The Inkatha Freedom Party vs Sunday Times

Complainant: The Inkatha Freedom

Lodged by:  Sibongile Nkomo

Article: Colonial’ taxes irk Buthelezi’s last subjects – ‘Go die’, head of traditional court tells complainants, and the second two weeks later, headlined Homeland house still mine, says Buthelezi

Author of article: Bongani Mthethwa

Date: 26 January 2015

Respondent: Sunday Times

Complaint

The IFP is complaining about two stories in Sunday Times (the first on 12 October 2014, headlined ‘Colonial’ taxes irk Buthelezi’s last subjects – ‘Go die’, head of traditional court tells complainants, and the second two weeks later, headlined Homeland house still mine, says Buthelezi). It also complains about two Hogarth columns, sub-headlined A parting gift, and Just skip these toxic tomes.

The first story

The IFP says the newspaper concocted the story with the aim of defaming Prince Buthelezi, President of the lFP in that it has:

·         conflated the prince’s leadership of the IFP with his hereditary position as head of the Buthelezi clan – it suggested that a statue of him, erected by the IFP, was intended to “endear” him to local residents, yet the statue has nothing to do with Buthelezi’s position as Inkosi and payment for it was not made from traditional levies;

·         published a photograph of him which had nothing to do with his position as Inkosi and payment for it was not made from traditional levies – instead, it marked the site of his museum and documentation centre, blurring out the words depicting the site of his Museum and Documentation Centre;

·         been determined to link Buthelezi, and the IFP, to a “scandal” – while there was no scandal at all; and

·         largely ignored the IFP’s response to questions, to suit the journalist’s agenda.

The second story

The IFP says the newspaper concocted the story in that it has:

·         contradicted itself when stating that a disagreement existed between the Ulundi Municipality and the KZN Government about Buthelezi’s “Bantustan house in Zululand”, while also saying that the row was between the KZN Government and Buthelezi – while there was no “row” whatsoever; and

·         largely ignored the IFP’s response to questions, to suit the journalist’s agenda.

The Hogarth columns

The IFP complains that these columns made fun of Buthelezi “for no rhyme or reason”; adding that it submitted a response on two occasions, but these replies were not published.

In general

The IFP complains that the reporter directed his questions at Buthelezi himself, and not to his deputies – in spite of the fact that it has informed the reporter that the Inkosi was not involved in the day-to-day administration of the clan.

The texts

Both stories were written by Bongani Mthethwa.

The first story

This article says that Buthelezi has lost his grip on his last fiefdom (after losing control over KZN and influence in Parliament) – his subjects in his clan reportedly are rebelling over excessive levies and taxes they have to pay to a tribal authority that he runs.

The second story

The second article reports that Buthelezi was embroiled in a row with the KZN government about his “Bantustan” house in Zululand. A property deed search reportedly revealed that the house was owned by the Ulundi Municipality and not by Buthelezi.

The Hogarth columns

One column says, “Apparently that cantankerous chief (Buthelezi)…is running his own revenue service in…Zululand… The ‘tax’ that fascinates Hogarth is the R50 ‘goodbye’ fee locals have to pay when the relocate to an area falling outside his jurisdiction.”

The other commented on a book Buthelezi gave to Pres Jacob Zuma. The former was called the “Lord of Mahlabathini”, followed by: “Let’s hope these won’t give the Prez ideas about staying in power forever and imposing a ‘goodbye’ tax on his neighbours in Nkandla.”

Analysis

The first story

Conflating IFP leadership with head of clan

The IFP complains that the story conflated the prince’s leadership of the IFP with his hereditary position as head of the Buthelezi clan in that it had suggested that a statue of him, erected by the IFP to celebrate a lifetime of service to South Africa, was intended to “endear” him to local residents − yet it had nothing to do with his position as chief and payment was not made from traditional levies.

Smuts denies that the article:

·         conflated Buthelezi’s leadership of the IFP with his hereditary position as the head of the Buthelezi clan – the journalist merely described the two roles vesting in him; and

·         suggested that the statue was intended to “endear” Buthelezi to local residents – the story stated that he was honoured by his supporters and that the statue in fact did little to endear him to local residents.

She concludes: “The complainant has willfully misread the story.”

 

                                                      My considerations

The newspaper’s statements are convincing and do not require any more argumentation, save for emphasizing that the statement about “endear” does not necessarily imply that the statue was intended to do so, one way or the other.

Blurring out words

The IFP complains that the newspaper blurred out the words identifying the site of Buthelezi’s Museum and Documentation Centre, adding that his statue had nothing to do with his position as Inkosi and that payment for it had not been made from traditional levies.

Smuts denies any tampering with the picture. She argues: “The [IFP] should substantiate the claim or desist from making it… The caption to the photograph did not claim that the statue was paid for from traditional levies.”

She adds that the newspaper carried Buthelezi’s response to the story (in the form of a letter) in which he made it clear that the statue marked the site of his museum and that payment for it had not been made from traditional levies.

