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Ed Herbst: Did the Survé-controlled Cape Times defame Dr Max Price?

JOHANNESBURG — In the whirlwind news cycle of South African politics and current affairs, the ‘Fees Must Fall’ protests of 2015 can easily be forgotten. But it represented a pivotal moment in South Africa as it spawned a new generation of young struggle activists (who are seeking to improve their lot in life) as well as anarchists such as the so-called ‘Fallists’. The ‘Fallists’ have notoriously debunked science and called for ‘decolonised’ education. However, in this piece, Ed Herbst brilliantly hones in on the role that the Cape Times had in allegedly promoting an agenda to undermine and defame UCT Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price while egging on the Fallists. It’s a must-read. – Gareth van Zyl

By Ed Herbst*

Ramabina Mahapa, then SRC president and a founding member of RMF, confirms that there “was a close relationship between the movement and the Independent Group”.

Mahapa explains: “I would say that there was an element of wanting stories that would humiliate the University, one of the movements tactics was to create as much negative publicity for the university so that they would act… it certainly might have been the case that Iqbal was issuing directives to people in the Cape Times… because there was a widely known scandal around him and UCT at the time.” – Ricky Stoch Daily Maverick 15/9/2017

What appears to be a highly personalised pursuit of a university vice-chancellor by the owner of a newspaper and his editors and reporters is unusual even by the erratic standards of political reporting in South Africa. – Jonathan Jansen As by Fire – The end of the South African University (Tafelberg 2017)

Ricky Stoch, a University of Cape Town student who recently graduated with an honours thesis on the hostility which the university experienced from the Cape Times in particular during 2015, has posted a summary of her research on the Daily Maverick website and I have used an extract from that article as an anchor quote for this article.

Stoch’s research showed that, subsequent to the formation of the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) movement, the Cape Times coverage of it and related UCT campus disruption increased exponentially. It carried 31 front page articles between January and July 2015 compared to six in the other Cape Town morning newspaper, Die Burger and 80% of those articles were written by Carlo Petersen, a previously unknown reporter whose bias was constantly evident as this extract from her thesis indicates:

… the coverage portrayed Price and the university as villains and the RMF students as victims turned heroes. By framing all of their coverage from the perspective of RMF as well as by excluding context and basing information on supposition as opposed to substantiated fact it is arguable that the coverage of UCT over the formation of RMF was unbalanced and in some cases unfair thus in contravention of the mandate established by the press code.

Research found for the most part, UCT’s narrative was excluded from the Cape Times’ coverage. On the occasions that UCT’s narrative was present, the narrative of the RMF often side-lined it. This is not aligned with the South African press code’s mandate to present information in a fair and balanced manner.

Examination of the coverage indicates that the inclusion of quotes or opinions of non-RMF students was negligible.

Ultimately Price and the university were portrayed, by the Cape Times as anti-transformation, anti-student activism and anti-change where as RMF was portrayed as an intersection between victims of the university’s lack of transformation and heroes of the revolution. One of the ways the Cape Times  achieved this was to quote RMF members without substantiating their claims against the university – another contravention of the press code. There is little indication that the reporters fact-checked or engaged with multiple sources.

Her research also showed that information provided by the UCT media office to Carlo Petersen was routinely ignored.

One of the people Stoch interviewed for her research project was UCT SRC member and a leading Fallist, Ramabina Mahapa. Mahapa alleged that Dr Iqbal Survé had encouraged the Fallists and that this encouragement had included an invitation to a meeting with him at his suite at the Cape Town Jazz festival, of which he was a sponsor. Cape Town’s small media community had been aware of this meeting from the time it happened.

Among the other people she interviewed were Tony Weaver, Rhoda Kadalie, Patricia Lucas of the UCT Media Liaison & Communication Department, myself and Cape Times reporter Carlo Petersen who twice reneged on scheduled interview meetings before agreeing to be interviewed by email.

Dr Iqbal Survé, owner of the Cape Times, did not respond to Stoch’s request for an interview.

