Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi vs City Press

Complainant: Mangosuthu Buthelezi

Lodged by: Sibongile Nkomo

Article: The weird world of politics: Tell no lies

Date: 13 March 2015

Respondent: Dumisane Lubisi, editor of the City Press

Complaint

Buthelezi is complaining about a column (headlined Siyahleba) on page 14 in City Press of 11 January 2015, headlined The weird world of politics: Tell no lies.

He complains that the:

·         column inaccurately and unfairly implied that he had not participated in the liberation struggle;

·         journalist misleadingly stated that he still had not heard of Amilcar Cabral’s quote “tell no lies, claim no easy victories”;

·         statement that he sought credit for the success of many isiZulu-speaking leaders was false; and

·         statement that he said in his newsletter the least the people mentioned above could do was to say “thank you Mtwana” was inaccurate.

Nkomo concludes that the column stirred up animosity against Buthelezi; that it displayed political bias and a lack of objectivity towards him; that it disparaged his integrity, character and legacy; and that it cast doubt on the truthfulness and value of his work.

The column

The relevant text reads: “Despite his claim to have participated in the struggle, IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi has still not heard of Amilcar Cabral’s quote: ‘Tell no lies, claim no easy victories’. In his online letter this week, Buthelezi sought credit for the success of many isiZulu-speaking leaders of society, saying the least they could do was to say thank you Mtwana. ‘Many of the business and political leaders, and the working journalists, analysts and academics, went through our schools… The schooling they received under Inkatha enabled them to become active, competent and influential’…”

Analysis

No participation in the liberation struggle

Buthelezi complains that with the words “despite his claim to have participated in the struggle” and the linking of those words to the headline (Tell no lies), the column inaccurately and unfairly implied that he had not participated in the liberation struggle.

Nkomo adds that history, and many witnesses (including former Presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk) bear testimony to the fact that Buthelezi contributed “a great deal to South Africa’s liberation struggle”. The column cast doubt on his integrity and legacy by reducing the facts to simply being “his claim”.

Lubisi replies that the use of the word “claim” does not imply that it was untrue that Buthelezi was part of the liberation struggle. “If we wanted to say his claim is untrue we would have said so.”

My considerations

The editor is playing with words here. The column did present Buthelezi’s participation in the liberation struggle as his “claim” – and read together with the headline, it does leave little doubt that the columnist/newspaper actually did question his “participation” in the struggle.

However, a column is per definition interpretation. One person’s freedom fighter is another one’s terrorist. How does one measure “participation in the struggle”? Surely, there are different measures?

This is the point: Buthelezi’s participation in the liberation struggle is a matter of interpretation. It is the newspaper’s right to have an opinion on this matter, and to voice that opinion.

Please note that this is not to say that I am also questioning Buthelezi’s role in the liberation struggle – I am merely defending the newspaper’s right to do so.

Cabral’s quote

The column said that Buthelezi still had not heard of Amilcar Cabral’s quote “tell no lies, claim no easy victories”.

Buthelezi complains that the author had no knowledge of whether or not he had actually heard this “quote” – while his newsletter (on which the newspaper was commenting) could easily be supplemented by extracts of Cabral’s instruction to create schools and spread education, and demand from responsible party members that they dedicate themselves to study.

The editor says it is immaterial whether Buthelezi came across Cabral’s quote or not. “This is just a play on…Cabral’s famous quote. The point is that this particular quote is popular lexicon amongst liberation movements and many on the leftist fraternity. [Buthelezi] considers himself to have played a crucial role in liberation.”

My considerations

Again, the columnist is not recording history, but is merely voicing an opinion. I also agree with Lubisi’s argument as stated above. The statement in question is just a continuation of the fundamental questioning (not stating it as fact) of whether Buthelezi really played a large role in the liberation struggle, and the statement whether he had heard of Cabral is really neither here nor there.

Sought credit

The column said that Buthelezi had sought credit for the success of many isiZulu-speaking leaders of society.

He complains that this is false – he never made this claim in his newsletter. Instead, Nkomo says he credited the education system of the erstwhile KwaZulu government (operating under Inkatha). “This inaccurate statement seems to ridicule [him]and put him at odds with (at least) businessmen, journalists, analysts and academics, for it follows that he believes they cannot claim any credit for their own success. This is a serious and disparaging false allegation.”

