PR campaign to discredit reporter

2010-10-22 11:25

A public relations company has proposed a secret campaign to “discredit” a journalist writing articles critical of Richtersveld community leaders, according to a document in Sapa’s possession.

The company, Cape Town-based HWB Communications, is targeting Zenzile Khoisan, deputy editor of the Western and Northern Cape newspaper Eland News.

It has even suggested using a number of respected academics, including former University of Cape Town political studies professor Hermann Giliomee and veteran journalist Jonathan Ancer, in the campaign.

HWB was hired earlier this year to boost the image of one of the factions in the Richtersveld.

Two groups claim to be the legitimate leadership of the Richtersveld Sida !Hub Communal Property Association (CPA).

The CPA that hired HWB is essentially the leadership that secured victory for the community in 2007 in their epic land claim against the state.

Their opponents are a group that say they were legitimately elected leaders of the CPA at a community meeting in Lekkersing on September 18.

The HWB document outlines the agenda of a “Richtersveld strategy meeting” with the “old” CPA committee’s lawyers, Bisset Boehmke, which was to have taken place four days after the Lekkersing event.

The agenda lists “messaging ideas”, among them “CPA still in charge”, and “Court cases a waste of time and money/ stop the fighting”.

Item four is “Campaign to discredit Khoisan et al? Names suggested: Hermann Giliomee, Jonathan Ancer, John Parkington (UCT anthropologist), the head of Iziko Museum, Gertrude Fester, Habib Koopman”.

Khoisan, who has written a number of articles critical of the way the “old” CPA committee has been managing the community’s finances and assets, said the HWB plan was “the sort of stuff I would have expected under the apartheid regime”.

He said he had watched for years how a small group of politically connected individuals in the Richtersveld had used “nefarious schemes” to undermine what should have been a victory for its people.

The chairperson of the “old” CPA, Willem Diergaardt, announced last week that he was suing Khoisan for defamation over an Eland News article questioning what had happened to a sum of R21?million allocated to the agricultural company set up for the community in the wake of the land claim settlement.

Khoisan told Sapa he would defend the claim.

“That is not even worth the paper it’s written on,” he said.

“I will continue to ask the necessary and serious questions about what happened to the money, especially the R21 million,” he said.

The HWB document suggested “an audit of the R21m”, to counter the “repeated allegation” that the money had been stolen.

Eland News is published by Uhuru Communications.

Uhuru’s chief executive, Desmond Sampson, provides financial backing for the dissident group in their legal battles against the “old” CPA.

Sampson is also vice-chairperson of the Khoisan and Bushman National Council.

Diergaardt’s grouping claimed Uhuru had an eye on the Richtersveld’s assets, which included a strip of diamond-bearing land.

HWB told Diergaardt it would “try to meet with influential people here in Cape Town to increase external pressure on Uhuru”.

Last week Diergaardt wrote to Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti repeating a call for Nkwinti to appoint an independent mediator “to resolve long-running disputes in the Richtersveld”.

Giliomee told Sapa this week that he had not been approached by HWB.

“I know nothing about the Richtersveld, so I can’t see how my name can crop up,” he said.

Ancer said he had never been approached by HWB.

“I am shocked that a PR company thinks that journalists and academics can be used and manipulated in their campaigns,” he said.

HWB chief executive Evelyn Holtzhausen said HWB had been engaged by the “legally appointed committee of the CPA”.

Its brief was to provide a communications strategy “to counter external interference in matters relating to the internal governance of the Richtersveld”.

“We elect not to discuss confidential conversations, nor meetings we have with our clients, in public,” he said.

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