25 November 2019
The Sunday World was recently bought by Fundudzi Media, which is owned by David Mabilu, a politically-connected Limpopo construction businessman. The sale was concluded after owners Tiso Blackstar announced that it was planning to shut down the Sunday World.
For nearly three years Raymond Joseph, a freelance reporter, has been investigating corruption and incompetence with National Lotteries Commission (NLC) contracts, for which he and Anton van Zyl, editor of the Limpopo Mirror, recently won an award for investigative journalism. The NLC has responded by launching personal attacks on Joseph. (Yet not once has the NLC rebutted any of the findings we’ve published.)
Usually, when publications break corruption scandals, others try to catch up, find new angles and help shed more light on the situation. Not so the Sunday World.
In August the Sunday World ran this report by Boitumelo Kgobotlo repeating an absurd NLC allegation that Joseph was “writing scathing stories about them after it stopped funding an NGO of which he was once a director”. For the record, Joseph was a founding member and former editor of The Big Issue decades ago. He was an unpaid board member from 1997 until 2016 when he resigned. The Big Issue is a non-profit magazine sold by homeless people. To suggest a link between this and stories Joseph has been publishing since early-2018 is ridiculous. Even if this was Joseph’s motivation, which it isn’t, it offers no explanation for the NLC’s squandering of public money.
And when GroundUp revealed how controversial lawyer Lesley Ramulifho had used millions of rands meant to build a drug rehabilitation centre to help pay for his new luxury home, Sunday World published his denial that included a personal attack on Joseph, with no right of reply sought. The article was written by Aubrey Mothombeni.
Earlier, after GroundUp reported how a hijacked NPO had been used to get millions of rands from the Lottery, Sunday World ran a story containing serious allegations against Ado Krige, the owner of the funded rehab. The story was based on court papers. Krige, who denied the allegations and is defending the court action, was not contacted by Sunday World for comment.
But the most disturbing example of the Sunday World’s kowtowing to power is this: Joseph emailed questions to Sidwell Medupe, the spokesperson for the Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel. Those questions — never answered by the way — ended up with Kgobotlo, the Sunday World journalist, who then wrote the following gem to Joseph:
“I am writing an article about the letters of complaints from organisations which protect the National Lotteries Commission’s beneficiaries.
The story will be based on the information that you have been putting [to] the Department of Trade and Industry spokesperson Sidwell Medupe under pressure to solicit the details of the beneficiaries for publication, though it is against the law to do so.
Can you confirm or deny that you have been mounting pressure on Medupe and the NLC to send you the details of the beneficiaries?
Are you aware that it is against the law to do so?
Kindly explain why you need the details.
Should you get the details of the beneficiaries, are you going to publish them?
If yes, should legal action be taken against you, how will you defend yourself?
Any other comment?
Your immediate response will be appreciated.”
Joseph’s response was short:
“Section 23 of the South African Constitution gives all of us the right to request information held by the state and its organs. Whatever information I have requested about Lottery beneficiaries is in line with this constitutional right. It is entirely legal to do so. Only in a fascist state would it be illegal to ask for such information. What I do with it will be this: report news in the public interest.”
(Note: the beneficiaries being referred to here are organisations that receive grants from the NLC supposedly to do good works, not winners of the Lottery.)
Kgobotlo has yet to publish an article following the above exchange.
Medupe, Patel’s spokesperson, denied that he forwarded Joseph’s questions for the minister to Sunday World. “I don’t know how they got the questions. They also sent me questions saying I’m putting NLC under pressure,” he said in a WhatsApp message.
NLC spokesman Ndivuhuho Mafela ignored questions about whether he or anyone else at the NLC had sent Joseph’s email to Medupe to Sunday World.
Sunday World editor Makhudu Sefara didn’t respond to emails from Joseph or me.
Why is Sunday World engaging in this obfuscating and disingenuous conduct? What is the relationship between the newspaper and the NLC? Sunday World has been embroiled in scandal recently. Do the new owner and editor want to do journalism or defend corruption and venal interests?