Nothing wrong with Sunday Times 'death squad' article, researcher claims

2018-10-22 15:15
Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko. (Masi Losi, Gallo Images, The Times, file)

Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko. (Masi Losi, Gallo Images, The Times, file)

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Analyst and violence monitor Mary de Haas has questioned the Sunday Times' apology for its "fake" Cato Manor "death squad" article.

In an eight-page open letter to Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko, De Haas writes that she had reread the original report, published on December 11, 2011, and could "see nothing obviously false about it, and those implicated had been given the right to respond".

De Haas has been researching violence for more than three decades and worked closely with the three "death squad" reporters, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Stephan Hofstatter and Rob Rose.

"I would thus like you to explain to me and the public why you apparently accept that it is 'fake news'," De Haas writes.

"I am setting the record straight, including by providing detailed background information, because there is a very real risk of the true facts of what happened – especially the wider context in which it happened – being swept under the carpet in the unseemly haste in some quarters to make political capital out of the deaths of many people, some of them undoubtedly innocent."

Pay back the money

On October 14, Siqoko apologised for the Cato Manor report, as well as for those on the so-called SARS "rogue unit", and announced that the paper would return all the rewards it had received, as well as any prize money.

READ: Award organisers caught by surprise as Sunday Times returns prizes for false reports

Siqoko said that the newspaper had spent time reflecting on the reports in question, which had been published in 2011.

"… we admit here today that something went wrong in the process of gathering the information and reporting the Cato Manor, SARS and Zimbabwean renditions stories. This is after we engaged constructively with all key parties involved in the stories.

"What is clear is that we committed mistakes and allowed ourselves to be manipulated by those with ulterior motives.

"We admit that our stories may have been used for this purpose," Siqoko said.

In her open letter, published in full below, De Haas gives extensive background to the story; provides a detailed summary of police involvement in taxi conflict in the area in question; lists case studies of victims of the taxi violence; questions the way police management handled the charges against involved police members; and questions why Organised Crime police were involved in taxi-related activities, when there was a task team assigned to those.

'What have I missed?'

"So, in conclusion… please tell me if I have missed something important regarding the reporting on the Cato Manor unit, and please tell everyone why you think the journalists who wrote the death squad story have… distorted the truth – and provide us with the factual basis on which you have apparently decided that the story is 'fake news'," De Haas concludes.

On Sunday, former Sunday Times editor Ray Hartley also defended the Cato Manor article, and criticised Siqoko for discrediting it.

"Since the publication of Siqoko’s article, my 30-year reputation as an ethical, fair and accurate journalist and editor has been severely damaged. I am greeted in the street with looks of pity and, sometimes, anger," Hartley wrote in his response, which Sunday Times opted not to publish.

News24 published Hartley’s response because it was deemed in the public interest.

ALSO READ: Exposing the puppet masters behind the Sunday Times scandal

"I and the reporters involved in these stories spent many hours with Siqoko openly and fully divulging the sources and the process which this year-long investigation took. None of this was reflected in his article. Perhaps it would have chimed badly with his astonishing conclusion," Hartley wrote.

"The essence of Siqoko's article is that the Sunday Times under my stewardship fell victim to 'peddlers of fake news'."

'Shocked to read Siqoko's conclusion'

"I was shocked to read Siqoko’s conclusion that the Sunday Times would return the money paid for the awards that this story won. The effect of this was that he believed the stories were illegitimate and wholly false.

"No such demand has been made by those who gave the awards. Perhaps they should politely decline Siqoko’s offer until this matter has been conclusively investigated."

Hartley said he was pleased that Sanef had chosen to fully investigate this matter.

"It needs to be a thorough, independent and unsparing effort to get to the bottom of what happened.

"I am confident that the conspiracy theory that the Sunday Times deliberately sought to assist with state capture will be disproved."

Siqoko could not be reached for comment.

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