Asked to resign

She also interviewed the Vice Chancellor of the university, Dr Max Price.  He confirmed that what Rhoda Kadalie had written in a letter to the Mail & Guardian was the truth – that Survé had not severed his ties with the University of his own volition, but had been asked to resign because of the constant controversy he was embroiled in after the takeover by his Sekunjalo company of the Independent group of newspapers with an initially-clandestine billion-rand loan from the PIC – controversy which endures to this day.

Price told Jonathan Jansen and Ricky Stoch that he had emails and witnesses to validate Kadalie’s claim that Survé ‘didn’t jump, he was pushed’.

Iqbal Survé, head of Independent Media Group.

Subsequent to Kadalie’s letter being published in the Mail & Guardian, Survé had an article published in the newspapers he owns which told of his pending legal action against Kadalie who, he alleged, had defamed him in her letter.

Among the points made in Survé’s defamation suit were:

  • He is a ‘principled person of high standing’.
  • As a result of Kadalie’s letter to the Mail & Guardian, Survé was: ‘injured in his good name, reputation and standing’, ‘is liable to be treated with aversion, suspicion, distrust and hostility’, and that he ‘will be prejudiced in his professional and private endeavours as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and global business leader’.

To assuage his hurt feelings, Survé demanded a million rand from Kadalie.

Zenariah Barends, the INMSA chief of staff, told News 24 that ‘Freedom of speech does not protect the publication of falsehoods. Unfortunately Ms Kadalie overstepped the bounds when she expressed opinions that were not based on fact.’

That was two years ago and Survé’s threatened defamation suit is still pending.

Papers were served on Ms Kadalie but when a team of lawyers which had rallied to her cause responded, indicating that they would be defending the matter, they heard nothing further.

Price, in his interviews with Jansen and Stoch, contends that Survé was offended and aggrieved when he was asked to resign as chairperson of the UCT Graduate School of Business because of the constant scandals in which he was involved and this was exacerbated by the coincidental choice of former Cape Times editor, Alide Dasnois, as the guest speaker when Survé’s daughter graduated.

Price contends that Survé then used his newspapers in a smear campaign against UCT and him personally and the question I seek to answer in this article is whether Price was defamed by the Cape Times.

Ricky Stoch’s Daily Maverick article contained an informative YouTube clip in which Survé accused UCT of being a racist institution and effectively called for a purge of its senior administrative and academic staff. What was important in the context of the unspeakable infrastructure and reputational damage subsequently inflicted on our campuses throughout the country was Survé’s closing words in that clip. This was the occasion when he unequivocally gave his support – and the support of the newspapers he owns – to the Fallists.

…I have substantial resources, OK?

And I am not a guy you want to tackle with easy (sic)

So just remember that – I will defend their democratic to differ

What we now live with, subsequent to that encouragement, is ongoing campus violence and destruction which News 24 journalist Jenni Evans has described as ‘the new normal’.

‘Substantial resources’

So how would one define Dr Iqbal Survé’s ‘substantial resources’?

It would include, one must assume, the ‘billions’ he promised to utilise in his quest to damage the reputation of Alide Dasnois and her future employment prospects and it would also include the formidable reach and influence of his INMSA company, the biggest group of English newspapers in the country.

This is where I came in.

I have no personal interest in the dispute between Price, Kadalie and Survé. What interests me is the role that the Cape Times played in stoking the fires of campus insurrection which caused the country’s reputation so much harm, had such a deleterious impact on the academic careers of our students and caused so much damage to buildings and property.

