Max du Preez quits over Independent’s Zuma apology

2015-01-15 14:03

Max du Preez said on Monday he quit as a columnist for Independent Newspapers after it apologised for an opinion piece in which he criticised President Jacob Zuma.

“I have ended my association with the Independent Media Group and will no longer write a weekly column for its newspapers,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

He then attached a letter he sent to Independent Media’s executive editor Karima Brown saying an apology the company issued on the opinion piece was done to please Zuma and the ANC.

“You did not even have the decency to send me your apology in advance or to inform me that it was going to be published. I thought my explanation would have convinced you that an apology in this matter would have been a travesty,” he said.

“I’m writing a column for a group with leadership that I no longer respect. I feel tainted by my association with the Independent Media group. It is time to depart once again.

“I will betray my own past if I don’t. I will no longer be writing a column for your group.”

Brown referred queries on the letter to Independent chief of staff Zenaria Barends, who said she was not available today. Barends asked Sapa to send its request for comment to two email addresses.

In the piece, published on December 30, and titled “Zuma – SA’s one-man wrecking ball”, Du Preez says the South African Revenue Service (Sars) and the Hawks were the “latest victims” of Zuma’s “demolition of democracy”.

“The devastation caused by ... Zuma will take years to rebuild, even if he were to leave office tomorrow.”

Du Preez offers his analysis of the political machinations he believes are behind the appointment of Tom Moyane as Sars commissioner in September, and the suspension earlier of Hawks head Anwa Dramat.

On December 30, the presidency called the piece “racist and mind-boggling”.

“The piece smacks of prejudice and racism given the manner in which Mr du Preez describes the president,” it said in a statement at the time.

“The presidency is alarmed by the personal attack on President Jacob Zuma.”

The presidency took exception to a reference Du Preez makes to Zuma’s “corrupt relationship (in the words of a judge) with his financial adviser”.

The presidency said the remark in question – when Judge Hilary Squires was reported by the media to have said Zuma had a “generally corrupt relationship” with convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik – had already been refuted. In November 2006, Squires wrote to Business Day indicating he never uttered those words.

The presidency said that neither Independent Newspapers nor Du Preez had given it an opportunity to respond to the “serious allegations” against Zuma.

After the release of the statement, Independent Online updated the webpage containing the column with a preamble regarding Squire’s alleged comment.

“Our internal fact-checking process should have picked up this inaccuracy and we regret the failure on our part to do so. We have also alerted the writer to this. Independent Media and Pretoria News apologise to the presidency and our readers for perpetuating a factual inaccuracy contained within this column.

“We apologise and retract this misrepresentation and will endeavour to be more vigilant in monitoring the accuracy of our articles and columns.”

It also contained a paragraph saying Du Preez distanced himself from the apology and denied any inaccuracy.

“Du Preez holds that his statement that Zuma and his financial adviser [Schabir Shaik] had a ‘corrupt relationship (in the words of a judge)’ is factually correct. In this regard, Du Preez refers to the judgment of Judge CT Howie in the Supreme Court of Appeal,” it said.

In his letter to Brown, Du Preez said the decision to accuse him of having factual inaccuracies in the column came as a shock.

He said readers interested in the matter knew that there was no inaccuracy in the piece.

“The question is: did a judge call the relationship between Zuma a corrupt one? The answer is: yes. In fact, that judge was backed by four others on the bench of the SCA [Supreme Court of Appeal] using their own words, not those of Judge Squires,” he said.

“You knew this when you went ahead and apologised anyway to please the presidency and the party he leads.”

He also referred to pictures of Brown and Independent’s editor of opinion and analysis Vukani Mde wearing ANC clothing during the party’s anniversary party on Saturday.

“When I read your and Mde’s arguments about your political allegiance and your attacks on those who thought this was outrageous behaviour for any journalist, I thought I must be living in a parallel universe,” he said.

“I suddenly understood why you were swayed to knowingly publish a false ‘correction’ and apologise to the president of the party you have pledged allegiance to on the basis of that falsehood.

“It appears to me as if your political party’s interests now weigh more heavily with you than ethical journalism.”

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