Some old stones and a pile of ‘facts’

2014-03-11 00:00

ACCORDING to the Zululand Tourism website, “some 10 km from Umzumbe lies what is perhaps the most famous isivivane in the country”.

An isivivane is a traveller’s cairn. In Zulu tradition anyone passing an isivivane picks up a stone, spits on it and adds it to the pile for good luck. This particular isivivane is said to have been created by King Shaka KaSenzangakhona in 1828, when he led his armies south to destroy “the stronghold of a Hlongwa band of cannibals” and, according to the website, “the pile is still intact next to a remote path which rises and falls on its serpentine way through several valleys.”

No it isn’t. Because, after some research of my own, I tried to find it. Apart from a reference in an old T.V. Bulpin book, which the tourism website, and others, appear to have drawn on, it doesn’t feature on any map and the tourism authority can’t tell you where it is either.

That frustrating odyssey, the subject of a 2011 article, came to mind recently when following up a press release issued by the Democratic Alliance headed: “eThekwini gives R260 million to 10 unlisted companies”. In it, Sharon Hoosen, DA chief whip in the eThekwini Municipality, indicated she had “formally requested an investigation” into how and why the municipality had paid out R260 million to 10 companies as part of the city’s rehabilitation housing stock contract, when those businesses were not in good standing with the regulatory body, the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB).”

The total contract amount was R800 million, and a report handed to the finance and procurement committee on February 20 detailed the expenditure for last November.

The Witness obtained the names of the 10 companies involved from the DA, according to whom four were suspended and six unlisted. We then obtained the report which, among other things, records the companies’ registration numbers. Using these we ran a search and got the records of the companies involved and their exact names. On the CIDB website you can consult its register of companies which shows whether they are listed, and, if they are, whether they are designated as “active” or “ suspended”. All six companies named as unlisted by the DA were on the register and designated “active”. Of the four “suspended” companies, two were not and, on inquiry, they were suspended because the contractors hadn’t submitted their renewal documents. Both were in the process of remedying the situation.

When informed of the Witness findings, Hoosen said that even if only two companies were suspended, they should not have been awarded contracts. Fair comment; however two out of 10 companies reduces that alarming figure of R260 million to the slightly less, but still alarming figure of R63 446 496.

Hoosen said she obtained the information issued in the press release by doing a search on the CIDB register on February 18, and that “things must have been changed” since she went public on the matter. However, even on that date the “unlisted” companies would have been present as either “active” or “suspended”.

Fact-checking is just an everyday part of a journalist’s job. It’s the full-time job of Africa Check, which describes itself as a “non-partisan organisation promoting accuracy in public debate”, and is currently assessing claims by South African political parties in the run-up to the May 7 national elections.

Africa Check asked Raymond Joseph “to verify the accuracy” of some of the claims of DA successes in the Western Cape posted on Twitter.

These claims, detailed by Joseph in his article “Where does the DA get its facts from?” published last month, include the Western Cape government creating 60 000 “work opportunities” in the second half of 2012/13; DA municipalities creating 31 000 “job opportunities” in the past year; 99,1% of households in the Western Cape having access to piped water, 93,4% to electricity and 96,9% to toilet facilities; that “the gap between haves and have-nots is the smallest in Cape Town; and that R11-billion — of the R18-billion spent on service delivery in Cape Town — was spent on the poor.”

“Unfortunately, few of the claims are presented with any links to supporting evidence,” said Joseph, who contacted DA leader Helen Zille’s spokesperson, Zak Mbhele, on November 25 last year to request “the sources and supporting material for a dozen claims that the party had made on Twitter”.

He’s still waiting for an answer because, despite considerable effort on Mbhele’s part, it appears they are not to be found. Mbhele admitted that the DA’s inability to back up many of its claims “doesn’t put us in good stead for the upcoming election period”.

Joseph concluded it was “a classic example of how cherry-picking statistics stripped of context can tell one story, while other reliable data tells an entirely different one.”

The DA and fact-checking aside, does anyone know where that famous isivivane is?

• Raymond Joseph’s article “Where does the DA get its facts from?” can be found at


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