What is incontrovertibly on the record and for the record is that during 2015 reporter Carlo Petersen – described by Cape Times editor Aneez Salie as a ‘Mighty Pen’ – got almost daily front page leads in the Cape Times venomously attacking Price and UCT in articles devoid of balance. Censorship by omission of anything that did not support the Fallist cause was routine – as I will demonstrate.  Petersen, it will be remembered, played a significant role in getting a UCT student, Chad de Matos, incarcerated in Pollsmoor Prison for a crime he did not commit. Far from apologising, Petersen followed up with another article attacking the Tiger Tiger Five. According to Petersen, unnamed lawyers would take on review the decision by Western Cape Prosecutor General, Rodney de Kock to withdraw all the Fake News charges against the Tiger Tiger Five. That was never going to happen and it did not happen. The article was devoid of truth. This  odious reporting which was without precedent in the newspaper’s history and for which Petersen suffered no sanction, led to the Cape Times being forced by the SA Press Council to apologise and the subsequent INMSA withdrawal from the Press Council process, thus aping the Gupta newspaper, the New Age.

Headline highlights

Among the Petersen’s anti-UCT headline highlights during this period – orchestrated by Cape Times editor Aneez Salie and carrying the imprimatur of Iqbal Survé – were Arrest Max Price, Apartheid-style UCT Lashed and Maxwele upset by bias in new move.

Read those articles and the anchor quote on this article by a founder member of the Fallists, Ramabina Mahapa and then re-read the YouTube quote by Iqbal Survé in which, at a meeting on the UCT campus, he assures the Fallists – accused by Jonathan Jansen of fascist behaviour – that they have his full support, not only of himself but of his ‘resources’.

The bill for the subsequent campus damage is now well in excess of a billion rand.

Included in that damage was the desecration of a UCT war memorial statue with the spray-painted words  ‘FUCK WHITE PEOPLE!!’  and ‘UCT IYAKAKA MOER!. Among the war dead commemorated by that Fallist-defaced statue are the 823 black soldiers who met their fate with extraordinary bravery in the sinking of the SS Mendi in 1917.

And, as The Economist put it:

Among the works they turned to ashes was a 1993 oil painting by a black anti-apartheid artist, Keresemose Richard Baholo. It was called “Extinguished Torch of Academic Freedom”, one of a series of paintings depicting protests at the university.

Included in the RMF demands was that ‘Science Must Fall’ with the key statement coming at 3:55 of this YouTube clip. One must, however, as Survé has pointed out, ‘defend their right to differ.’

Reprehensible vendetta

I became personally involved with Carlo Petersen’s reprehensible vendetta against Max Price and UCT when the Cape Times published a front page lead headlined RMF activist’s charges dropped on 24 July 2015.  In this article, Petersen claimed that during a UCT-related court case a lawyer, Peter Williams, had stated in court that Price had ‘acted in bad faith’. This was a brazen lie and part of a year-long campaign by the Cape Times to anathematise Max Price and to deify faeces-flinger Chumani Maxwele.  Maxwele, who was constantly championed and eulogised by the Cape Times, has been photographed assaulting a woman, and threatened a woman lecturer resulting in UCT increasing security measures to protect her. He was also implicated by a High Court judgement in the torching of the Jammie Shuttle bus, a finding subsequently confirmed in an SCA ruling.

Williams then wrote a letter which was published in the Cape Times on 27 July 2015 emphatically denying the Cape Times claim. In his letter he said: At no point did I state that the vice chancellor had acted in bad faith’.

This proved that Petersen had deliberately lied as part of the newspaper’s overt vendetta against Price – a vendetta which was obvious to all readers of the newspaper and a vendetta which was later confirmed by Jonathan Jansen in his book As by Fire – The End of the South African University.

Another letter, by Patricia Lucas of the UCT media department, also published on 27 July, further exposed the egregious dishonesty of Carlo ‘Mighty Pen’ Petersen and, more importantly the dishonesty of those to whom he is subordinate – as the passage (below) from her letter published in the newspaper indicates:

The report in Cape Times (“RMF activist’s charges dropped”, 24 July 2015 makes it appear that the wrongdoing was on the university’s side, even though the newspaper received a copy of the informal mediation agreement that was signed by Mr Stellenboom and UCT. (My emphasis)

There was no “act of bad faith” on the part of Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price.