 

                                                    My considerations

In the absence of any evidence from the IFP, I have nothing to guide me to a finding in this regard.

‘Scandal’

The IFP complains that the newspaper has been determined to link Buthelezi and the lFP to a “scandal”.

“It was pointed out to Mthethwa that there is no scandal… Since time immemorial clans in KwaZulu-Natal had a right to call meetings where members of the clan decided on levies to cover the daily expenses of administering the clan’s affairs. Among other things, these levies have paid staff costs for clan buildings, bought fencing for fields and grazing lands, and covered bursaries for deserving children. Under apartheid, these ‘colonial taxes’ as Mthethwa calls them, helped build thousands of schools, as the KZN Government, with the pittance allocated by Pretoria, matched whatever the community could raise Rand for Rand.

“Today traditional levies are no different to municipal rates. Traditional structures have been the primary government in traditional areas for generations, and the Constitution recognises the role and authority of traditional leadership, as well as indigenous and customary law.” (Quote slightly edited.)

Smuts replies that the word “scandal” was not mentioned in the story or in the headlines, neither was it implied – the story was merely about unhappiness among local residents over levies and taxes.  She adds that Buthelezi, in his letter, denied that there was a scandal.

 

My considerations

The newspaper’s statements are convincing and do not require any more argumentation.

Ignoring the IFP’s response

The IFP complains that the journalist largely ignored its response to questions, to suit his own agenda.

Sunday Times says that it published more than a “sentence or two” from the IFP’s response. Smuts adds: “We were not obliged to publish all of it. Furthermore…Buthelezi’s letter amplified the response.”

 

My considerations

Of course, Sunday Times is correct in saying that it was not obliged to publish all of the IFP’s response – it is standard journalistic practice to take the essence from statements, due to space limitations.

However, a publication is obliged to carry the gist of the response.

Looking more closely at the story, Mthethwa – on the face of it – did not pass this test. The essence of the story was that Buthelezi’s subjects were rebelling because they reportedly claimed that they were forced to pay “colonial” taxes (this phrase was also used in the main headline, depicting the time during apartheid). The IFP told the reporter that these taxes had been collected by clans from time immemorial, implying that the taxes had predated apartheid. “For so many years each Clan could impose such levies on itself.”

He did not report this information.

However, the IFP then proceeded to say that:

·         the KZN Provincial Government “has stopped the imposition of such levies a few years ago”; and

·         all clans were able to impose levies on themselves before 1994 because the Zulu people had rejected the so-called “independence”.

This is confusing. If some taxes were imposed form “time immemorial” (that is, before apartheid), why has the provincial government stopped that practice? And surely, some of the taxes were imposed during the apartheid era?

This is confusing to me and, I would suspect, also to the reporter. Under these circumstances I am not blaming Mthethwa for not reporting what seems to be contradictory statements.

The second story

Contradiction

The IFP says the newspaper concocted the story in that it has contradicted itself when stating that a disagreement existed between the Ulundi Municipality and the KZN Government about Buthelezi’s “Bantustan house in Zululand”, while also saying that the row was between the KZN Government and Buthelezi – while there was no “row” whatsoever.

Smuts denies any contradiction. “The second paragraph of the story gives more detail to the first. The fact is that there is a dispute over whether the house in question is owned by Prince Buthelezi or not. The dispute is being conducted between the Ulundi municipality and the KwaZulu-Natal department of public works. No reasonable reader can be confused about that.”

 

My considerations

Again, I have to agree with the newspaper – its statements are convincing and do not require any more argumentation.

Ignoring IFP’s response

The IFP complains that the journalist largely ignored its response to questions, to suit his own agenda.

Smuts: “We reflected the comments of Ulundi’s acting manager Nkosenye Zulu in our story. The complainant has not identified a breach of the press code for us to answer.”

        My considerations

I would have preferred the newspaper to have reported the IFP’s own views on this matter. However, the story did reflect the comments of the municipality, which is IFP-controlled.

The Hogarth columns

The IFP complains that these columns made fun of Buthelezi “for no rhyme or reason”; it adds that it submitted a response on two occasions, but these replies were not published.

“The erroneous information penned by Mr Mthethwa led to the Hogarth column, on two consecutive Sundays, making fun of the IFP President for no rhyme or reason. We submitted a response on two occasions, but it has not been published. In this case, would it be unfair to deny us our right to reply.”

My considerations

Given the arguments outlined above, I have no reason to believe that Hogarth’s comments were out of line. I am not saying that they were necessarily correct – only that the columnist was justified in stating what he did, based on the stories that were published. Also, columnists are not normally required to get comment from the people about whom they are writing.

In general

The IFP complains that Mthethwa directed his questions at Buthelezi himself, and not his deputies – in spite of the fact that it has informed the reporter that the Inkosi was not involved in the day-to-day administration of the clan.

 

My considerations

One can flip this coin whichever way one wants, but there is no way that this can amount to a breach of the Press Code.

Finding

There is no finding about the publication of the picture of the statue in the first story.

The rest of the complaint is dismissed.

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 Adjudication 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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