Philani Ndebele vs Alex News

Complainant: Philani Ndebele

Lodged by: Philani Ndebele

Article: Community and immigrants boycott Africa Day festival

Author of article: Sipho Siso

Date: 5 August 2015

Respondent: Alex News

An informal hearing also took place in Johannesburg on 3 August 2015, which was attended by Ndebele, Ms Pretty Mncube and Mr Richard Smith, as well as by McLean and the reporter, Sipho Siso.


Mr Ndebele is complaining about a story in Alex News of 25 May 2015, headlined Community and immigrants boycott Africa Day festival.

He complains that the:

·         story misrepresented the purpose, intentions and outcomes of the ASC’s events, especially in that both the article and the headline stated it as fact that the gathering had been boycotted;

·         article falsely stated that the journalist had interviewed him and one of the organisers;

·         pictures were misleading (the journalist allegedly took pictures of terraces to support his theory of a boycott, while the festival was held in a tent, not on the terraces); and

·         text promoted xenophobia and that it was politically motivated.

The text

The story, written by Sipho Siso, said that a cultural festival and Africa Day celebrations (which marked the 1963 founding of the OAU, now the African Union) at the Alexandra Stadium was boycotted by those whose wounds it was intended to heal. “Conspicuous in their absence on the 23 May celebrations were the residents of Alexandra and the immigrant community which bore the brunt of the xenophobic violence which claimed the life of Mozambican national, Emmanuel Sithole…”

Siso reported that only the organisers, the performers “and a handful of grannies” attended the meeting.

The arguments

McLean says Siso attended the event from start to finish. He knew about the tent, but states that it, too, was ill-attended.

She insists that the reporter did interview Ndebele and provided me with notes allegedly taken by Siso while interviewing him.

The editor says the allegation that Siso made up a source who did not want to be named is baseless as there is no proof to this effect.

McLean denies that the article promoted xenophobia or that it was politically motivated. She says Siso’s intent was to document an important community event and not to fuel violence.

Siso says he went to the stadium early, and waited there for a few hours before the meeting began. He then met a gentleman from Cosatu, who introduced him to Ndebele. He says they shook hands, and he requested an interview with Ndebele after his speech, should the reporter have any gaps to fill. This happened soon after Ndebele’s address.

He also argues that the pictures provided proof of the empty stands.


In his reply to the newspaper’s response, Ndebele insists that Siso never interviewed him. He adds that he, Pretty Mncube and Daisy Maimela organized the event – and none of them gave the reporter an interview.

He also says that the notes were fabricated; alternatively, the notes could have been from any (other) source. Therefore, they cannot be used as proof that Siso interviewed him.

He says, “I am an African and a staunch advocate of Pan-Africanism and the Renaissance of Africa, including Pan-African people-to-people solidarity and therefore I will never give a journalist such cheap and spine[less]statements on Africa Day as Sipho puts it. I feel intellectually challenged by such a mediocre article…”

Ndebele says he gave an official Africa Day Statement to one journalist instead of an interview (because of his tight schedule).

He mentions that the event was covered live by several radio and TV stations – another indication that it was not boycotted.

He also notes that the day started off with a Solidarity Walk, involving more than 500 people. “Sipho was therefore at the wrong venue and to keep himself busy he took pictures of the empty tent and terraces and used them for his article.”

He says the organisers never intended to fill the whole stadium – they only targeted approximately 1 000 participants. Proof of this is that they had catered for 1 000 people. “All the food ran out…”

Ndebele concludes that the speeches were newsworthy, and asks why Siso did not rather report on the issues raised in them.

Informal hearing

At the informal hearing, consensus was reached that an apology should be published. After some deliberations following the meeting, those present agreed on the following text:

Alex News reported on the Africa Day Celebrations and Cultural Festival that took place on 23 May 2015 at the Alexandra Stadium, headlined “Africa Day Festival is boycotted” (week ending 29 May 2015).

The day started off at 9am with a march from Pan Africa Mall to the Alexandra Stadium. The aim of the event was to make a stand against xenophobia, Afrophobia and criminal violence. The event was co-organised by the ACTION Support Centre, and was also aimed at promoting diversity and social cohesion. Co-hosts of the event included the City of Johannesburg, Gauteng Department of Community Safety, Department of Sports, Art and Culture, COSATU, the Somali Association of South Africa and the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa.

Mr Philani Ndebele, who has lodged a complaint about the story with the Press Ombudsman, was one of the organisers, and also the MC.

Alex News stated as fact, both in the story and in the headlines (both on the front-page and on an inside page), that the event had been “boycotted” – a statement which was fiercely contested by Ndebele. At a meeting held with the Ombudsman it became clear that Alex News should have attributed this statement to a source (if someone indeed has said it).  The newspaper did not do so, thereby unfairly and unjustifiably presenting our assumption as fact.

Alex News also did not contact Ndebele or the ACTION Support Centre for comment regarding the alleged boycott before publication, as prescribed by the Press Code.

Alex News retracts the statement made about the event having been boycotted by community members, and apologises for the serious, unnecessary harm caused to Ndebele and the ACTION Support Centre as a result of the article.

It was also agreed that a kicker would be published on the front page, containing the relevant names and the word “apology”, and that the text would appear at the top of page 3, with the same words in the headline.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman