Zwelakhe Mankazana vs Sunday Tribune

Complainant: Zwelakhe Mankazana

Lodged by: read hope phillips attorneys

Article: From behind the shadow – Zenani Dlamini: Being a Mandela, there are huge expectations.

Author of article: Fiona Forde

Date: 3 June 2013

Respondent: Suday Tribune

Complaint

Mr Zwelahke Mankazana, who formerly had a relationship with Ms Zenani Dlamini (daughter of Mr Nelson Mandela and Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela), complains about a story in Sunday Tribune on 17 February 2013 headlined From behind the shadow – Zenani Dlamini: Being a Mandela, there are huge expectations.

Mankazana complains that the following sentences and a sub-headline were false and defamatory:

·         “ ‘I have just come out of a really abusive relationship,’ she (Dlamini) says of the nine years she spent at the side of Zwelakhe Mankazana. The abuse was not physical. ‘It was emotional abuse, very controlling. And I had become stuck in it’. What went on between the couple was compounded by a tragic event that rocked the Mandela family a few years ago”; and

·         The words “abusive relationship” in a sub-headline.

Mankazana also complains that the:

·         word “shadows” in the headline was inaccurate and misleading;

·         matter had no legitimate public interest, and that it therefore violated his privacy as well as his dignity and reputation;

·         article was published in the context of increasing press coverage of violence and the abuse of women – which made him party to this scourge on society; and

·         journalist did not contact him for comment or corroborate her information.

Analysis

The article, written by Fiona Forde, was an exclusive interview with Dlamini, who was about to begin her term as ambassador to Argentina. She talked about her past and her new beginning. Amongst other things, she spoke about her former relationship with Mankazana.

False, defamatory

I repeat the sentences that Makhazana complains about:

“ ‘I have just come out of a really abusive relationship,’ she says of the nine years she spent at the side of Zwelakhe Mankazana. The abuse was not physical. ‘It was emotional abuse, very controlling. And I had become stuck in it’. What went on between the couple was compounded by a tragic event that rocked the Mandela family a few years ago.”

Mankazana:

·         denies emotional or any other kind of abuse regarding Dlamini;

·         argues that the article stated his alleged abuse as fact and not as opinion (with reference to the statement: “what went on between the two”);

·         says that his relationship with her lasted for a combined period of eight years (and not nine);

·         complains that the article was therefore both false and defamatory; and

·         argues that the newspaper was not at liberty to repeat Dlamini’s statements.

Note: The reference to the “tragic event” in one of the sentences in dispute referred to Mankazana’s son who drove the vehicle in which Dlamini’s grand-niece was killed on the eve of the Soccer World Cup in 2010.

Sunday Tribune says that the article did not accuse Mankazana of having emotionally abused Dlamini – instead, she described the relationship as being abusive “not by just one or other of the two parties”. It adds that Dlamini does not view the article as defamatory to herself or to her dignity.

Mankazana replies that this explanation (again) accused him of being abusive to Dlamini (which he denies), and argues that the article should have stated that she was abusive to him as well.

In earlier correspondence between Mankazana and the newspaper, the latter said that Dlamini did not intend to injure Mankazana and that it would consider to publish his version of that relationship “as that was also a matter of public interest” – an offer which he has declined.

Mankazana notes that the newspaper did not respond to the matter of “nine” years” and also not to his complaint about the words “what went on between the couple” (which was stated “as fact”).

Here are my considerations:

·         The article indeed did not put blame on Mankazana’s shoulders alone (see: “abusive relationship” and what went on between the couple”);

·         It is reasonable to accept that something “went on” between them – otherwise they would probably have still been together;

·         It may be that the nine years should have been eight, but I do not think that that is material to the article as the period of time can be construed as essentially true.

I’ll deal with the question whether the newspaper was at liberty to repeat Dlamini’s statements later. But first: The sentences and the sub-headline in dispute cannot be interpreted in isolation, which (first) leads me to the next sub-section.

Headline: ‘Shadows’

The headline is supported by the following sentences in the article:

“Meanwhile, Zenani had begun to take stock of her life. ‘And I realized I had lived my whole life in a shadow of some sort. In my early years, I had lived in the shadow of my mother and father. I then married His Royal Highness (Swazi Prince Thumbumuzi Dlamini, whom she wed in 1977). And I lived in his shadow’. They had four children and she was mother, home-maker and part-time businesswoman until their marriage ended in the early 2000s. She then met Mankazana and it was only when their relationship broke down ‘that I thought: Now is my time, I need a new start – though I never thought it would be as an ambassador’.”

Mankazana complains that the word “shadows” in the headline was inaccurate and misleading and that it clearly had a negative connotation towards him.

