STATEMENT BY SUNDAY TIMES EDITOR, RAY HARTLEY
The decision by acting Judge Nomsa Khumalo of the Pretoria High Court that the Sunday Times can publish the article “How Zuma got off the hook” represents a victory for free speech.
The judge ruled that the NPA had failed to argue that there were grounds for an urgent interdict against the newspaper and awarded costs to the Sunday Times.
The story by a award-winning investigations unit (Stephan Hofstatter, Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Rob Rose) is based on over 300 pages of leaked documentation, which show that top prosecutors were convinced they had a winning case against Jacob Zuma. Despite this, the then Acting head of public prosecutions, Mokotedi Mpshe overuled them and dropped the charges in 2009.
The story includes details of secret representations made by Zuma’s lawyers to the NPA and a series of internal memorandums in which top prosecutors argue strongly against dropping the charges despite claims that the prosecution was tainted by political interference. Their argument was essentially that political interference should not trump the merits of the case which they believed to be strong enough for a successful prosecution.
Sadly, the NPA has said it intends bringing a fresh court action against the Sunday Times this week on the grounds that the documents were illegally obtained. This too will fail because the documents were leaked to the Sunday Times and are demonstrably in the public interest.
Instead of trying to keep vital information away from the public, the NPA would do well to heed the constitution’s call for an “open” society and its protection of freedom of expression. Its dogged attempts to protect certain political leaders from public scrutiny are raising serious doubts about its ability to serve the public with the independence and integrity required of a prosecuting authority.
What is chilling is that if the Protection of Information Bill is passed in its current form, this sort of reporting will become illegal.
PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma’s decision to sue the Sunday Times and its cartoonist, Zapiro, over a cartoon, sheds more light on his jaundiced understanding of press freedom. Zuma’s complaint is that the cartoon was “degrading” and left him feeling “humiliated” because it suggested he was about to rape a figure representing Lady Justice and that his image suffered.
The most immediate question is: exactly how did his reputation suffer? After the publication of this cartoon, Zuma went on to become president of South Africa, which suggests that his image was, if anything, rapidly on the rise in the eyes of his political peers and the public.
Whatever revulsion Zuma might have felt at the cartoon, the reading public knew it was a metaphor for how he dodged the day in court on corruption charges he had once ardently wished for, and not an actual depiction of rape.
Only the most determined and humourless political hack would fail to make the distinction between a cartoon metaphor and reality.
In Zuma’s mind — and in those of the ANC’s less enlightened cadres — the press must “respect” the president who, according tothis view, occupies some sort of special status in society, akin to that of an unelected, benign monarch.
Unfortunately for them, we live under a constitution where the president enjoys no such privileges. In our democracy, the president is a servant of the people, and he must be held to account for the performance of government.
Of course, the president can earn respect through his actions, but he can lose this respect just as quickly by failing to live up to the public’s expectations.
One thing is certain: respect cannot be earned by attempting to intimidate a cartoonist into producing flattering drawings through a string of vexatious lawsuits. If anything, the lawsuit degrades and humiliates Zuma, showing just how thin-skinned, humourless and image-conscious he is beneath his devil-may-care exterior.
What Zuma is asking the courts to do is to decide just how cutting satire should be before it is banned from publication.
Would a cartoon depicting Zuma twisting Lady Justice’s arm behind her back be acceptable? Would a slap across the cheek be going too far? Perhaps an image of Zuma and Lady Justice earnestly discussing his corruption case over steaming coffee would make the grade?
Zuma’s thin skin should not be sufficient grounds for threatening the freedom of expression. He has been driving the ruling party’s demands for a media tribunal, openly contradicting other senior party members who have attempted to shelve the idea.
And now, in what will amount to the most ludicrous action by a head of state since P W Botha ruled, he will go to court to whimper about a cartoonist.
Here’s the interview with Jacob Zuma that we carried in the Sunday Times today:
President Jacob Zuma’s presidency is facing major challenges, including the public sector strike and growing dissatisfaction among some of those who helped place him in power. Ray Hartley and S’thembiso Msomi spoke to him at his office in Tuynhuys
RAY HARTLEY: The climate around the strike has been one of heightened rhetoric and there have been some exceptionally strong statements. Are you aware of the statements that Zwelinzima Vavi made about the “predator government” – that we are being run by “corrupt and demagogic political hyenas”?
JACOB ZUMA: The right for workers to strike is very important and we respect that.
The problem is then in the conduct of the striking people. I think that is where the problem arises of strong statements.
In old democracies, there are frequent strikes and it is not a big deal because they are purely industrial strikes. I think it important to accept that ours tend to be political and that is why the statements become very aggressive, very political.
It is an issue that the unions themselves have got to look at because of the changed circumstances from the struggle to now. How do you conduct a strike from that point of view – lest you are looked at as part of the opposition one way or the other?
The other element which I think is very important is: how do the striking workers respect the rights of other sectors or other citizens of the country? Do I as a citizen have no right to go to the hospital and get treatment – because the workers are striking?
Do we, when we strike, have to allow a strike to become violent – not just violent but actually have the lives of people being taken away? Read More…
THE Cabinet – which serves at the pleasure of president Jacob Zuma – has (would you believe it!) decided that he will not be sanctioned for failing to declare his interests on time.
