South Africa: Sunday Times rejects Minister’s accusations

The Sunday Times takes exception to Communications Minister Dina Pule’s unusual press conference today in which she accused this newspaper of running a deliberate smear campaign against her, orchestrated by unnamed handlers on behalf of unnamed people.Times LIVE  – 22 April 2013 – By Phylicia Oppelt, Editor, Sunday Times

We find it unfortunate that rather than dealing with the essence of the claims against her, she proceeds to attack the messenger of the stories. We also find it disturbing that the Minister would use her office to call an “important” press conference, as she did today, to launch a personal attack on both the Sunday Times and its journalists.

The numerous articles this newspaper has written about Pule in the last year have been in the public interest, with no other motivation in mind. If the minister has any evidence to the contrary, we invite her to give this to the newspaper so we can deal with it appropriately.

When it comes to the allegations against Mzilikazi Wa Afrika, the minister accuses him of being involved in dealing in cheap Chinese cellphones. He has no such business interests. Secondly, she claims Wa Afrika had set up a meeting on 19 June 2012. The truth is that her alleged boyfriend Phosane Mngqibisa had initiated the meeting with the Sunday Times to discuss the stories we were writing about Pule. Mngqibisa had, in fact, asked the businessmen whom the minister describes as “handlers” to attend. If the minister has evidence that these businessmen were somehow attempting to influence the Sunday Times, please can she name them and their interests in an open forum. Wa Afrika did not offer to suppress any further stories in exchange for information. Such an offer would be absolutely unethical.

Wa Afrika came to know, a number of months after our first stories were published, that a distant relative had been involved in a relationship with Pule – a relationship she now denies ever taking place. However, Wa Afrika was not aware of this relationship when researching and writing our initial stories. He obtained no information from this relative at all.

Stephan Hofstatter is accused of trying to plant an individual in Pule’s office to extract information. The truth is that this person contacted Hofstatter and informed him that Pule had asked her to take a job as a “reputation manager”, and said that should this happen, she would not be able to provide him with information about the Minister or her department.

Rob Rose supposedly has a “close friend” at a telecommunications company, who has friends with business interests. He has no such close friends at these places, only contacts and sources who he speaks to regularly in the normal course of his job.

Minister Pule continues to avoid clarifying the key issue – the nature of her relationship with Mngqibisa, who was then paid R6-million by the organisers of the ICT Indaba. She has threatened to both sue and report the newspaper to the Press Ombudsman. Even though our stories have been published for the past 10 months, she has done neither. When Mngqibisa reported the Sunday Times to the Ombudsman last year, his complaint was dismissed. The Ombudsman said that “in light of their silence about the nature of their relationship, the newspaper cannot be blamed for thinking that the facts pointed to a personal one”.

We urge the Minister to provide the Sunday Times and the public with proof to substantiate the allegations she made today. If she cannot, she should do the right thing and publicly apologise.

Phylicia Oppelt, editor.

Statement by Minister of Communications in response to Sunday Times smear campaign: http://bit.ly/ZDRcQP

 

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