and transparency he promised upon assuming office, he will quickly make its contents known to the South African public.

One of Nelson Mandela’s life-goals was nation building through reconciliation and I have no doubt that he would have found the events at the former Argus Group newspapers after the Sekunjalo takeover in 2013 – most specifically the ethnically divisive editorial stance of the Cape Times and the evidence of its owner at the Mpati commission – deeply disturbing.                                                                                       

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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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