According to government spokesman Themba Maseko, Zuma was not to blame. No, it was pesky “anomalies” in the executive code of ethics which caused the delay. Apparently these “anomolies” only affected Zuma and not his predecessors who filed their interests on time.
“The presidency and the minister of justice and constitutional development will review the code to address the gaps that have been identified in the public protector’s report,” he said.
This essentially means that Zuma can do what he likes because any finding against him by the Public Protector will go to Cabinet where it will be quashed. Not good.
JACOB Zuma has finally said what his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki ought to have said a long time ago: You can’t blame the lack of services and facilities on apartheid some 16 years into democracy.
In an under-reported statement to his director generals on Friday, Zuma said: “After two decades we will not be able to make an excuse if we do not deliver faster change in the lives of our people.”
He went on to say: “We will not be able to blame apartheid if villages still have no water, no electricity, no roads. We will not be able to blame anyone else if children still study under trees, if houses and schools are falling apart.”
I happen to believe that apartheid must still shoulder the blame for creating a society so vastly unequal that even the proper use of resources over the last 16 years would not have levelled the playing field.
But that is not the point. The point is to take responsibility and that is what Zuma has done. Government must stand up and account for failures in delivery. And, he also said, strong action must be taken against those who undermine the state’s ability to deliver with inefficiency and corruption.
NEWS – yet to be confirmed but solidly reported in The Times - that Julius Malema is be let off the hook by the ANC following a meeting of the two organisations yesterday shows just how weak a presidency Jacob Zuma is running.
The only way to properly understand this is to see him as the equivalent of a coalition ruler who must appease the parties that placed him in power or lose it all. The ANC’s coalition was not forged at last year’s election, it was forged at Polokwane where Zuma united all those against Mbeki to take power.
But the coalition partners – the ANC’s Youth League, Cosatu, the SACP – have made it plain that they owe Zuma no loyalty and are quite willing to openly and publicly contradict him.
And Zuma has shown that he is simply in no position to impose discipline for fear of losing support.
This plays right into Zuma’s leadership style of pandering to all and never making his own views known. His response to criticism appear to be to call for “a national debate” instead of spelling out how he sees it.
The message to the ANC leadership is simple: It’s a free for all. Say what you want, do what you want and Zuma will pretend that its all just part of the ANC way.
I think a very significant media development is taking place right under our noses, one that we will return to for years to come as a turning point in South African media consumption.
If the preliminary stats are anything to go by, this is going to be the biggest month of news consumption online ever.
All indications are that the combined effect of the Terre Blanche murder and the subsequent speculation over his private life and the rabid behaviour of Julius Malema – not to mention Jacob Zuma’s harsh riposte – is going to push online readership stats through the stratosphere.
Media operations that are well positioned (and I believe the Sunday Times and The Times are with www.timeslive) will find themselves in the pound seats across print and digital platforms.
The challenge for print to offer something unique in this environment is more difficult than ever, but, as the Sunday Times has shown, it can be done. There’s nothing like a great challenge to focus our minds.
THERE was a moment when it seemed that Jacob Zuma was going the way of his predecessor. Access by journalists was limited, terse public statements were issued by officious spokesmen and then there came a succession of major blunders.
The most significant was the breaking news about Zuma’s affair with Sonono Khoza which had led to the birth of a child. The story was broken in spectacular fashion by the Sunday Times and Zuma’s camp responded with denials, intimidatory threats about the media invading privacy and an aggressive tone.
The result was a humiliating shambles which ended up with Zuma issuing a public apology that ought to have been issued the moment the story broke.
The second disaster occurred on his UK state visit. Zuma chose to take on a blogger who criticised him for his polygamy, showing anger and an intolerance of criticism that fuelled the belief that he was not fit for high office.
What is encouraging is that Zuma appears to have learned from these experiences. Politics is an impermanent business. Negative stereotypes can be easily overturned if the right strategy is adopted. And so, after two weeks of granting media interviews – including one to the Sunday Times – and getting out and about to show sympathy for the emergency workers who were raped, for example, Zuma’s image is at least stabilising.
Yesterday Zuma made his ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa his main spokesman on both party and state affairs. This will go a long way towards ensuring that a single direct message comes out of the presidency and it is a relief that those who goofed at the Union Buildings have been shifted out of the limelight.
Zuma has an opportunity to rebuild his image. But it will take a lot more than better spin doctoring. He must start to show results on his key objectives of job creation, health, education and crime fighting.
Here’s a brief guide to the top gifts declared by Jacob Zuma after a short delay:
1. Blue pajamas (as well as two bathrobes, two sets of bedsheets, two jackets, two pairs of sunglasses, two leather bags and a tie) from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Did the note say “From one playa to another”?
2. Use of a property in Morningside, Durban courtesly of businessman Abdul Malek. Is the official residence not good enough?
3. A trip for Sun City for two wives as guests of Yvonne Chaka Chaka. Too good to turn down.
4. A “multi-coloured” carpet from Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. The jet is now obsolete?
5. A foot spa for Ma Ntuli from British first lady, Cherie Blair. Perfect after a hard day opening Parliament.
6. A lamp shade for Ma Ntuli from Michelle Obama. Yep, a lamp shade.
7. A rose blowl and flowers from “Ramos”.
8. Oranges, olives, honey and fresh dates from Nomonde Mapetla, chairwoman of Khula Enterprise Finance. Fresh dates? Like he needs those.