The fact that the Media Liaison Department at UCT took the trouble, in advance of the court hearing on 23 July 2015, to make available to Carlo Petersen the terms of the settlement reached between Sulyman Stellenboom and the University left no leeway for ignorance or confusion by Carlo Petersen and shows just how blatant and brazen his editorially-countenanced dishonesty was, just how manic the persecution of Price was and just how constant was the censorship by omission of this now-execrable publication.

Ethical journalism

In a letter to his staff, shortly after the Sekunjalo takeover of the Independent group of newspapers in 2013, Iqbal Survé strongly emphasised that, on his watch, ethical journalism was an absolute requirement and no deviation from this would be tolerated:

All our stories must adhere to the highest standards required.

This means they have to be balanced, fair and accurate. What they can’t be is one sided, inaccurate and prejudicial.

Six months later, interviewed by the editor of the Cape Times, Aneez Salie, for yet another a Survé puff piece, the new owner emphasised this point again:

There was only one set of instructions: be objective, fair, balanced and give everyone’s point of view.

Giving everyone’s point of view was a significant but ignored call from Survé because one of the editorially-approved ‘talents’ of ‘Mighty Pen’  Petersen is censorship by omission.

Petersen never tried to interview Dr Max Price, even after his office was fire-bombed at the height of the Fallist’s fascist sabotage of our universities. He also did not interview a security guard who was critically injured when a rock was dropped on his head during the Fallist protests at UCT, neither did he interview the two security guards who were deliberately locked inside a burning building at the University of the Western Cape, an action widely perceived as attempted murder.

UCT Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price

Deliberately humiliated

He also never interviewed the waitress Ashleigh Schultz who was deliberately humiliated by a leading and vocal fallist, Ntokozo Qwabe, because she is white. Qwabe deliberately humiliated her not only because she is white but because she is a woman who found herself in a subordinate position to him as she was struggling financially and had taken a waitress job to support her terminally ill mother. Qwabe’s ethnic hatred made headlines around the world but Petersen remained silent even when Qwabe was repudiated by his own father.

Petersen also never interviewed the student in Stellenbosch who, because he was white and Afrikaans, was sjambokked by Fallists while he was trying to write exams.

Furthermore, when the verbal abuse of Price by the Fallists changed to actual physical assault, the Cape Times deliberately  withheld this information from its readers for several days before the pressure of public opprobrium became so great that a small article was eventually published – an example of censorship by omission that the Zuptoid SABC would have considered exemplary. Once again Petersen chose not to interview Dr Max Price about this assault – no bias there, then?

A year later, an interview with Survé was published in his newspapers which was headlined Best safeguard of editorial freedom is to be fair and balanced.

Trusting that this constantly stated commitment by Iqbal Survé to ethical journalism was sincere and that, as an honest and honourable man, a world business icon and one of history’s greatest philanthropists, his word would be his bond, I confidently waited for an apology by the newspaper for Petersen’s deliberate and lying defamation of Price. I have never met, corresponded with or spoken to Price but when an apology did not appear, I registered a complaint with the SA Press Council. I did this because I believed that Petersen’s conduct – with the full support of Cape Times editor Aneez Salie – fundamentally breached the Press Code, was contrary to the commitment by Sanef to ethical journalism and betrayed the efforts by his predecessors in Newspaper House to practise honest journalism.

My Press Council complaint was forwarded to editor Salie. He did not dispute or contest the gravamen of my concern – that the newspaper had deliberately and with malice aforethought published a defamatory front page article about Price which was devoid of truth and had failed to apologise for this. He avoided the essence of my complaint saying that, as I had not been personally affected by the article, I accordingly did not have the locus standi to approach the newspaper ombudsman in this regard. The Press Council agreed and there the matter rested.

I’d like to put this in context.

I joined the news team of the Natal Witness in 1968 as a photographer and one of my duties was to accompany court reporters to the trials they were covering.

