M&G editor apologises for report claiming Maimane took lessons from De Klerk

Johannesburg - Mail & Guardian editor Verashni Pillay has admitted in an editorial that her publication had made an error by rushing into a story alleging that DA leader Mmusi Maimane was taking leadership classes from apartheid-era president FW de Klerk.

"There has been much concern over our January 29 edition’s lead story 'Uproar over Maimane’s lessons with FW', and with good cause," Pillay wrote on Friday.

"The story was rushed and fell short at a number of important points. In addition, although the Democratic Alliance and its leader, Mmusi Maimane, were given an opportunity to respond to the general allegation that Maimane was receiving guidance from former president FW de Klerk, and its response was included, the Mail & Guardian should have taken further steps to verify these allegations before publishing them. 

"The front-page summary and newspaper headline overstated the article’s analysis. It also may have misled readers and fell short of the Press Code."

The report alleged that Maimane had visited De Klerk on various occasions to seek leadership advice. This was confirmed by four separate senior party insiders, the paper claimed.

Former president De Klerk called the story "absolute nonsense", while Maimane labelled it an "outrageous lie", News24 reported.

- Read more: Maimane 'leadership lessons' nonsense - De Klerk

- Read more: 'Outrageous lie' - Maimane on De Klerk leadership lessons report

At the time, Pillay defended the publishing of the story, which was co-written by former DA employee Nelly Shamase, saying the story was "not a lie".

"The story is not a lie and the M&G stands by everything we’ve written," Pillay told News24 last month.

"Mr Maimane was given ample opportunity to respond to the allegations ahead of publication. He eventually sent a statement through the DA spokesperson, saying he was not going to comment.

"If his version of events is that he only met De Klerk once, he could have simply said so. Our senior sources said it goes beyond one meeting and that Maimane takes leadership lessons from De Klerk."

Former DA leader Helen Zille also took exception to the report, calling it "malicious" on social media, as well as questioning former DA employee Shamase's objectivity.

Speaking on Shamase, Pillay said: "We should also have told our readers that the main reporter on the story, Nelly Shamase, left the DA under acrimonious circumstances."

- Read more: 'We stand by our story' - M&G editor on Mmusi 'FW lessons' report

'We will learn from this error'

In her editorial, Pillay said the paper would work towards restoring the trust of its readers, and were committed to learning from the error.

"The Mail & Guardian is a trusted publication and I am sorry for damaging that trust and will work hard to restore it," Pillay wrote on Friday.

"We are committed to learning from this error and ensuring it does not happen again. We have engaged the services of an expert in newsroom ethics and practices who will be working with us to examine our processes and improving them.

"Every organisation, and person, will make mistakes, but news organisations are held to a higher standard and the M&G even more so.

"Our goal is to keep mistakes to a minimum and, when one does happen, acknowledging it promptly and fixing it quickly."

Read the Mail & Guardian's full apology here.

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