Sunday Tribune says that the word in dispute rather referred to Dlamini stepping out from the shadows of her well-known and high profile parents – “as is stated in the text when the journalist refers to Dlamini as playing a backstage role all her life”. It says that “shadows” did not refer to her coming out from behind Mankazana’s shadow.

Mankazana replies that the reference to “shadows” certainly included him.

The newspaper’s argument cannot hold water – Dlamini was quoted as saying that she lived her “whole life” in a shadow of some sort. Albeit that the article mentioned Mankazana as the last example of this “shadow”, surely he still formed part of it.

It is within this context that the references to an “abusive relationship” (see the first sub-section) have to be interpreted. Given this scenario, I have little doubt that the blame for that type of relationship was more on Mankazana’s shoulders than on Dlamini’s (though not entirely so – which is important to note).

So, this leaves me with the question how justifiable this reportage was (both with regards to the “abusive relationship” and the reference to her living under some sort of “shadow”).

Again, this leads me to the next sub-section.

No legitimate public interest; privacy; dignity and reputation

Mankazana complains that Forde did not exercise care and consideration involving his private life and concerns, that the matter had no legitimate public interest, and that it violated his dignity and reputation.

The newspaper does not respond to this part of the complaint – which is strange, as in a sense this is the heart of the complaint.

As the new ambassador to Argentina, I do believe that Dlamini was a public figure and that the newspaper was therefore warranted in publishing an exclusive article about her. As Mankazana was part of her past, Sunday Tribune was justified in mentioning his name. His complaint about no legitimate public interest therefore falls away.

In this process, I believe that this public interest overrode his private life and concerns.

This leaves me with the question if the newspaper took the necessary “care and consideration” as far as Mankazana’s dignity and reputation was concerned (see Art. 4.2 of the Press Code).

My basic consideration here is that the ordinary reader would have read the article in context, and would have understood that Dlamini put most of the blame for the breaking down of her relationship with Mankazana on him (but not all of it) – but also that this was reported from her perspective, as her opinion, and not necessarily as the (only) truth. I therefore believe that Dlamini was justified to say what she did, and that the newspaper was within its rights to report her opinion.

I also take into account the careful way in which the sentences in dispute were worded – although it did imply some blame on Mankazana’ side it also did not imply that Dlamini was blameless. In any case, most people know that any problem has more than one side to it, which adds to my conviction that the newspaper was justified in its reportage.

Context of violence, abuse of women

Mankazana says that the article was published in the context of increasing press coverage of violence and abuse of women – which made him party to this scourge on society.

The newspaper says that it was mindful of this matter, but affirms that it was right to speak about it “when such allegations are correct and factual”.

Mankazana says this merely aggravates the newspaper’s failure to seek his comments on the matter.

Given my considerations above, it follows that I cannot find for Mankazana in this regard.

Not contacted for comment; no corroboration

Mankazana complains that the:

·         newspaper did not ask him for comment as it should have, since he was the subject of critical reportage;

·         article presented unsubstantiated allegations as fact without any corroborating evidence to this effect; and

·         journalist relied on a single source and simply depended on Dlamini’s allegations “as being true for the sake of thematic sensationalism”.

Sunday Tribune says that:

·         it offered Mankazana a right of reply, which he refused;

·         it checked the veracity of Dlamini’s comments with two sources before going to print and that various third parties would substantiate this, “including professional therapists, of whom Mankazana is aware”; and

·         Dlamini has explained the “emotional abuse”.

Mankazana questions these sources, saying that no professional therapist would engage with a journalist in relation to a patient without wishing to be struck off the professional role.

I agree with Mankanzana on this last statement. However, both the complaint (“you have not corroborated”) and the newspaper’s reaction to it (“yes, we have”) missed the point. The bottom-line question here is if a publication should ask for somebody’s comment when the article is an exclusive interview with whomever.

I do not think so.

This is the point: In an article such as this one, where a newspaper exclusively interviews somebody, it is not common journalistic practice to either ask somebody else for comment or to corroborate the information – it should be clear to all that the information comes from the interviewee. If it was necessary to ask for comment, Forde should have asked both Dlamini’s parents as well as the Swazi Prince for their views as well.

Keep in mind that this is not a hard news story – it is a human interest one, where the normal journalistic rules are less strict.

Having said this, it surely does not give a newspaper the right to publish just anything that its source was saying (as I have implied above).

General comment

The newspaper has (conditionally) offered to publish Mankazana’s views, and would like to see such comments published. However, he has already refused this offer, which means that it makes little sense for me to direct the newspaper to do so now.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed in its entirety.

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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