Rogue Unit Reporters: Another Court Setback

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Sekunjalo Rogue Unit

“For those who do not know, Rampedi is a critically acclaimed journalist in South Africa who exposed the shenanigans of a secret surveillance unit that operated within SARS.

This rogue unit is alleged to have spied on prominent political figures, and despite claims that Rampedi and his colleagues concocted the entire story, an investigation by the public protector is currently underway.” Ayanda Mdluli IOL 1/12/2019

“In the same month that Van Loggerenberg came to realise that the IGI investigation was not going to be kind to SARS, Tom Moyane walked into the SARS headquarters in Brooklyn, Pretoria, to start his reign of terror. A couple of weeks after Moyane’s arrival the front page of the Sunday Times screamed that “SARS bugged Zuma”.” Pieter du Toit How the SARS rogue unit narrative was born and normalised  4/10/2019

The cost to the country of the State Capture project during the ‘nine wasted years’ of the Jacob Zuma era is estimated at more than a trillion rand.

The ‘Rogue Unit’ reporting in the Sunday Times by Piet Rampedi, Mzilikazi Wa Afrika and Stephan Hoffstatter played a considerable role in the media narrative which facilitated this plunder.

In this nefarious process, Sunday Times reporter Pearlie Joubert restored some dignity to the profession so sullied by these journalists. She chose to resign from this newspaper rather than to be associated with their violation of every tenet of ethical news gathering and dissemination as detailed in the subsequent ruling by the ombudsman of the SA Press Council.

At the same time and in the same building, Songezo Zibi, the editor of Business Day resigned for the same reasons.

In their 2016 book, Rogue – The Inside Story of SAR’s Elite Crime Busting Unit, Johann van Loggerenberg and Adrian Lackay write:

“In January 2016, another editor of the Times Media group stable, Songezo Zibi, also resigned. I understand Zibi was told in no uncertain terms that, as editor of Business Day, he was ‘taking editorial independence too seriously’. In their reporting, Business Day had started to question the veracity of the SARS ‘rogue unit’ stories published by the Sunday Times. I’m sure thus must have caused tension within the Times Media Group. (Page 216).”

Zibi was interviewed in October 2018 by Radio 702 and revealed how he came to realise that the Sunday Times reporting on the SARS ‘Rogue Unit’ was an integral part of the State Capture project.

As 702 reported:

However, between 2014 and 2015, the Sunday Times published numerous stories about the existence of a ‘rogue unit’. The newspaper’s investigation unit played a crucial role in the destruction of the Hawks and Sars.

The newspaper later apologised for the articles and the press ombudsman also ruled that the Sunday Times retract all stories.

Several recent events attest to the Ramaphosa administration’s increasing attempts at corruption redress and provide fresh insights into the enormously damaging reporting by the Rogue Unit Three:

  • The Sunday Times ‘Rogue Unit’ reporting of Rampedi, Wa Afrika and Hofstatter was based on a 2014 report by the then inspector-general of intelligence, the late Faith Radebe. Its title was “Report on the investigation into Media Allegations against the Special Operations Unit and/or other Branches of the State Security Agency”. Its claim that a covert and unlawful unit was operating within SARS was devoid of truth and, on 8 June, this was confirmed by Judge Sulet Potterill in the North Gauteng High Court.
  • This was the second court setback for Sunday Times ‘Rogue Unit’ reporting team within four months. In mid-February, Acting Judge Anthony Millar told Johann van Loggerenberg, Ivan Pillay and Andries Janse van Rensburg – the three former SARS officials falsely accused by Rampedi, Wa Afrika and Hofstatter of, among other things, running a brothel – that the NPA had dropped all charges against them.
  • Prior to that, in September 2018, Judge Frank Koon, acknowledged to the Nugent Commission that there was nothing unlawful about the tax evasion investigative unit which had, prior to the arrival of Tom Moyane and the publication of Sunday Times Fake News articles, operated  legitimately within SARS.

The 2018 acknowledgment by Judge Koon that there was nothing unlawful about SARS investigating tax evasion by politically-connected high flyers, the recent ruling by Judge Sulet Potterill and the decision by Shamila Batohi to withdraw charges against Johann van Loggerenberg, Ivan Pillay and Andries Janse van Rensburg vindicates the resignation from Tiso Blackstar by Pearlie Joubert and Songezo Zibi, vindicates the finding of the SA Press Council ombudsman and shows that the decision by the newspaper to apologise for the reporting of the Rogue Unit Three was not only justified but necessary.

In February this year, Werksmans Attorneys, legal representatives of van Loggerenberg, Pillay and Janse van Rensburg issued a statement after their acquittal on all charges. It summarises the unjust persecution they suffered as a result the reporting by the Rogue Unit Three and the damage it did to the country as a whole.

Drop of R50 billion

The Sunday Times attack on SARS resulted, according to van Loggerenberg and Lackay, in the loss of 55 senior employees subsequent to the arrival of Tom Moyane.  This depletion of centuries of expertise and institutional knowledge saw a concomitant drop of R50 billion in the revenue collected by SARS during the Tom Moyane era.

The Sunday Times Fake News ‘Rogue Unit’ articles also had a devastating impact on the personal and professional lives of the SARS employees who were the victims of a purge orchestrated by Moyane on the basis of this reporting.

Peter Richer can attest to this. He confronted Stephan Hofstatter in September 2018:

“I lost my job at SARS. You set up scurrilous unethical journalists to set up a fiction to get rid of hard-working civic servants.

“SARS’ investigative capabilities have been broken down. We were highly rated by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)…the British came to see how we do things…it’s now decimated.”