Within a few weeks of my arrival one of these reporters was summarily dismissed. He was covering hearings simultaneously in the Magistrates, Regional and the then Supreme Court and, under deadline pressure, had inadvertently got a name wrong. An uninvolved Pietermaritzburg resident who coincidently had that name complained and the newspaper hastened to apologise. The editor at the time, the late Stan Eldridge, felt that the reporter concerned had brought the newspaper into disrepute and he was given a cheque in lieu of notice and told to clear his desk.

‘Boost Indy strategy’

So what did Iqbal Survé do in the case of Carlo Petersen’s deliberately false and defamatory article about Dr Max Price which unquestionably brought a once-respected newspaper into disrepute?

He promoted him from reporter to the position of Assistant Editor and the headline boasted that this promotion would – I kid you not – ‘boost Indy strategy’!

In the context of the claim by Jonathan Jansen and Max Price that Survé abused his media influence to attack Price and UCT, the promotion of Petersen was not just a smoking gun, it was ‘Spooky’ alias ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’.

It was also a massive ‘Up yours’ to the university, its Vice Chancellor and ethical journalism in particular.

It was also a contemptuous ‘Up yours’ to the utterly compromised watchdog turned lapdog, Sanef, which has betrayed its founding principles by maintaining a craven silence about this continuing travesty  – just as it did with the Tiger Tiger case and the prior case of  Cape Times plagiarism.

Above all, it was a betrayal of the trusting support of loyal Cape Times subscribers who never had this sort of experience under ethical editors like Alide Dasnois and prior to the Survé takeover.

(Having put words in the mouth of a lawyer, the Cape Times encore involved putting words in the mouth of a judge – does the King Report on Corporate Governance condone, let alone promote, such practices?)

To add further context to the accusation by Dr Price that the Cape Times had waged a vendetta against him, consider the radically differing approach of the country’s editors to the Burning Whiteness incident which did the country’s image enormous harm, as an article in The Economist proves.

As I pointed out in a subsequent article Racial arson: a difference of editorial opinion, Barney Mthombothi and Ferial Hafajee condemned the ‘Burning Whiteness’ fascism of the Fallists at UCT but Aneez Salie did not.

His editorial predictably attacked Max Price instead.

Deliberately witheld

This was after the Cape Times, on his watch, had deliberately withheld from its readers the sensational news in a court case that Chumani Maxwele had played a decisive role in the torching of the UCT Jammie Shuttle bus with Carlo Petersen attempting to deflect attention from Maxwele’s arson by attributing this wilful and criminal destruction to (sigh) a ‘Third Force’.

All this under the aegis of an editor whose startling lack of couth is a matter of unprecedented record and who claims repeated triumphs in an international newspaper competition that does not exist while churning out one Fake News front page article after another in a relentlessly-obsessional campaign to demonise the Democratic Alliance in general and Helen Zille in particular.

Dr Iqbal Survé threatened legal action should Jonathan Jansen and Max Price repeat their allegation that his newspapers had conducted a vendetta against Price and UCT.

That legal action is not going to happen.

Ask Rhoda Kadalie – she’ll tell you.

Was Dr Max Price defamed by the above-mentioned article by Carlo Petersen in the Cape Times which is owned by Dr Iqbal Survé who, in a public meeting, assured the Fallists of the support of himself and his ‘resources’? This certainly gave, in the subsequent campaign by the newspaper, an impression to a leading Fallist, Ramabina Mahapa, that there was a deliberate attempt by INMSA to humiliate the university so that it would be forced to make concessions to RMF.

Important insights

In this regard we are indebted to Ricky Stoch’s research and her Daily Maverick article which have given us important insights into a matter of profound public concern, involving as it does both education and the seeming abuse of media power and influence for egotistical ends – all this on the basis of a billion rand loan by the Public Investment Corporation which, it seems, is unlikely to be repaid.

In years to come will media historians not consider Stoch’s research to be as valuable as the research undertaken by Terry Bell in the context of our constitutional right to access information which is in the public interest?