Lubisi argues that the play on Cabral’s quote was centrally linked to the point of the column – a satirical point that agitated in favour of credit for Buthelezi, who had been Prime Minister of KwaZulu-Natal. “To acknowledge the KwaZulu government is also to give credit to Chief Buthelezi who was its leader. It is therefore untrue to argue that ‘Nevertheless, Prince Buthelezi does not claim credit for anyone’s success’. He does.”

He quotes Buthelezi as follows:

“When I lead the erstwhile KwaZulu Government before 1994, my administration looked at what was needed for the benefit of South Africa and South Africans in the years to come. We realised that that generation of learners would inherit a democratic country and needed to know how to administer it, participate in it and contribute towards its success. We therefore included ‘Good Citizenship’ classes in our school curriculum, which not only provided an understanding of governance, democracy, social justice and human rights, but addressed practical matters from ethics in the workplace to the principles of saving. One must remember that, at that stage, the majority were excluded from participation in the economy to such an extent that few had even experienced opening a bank account. The harvest of what we sowed during those years through our schools in KwaZulu is evident even now, twenty years into democracy. Many of the present business and political leaders, and that working journalists, analysts and academics, went through our schools in KwaZulu. Whether they mention it or not, the schooling they received under Inkatha enabled them to become active, competent and influential participants in South Africa.”

My considerations

Lubisi is correct in that Buthelezi’s administration may be equated with him as its head. If he accredited successes to his education system, which he did, surely that validates the interpretation that he, too, may be accredited for those successes – even though this may not be the only possible interpretation and even though Buthelezi may not have meant it in that way.

Sect. 7.1 of the Press Code states: “The press shall be entitled to comment upon or criticise any actions or events of public interest provided such comments or criticisms are fairly and honestly made.” I have no reason to believe that the comment in question was unfair or dishonest.

Saying: ‘Just say thank you’

The column claims that Buthelezi said in his newsletter the least the people mentioned above could do was to say “thank you Mtwana”.

Nkomo complains: “This is factually inaccurate, malicious reporting which intends again to ridicule Prince Buthelezi by portraying him as petulant.”

The editor replies that the phrase in dispute as not presented as fact, but rather as comment and interpretation. “[We] never purport to use his exact words”.

My considerations

Lubisi’s argument does not hold water – the phrase was indeed presented as fact.

Despite the fact that the text was a column, and despite the argument that it was satire, it should not have presented comment as fact – which it did. There is not even the slightest indication in Buthelezi’s newsletter that he sought for a word of thanks, let alone that he made an actual statement to this effect.

To argue that it was interpretation is also far-fetched.

Even satire needs some shred of truth with which to mock. I can only agree with Buthelezi that this needless and unfounded statement did unnecessarily portray him as petulant, causing unnecessary harm to his reputation.

Political bias, disparaging Buthelezi

Nkomo concludes that the column stirred up animosity against Buthelezi; that it displayed political bias and a lack of objectivity towards him; that it disparaged his integrity, character and legacy; and that it cast doubt on the truthfulness and value of his work.

City Press denies this claim. “His point in the online letter was that his government provided the best schooling to many who were today not acknowledging it and Siyahleba chose to have fun with that assertion.

My considerations

The one mistake the columnist made is not enough to persuade me to find that the columnist was guilty of the allegations contained in this part of the complaint.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed, save for the false, misleading, irresponsible and unnecessarily harmful statement that Buthelezi asked for a word of thanks. This is in breach of Section 7.1 of the Press Code.

Seriousness of breaches

Under the headline Hierarchy of sanctions, Section 8 of our Complaints Procedures distinguishes between minor breaches (Tier 1), serious breaches (Tier 2) and serious misconduct (Tier 3).

The breach of the Press Code, as described above, is a Tier 2 offence.

Sanction

City Press is directed to apologise to Buthelezi − on the same page as the original column and on its website − for falsely, misleadingly, irresponsibly and unnecessarily harmfully stating that Buthelezi had asked for a word of thanks (the context should, of course, be included in the text).

The newspaper should provide me with the text prior to publication, and should end with the words: “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.”

Appeal

Our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman

 

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