The Guptas did, however, benefit – because that’s how it was at the time.

When it became known that Piet Rampedi and Mzilikazi Wa Afrika had been employed  at Sekunjalo Independent Media by Iqbal Survé, Daily Maverick  reporter Marianne Thamm suggested that it was incumbent on them to clear their names after the Sunday Times apology about their reporting. She wrote that the most effective way to do this was to testify before the Zondo and Nugent commissions and to face cross examination in this regard.

They have not done so and perhaps the Potterill judgment throws some light on why they chose not to face public and televised cross-examination  under oath on their reporting.

Damning verdict

On 16 January 2016, the SA Press Council delivered a damning verdict on the ‘Rogue Unit’ reports by Piet Rampedi, Mzilikazi Wa Afrika and Stephan Hoffstatter.

Two years later, the Sunday Times unconditionally apologised for the damage caused by the ‘Rogue Unit’ smears.

Given this apology, the prior ruling by the SA Press Council and the recent court decisions by Potterill and Millar, the exculpatory articles by current and former Sekunjalo Independent Media journalists like Ayanda Mdluli  and  Kevin Ritchie clearly lack merit.

Welcoming the Potterill judgment, Johann van Loggerenberg called for the prosecution of, among others, the journalists involved in propagating the Fake News about the SARS ‘Rogue Unit’.

In October last year, it became known that Setlhomamaru Dintwe, the Inspector General of Intelligence, was investigating, among others, the journalists whose reporting facilitated the State Capture trillion rand looting.

A credible Fourth Estate is a vital component in advancing democracy and it is therefore imperative that Shamila Batohi heed Johann van Loggerenberg’s call.

Wa Afrika was also involved in a disinformation campaign against General Johan Booysen, former KZN head of the Hawks. As outlined in  Jessica Pitchford’s 2016 book, Blood on their Hands – General Johan Booysen Reveals the Truth, the Fake News campaign against Booysen started with a Sunday Times  article on 11 December 2011 headlined Inside a South African Police ‘Death Squad’.

In March last year the conveners of the Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism withdrew the awards previously given to the Sunday Times reporters  responsible for these ‘Death Squad’ articles and, three months later, NPA head Shamila Batohi dropped the charges against Booysen.

What should be noted is that, in December 2015, the Sunday Times also apologised for the attacks by its ‘Rogue Unit’ reporters on the integrity of Pravin Gordhan and that those attacks have continued without respite since Piet Rampedi and Mzilikazi Wa Afrika were hired by Iqbal Survé. This is not surprising because Survé’s antipathy towards Gordhan is a matter of public record and is reflected in his newspapers.  According to the uncontested evidence before the Mpati Commission of a former Iqbal Survé employee, Siphiwe Nodwele, the staff at Sekunjalo newspapers publish what Survé orders them to publish.

Rampedi was employed by Sekunjalo Independent Media after writing an article which praised Iqbal Survé and attacked white-owned media companies. His animus in the latter regard is shared by his employer.

Similar sentiments were expressed in 2013 at the beginning of the Sekunjalo Independent Media era and have been expressed repeatedly since then.

This ethnic chauvinism is the antithesis of the sentiments expressed by Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia trial and the ideal of nation-building through reconciliation which formed the bedrock of his approach to politics thereafter.

Prior to the ANC’s Nasrec conference in December 2017, a grabber was removed from the headquarters of the State Security Agency and returned after the conference.

It had been used to access Cyril Ramaphosa’s email account.

Leaked information

This information was then leaked.

Thereafter, a series of articles, see here and here, were published in Sekunjalo Independent Media newspapers about donations to Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2017 presidential campaign.

These articles implied that he was corrupt – this despite the fact that corporate and individual financial contributions to political parties are not illegal here or in any other multi-party democracy.

These articles were questioned by Joel Netshitenzhe and Jeremy Gordin and Adriaan Basson. This campaign, like the SARS ‘Rogue Unit’ and the ‘Cato Manor SAPS Death Squad’ campaigns, ended in our court rooms – an ending which vindicated the concerns expressed by Netshitenzhe, Gordin and Basson.

Understandably, the Ramaphosa faction of the ANC was justifiably angry.

The appointment of Rampedi and Wa Afrika was not the first time that Survé had hired an anti-Ramaphosa reporter. Steven Motale, who had previously written a letter of apology to Jacob Zuma, joined Sekunjalo Independent Media in May 2017 as editor for the Sunday Independent.

This was not surprising because Iqbal Survé is also a supporter of the Zuma faction of the ANC, something which has been confirmed by Dougie Oakes, a former political editor at the Cape Times.

Motale replaced Wally Mbhele who had been fired after the Sunday Independent had published an article on Brian Molefe which annoyed the anti-reformist faction of the ANC. Motale left less than a year later after being unable to sustain a claim that President Cyril Ramaphosa was serial adulterer and after the Sunday Independent published   a second Fake News article, this time about the auction of Luthuli House.

In the anchor quote to this article, written by Ayanda Mdluli in December last year, he makes the following claim:

For those who do not know, Rampedi is a critically acclaimed journalist in South Africa who exposed the shenanigans of a secret surveillance unit that operated within SARS.

When, earlier this month, Judge Sulet Potterill nullified Faith Radebe’s 31 October 2014 document headlined “Report on the investigation into Media Allegations against the Special Operations Unit and/or other Branches of the State Security Agency”, she also nullified Mdluli’s claim about the veracity of Piet Rampedi’s reporting.

The Sunday Times reporting by the Rogue Unit Three was South African journalism at its lowest ebb and the harm it has done – at every level of society – is incalculable.

I never thought, in 1994, that it would come to this.

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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.