  • You must therefore decide for yourself who was telling the truth, Survé or Kadalie, when she wrote that he was asked to step down from his position of chairman at the UCT School of Business Leadership
  • Given the level of transformation within Survé’s own company – as researched by Intellidex – you must decide for yourself how justified he was in calling the university racist and untransformed. Speaking for myself and having witnessed, as a television news reporter, the heroic efforts of people like Stuart Saunders and Mamphela Ramphele to counter an exclusionary admission system to our universities, I do not believe that Survé’s contention is justified.
  • Given the failure of Survé to carry out his threat to sue Kadalie, you must decide for yourself whether this was not the same intimidation tactic that President Jacob Zuma unsuccessfully used against Zapiro
  • Given the testimony of Dr Max Price, you must decide for yourself whether Zenariah Barends was justified in effectively calling Rhoda Kadalie a liar.

To answer the question of whether the vice-chancellor of UCT was defamed by the Cape Times I quote from a definitive book on this subject, Defamation and Freedom of Speech by Dario Milo pages 11 – 12.

The common law position (compared to Australia and England) is quite similar in South Africa where the same elements of the plaintiff’s cause of action apply. On proof of these elements, three presumptions arise. The first is that the publication was unlawful. This presumption may be rebutted if the defendant proves a defence such as truth, in the public interest, honest comment, or privilege. One recent additional defence that applies to members of the media is that of reasonable publication. In respect of all of the defences where the defendant seeks to rebut the presumption of unlawfulness, the defendant bears the onus of proof. The second presumption that flows from this is that the publication was made with fault in the form of animus injuriandi and intention to defame. This may be rebutted by defences such as mistake, for example where the defendant subjectively believed he was justified in defaming the plaintiff. In relation to media defendants, until recently liability for defamation was strict; now as a result of the Bogoshi case, liability is based on negligence. The third presumption is that the plaintiff suffered damage, though, unlike the position in England, the defendant can seek to rebut this presumption. Furthermore, punitive damages are probably not available in South African defamation cases.

So, like English law, South African contains presumptions of falsity and damage, and a new principle of reasonable publication by the media of defamatory statements of fact. Unlike English law, the truth defence is circumscribed by the requirement of public interest; liability is not strict – non-media defendants escape liability if they establish that they have acted without negligence – and the presumption of damage is rebuttable.

As a legal layperson who nevertheless spent 35 years working as a court reporter, my subjective perception is that the article by Carlo Petersen about Dr Max Price ‘acting in bad faith’ fails every defamation defence articulated by Dario Milo, particularly when cognisance is taken of all the other injurious articles published in concert with it – Arrest Max Price being an obvious example.

Carl Petersen’s ‘In bad faith’ article was not true, it was not reasonable or honest comment, it was not in the public interest at a time of campus volatility and its clear intention was to defame.

Campaign to smear me’

In his interview with Ricky Stoch, Price specifically speaks of Survé’s ‘campaign to smear me’ and she has made his claim a matter of publicly-accessible record through her thesis which is available online. Will Survé now sue Price for defamation as he once threatened to do to Rhoda Kadalie?

It is a matter of historic and YouTube record that Survé encouraged the ‘Decoloniser’s’ cause at a meeting of the UCT Association of Black Alumni (UCTABA) hosted in the Kramer Building at the university on 7 April 2015. It is also a matter of historic record that this was followed by vengeful disruption and fascist behaviour on our campuses which continues to this day.

As Jonathan Jansen said recently in his address to the Cape Town Press Club: “When someone throws a bomb through Max Price’s office window… that kind of disruption has no place in a democracy. Why are we silent in the face of this kind of fascism? I can’t think of a better word (than fascism).”

This  campus chaos compounds the obstacles created for our youth by two decades of rapacious ANC administration of the education sector, now acknowledged as one of the worst in the world.

Together they provide an ANC horror story which is tragic beyond the telling of it because it has condemned millions of young South Africans to lifelong unemployment and penury.

  • Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.
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