Cape Town – Mail & Guardian editor-in-chief Verashni Pillay has said the paper stands by a story it ran claiming DA leader Mmusi Maimane has been taking "leadership classes" from former president FW de Klerk.
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 at the Democratic Alliance (DA), the paper claimed.
The story has since been fuelled by online reaction that the DA "harbours apartheid sentiment”.
Top DA officials though have bitten back.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane told News24 on Friday that the story is an “outrageous lie”, and he had only ever met De Klerk once, in 2014.
Former DA leader Helen Zille took to Twitter to express her opinions on the report too, labelling the story "malicious".
De Klerk said in a statement there was no truth to the rumours that he was tutoring Maimane. "He has never been to my home and never sought my advice 'on speeches and leadership and acting presidential'," adding that he only met Maimane once at his office in March 2015, "when he paid me a courtesy visit".
News24 spoke to Pillay about the DA’s response, with Pillay standing firm on her paper’s Friday lead.
'Not a lie'
“The story is not a lie and the M&G stands by everything we’ve written,” Pillay said on Friday.
“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.”
None of the Mail & Guardian’s sources, she claimed, could go on the record because of a climate of “fear and silence within the party”.
The sources include one staff member from national head office, two members of a provincial legislature and a member of the federal executive, she said.
‘Malicious, manufactured’, says Zille
Zille took exception on social media not only to the report, but also its co-reporter, Nelly Shamase, who used to be a member of the party.
The Western Cape premier called into account the objectivity of the Mail & Guardian reporter when she co-wrote the story.
“This kind of maliciously manufactured story shows why the M&G is going out of business. No credibility left,” Zille tweeted.
“It is so unprofessional that ex-DA employees with an axe to grind are allowed to masquerade as independent journalists by various titles.”
IA complete non-story. But DA could tell some true stories about Nelly Shamase which would reveal the axe she grinds https://t.co/2PIZnhx6rH— Helen Zille (@helenzille) January 29, 2016
Yes she is, with a cupboard full of skeletons, now posing as an objective reporter. It is a disgrace. https://t.co/im9fctkmwZ— Helen Zille (@helenzille) January 29, 2016
Pillay had a response to Zille’s accusations, telling News24 that Shamase carried out her job as any other journalist would.
‘Our journalist followed all protocols’
“Nelly Shamase’s former affiliation with the DA has been declared in our stories,” she said.
“Her work related to the DA is always overseen by a senior staff member, like myself, to ensure we do not get pulled into factionalism and smear campaigns.
“Shamase exercised objectivity in her reporting as is required of her and followed all protocols to get the necessary rights of reply.”
Pillay had one last word to add, saying the paper stood by their version of events, before questioning the DA’s attitude towards press freedom.
Zille's intervention suggestion 'shocking'
“We stand by every word of the story. If the DA are unhappy with the article they are welcome to approach formal avenues including approaching the newspaper, taking it to the press ombudsman or even the courts if they are still unhappy.
“It is unfortunate that the party has embarked on a misinformation campaign on Twitter and elsewhere blatantly lying and saying things like we never approached them for comment and then backpedalling when it was clear that we had proof we did so repeatedly.
“Helen Zille’s spokesperson suggested that M&G owner Trevor Ncube intervene in our coverage and direct it: a shocking proposal to interfere with sacrosanct editorial independence, proving that the DA are only interested in media freedom when it suits them.”
We stand by our article. Normal avenues including opress ombud and courts are open to those who differ. End of story.— Verashni Pillay (@verashni) January 29, 2016