JOHANNESBURG — In this piece, veteran journalist Ed Herbst highlights the career of Rhoda Kadalie, who has now moved to the US. Herbst draws on his institutional memory to write a thought-provoking piece highlighting the role that Kadalie has played in modern-day South Africa, as well as the challenges she faced. – Gareth van Zyl
By Ed Herbst*
In By, its Saturday supplement, Die Burger devoted its cover on 20 January and two inside pages by one of its leading features writers, Willimien Brümmer, to the fact that human rights activist Rhoda Kadalie was emigrating to Santa Monica.
She promises to become an ouma of note to her two grandchildren and one wonders if this will be the last we hear from one of the country’s most polemical political columnists.
A brief résumé: She is the granddaughter of Clements Kadalie who, in order to protest against unfair labour laws and worker exploitation, founded what later became known as the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa.
One of nine children, she grew up in Cape Town and became part of the UDF in the 1980s. She established the Gender Equity Unit at the University of the Western Cape and was elected to the Human Rights Commission by Nelson Mandela in 1995. As executive director of the Inpumelelo Innovations Award Trust she has raised millions of rands to reward public sector best practice building, in the process, a definitive database of more than a thousand best-practice partnerships between civil society and government. Her contributions to the greater wellbeing in our society were recognised in 1999 when she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Faculty of Social Sciences of Uppsala University.
‘In djou gevriet!’
As someone interested in media matters I was a devoted reader of her columns in Business Day a decade ago and a collation of these columns was published by Tafelberg in 2009. Its title is In Your Face – Passionate Conversations about People and Politics and I went to the launch in the Cape Town Waterfront. The venue was packed with media people. Martin Welz read extracts from the book and the MC was Marianne Thamm who said that, if an Afrikaans edition was published, its title would be In djou gevriet, the parlance of the Cape Flats community where Kadalie is revered.
More than anyone she flayed media hypocrisy with articles like Dumbed-down SABC still its ANC master’s voice; Journalists also close ranks; Smug white journalists strangers to democracy; Embedded scribes grovel to the new elite and ‘Ja baas’ media shirks uncomfortable questions.
But perhaps the most prescient media-related article – published in October 2004 –was Afrikaans Press carries the torch of brave journalism.
She writes of … the tepid sneers of columnists who routinely and predictably accuse those with whom they differ of racism.
She then writes of a speech at the Cape Town Press Club made by Ton Vosloo, chairman of Naspers at the time:
He said that, unlike the Independent Group, for example, the Afrikaans press was not beholden to overseas owners and was thus less constrained.
Some have criticised his speech as self-serving. It affirmed my own belief, however, that the torch of courageous, crusading journalism carried by many from Thomas Pringle to Percy Qoboza, Donald Woods, Max du Preez and Martin Welz, among others, has been dropped, with a few honourable exceptions, by the English press and picked up by Afrikaans newspapers. This is ironic, as there was a time when the Afrikaans press saw itself as indivisible from the National Party in what it and PW Botha saw as its joint struggle against the ‘total onslaught’. In comparison, the English press, once so strident in its morally justiﬁable ﬁght against apartheid, seems – now with that enemy defeated — to have muted its voice and lost what should be its focus.
She concludes by saying that … much of the best investigative journalism, and the debate that is taking SA forward is taking place within its ranks.
If that was true in 2004, how much more compelling did it become in 2017 when Pieter-Louis Myburgh, a Naspers employee, excelled in his investigative reporting of deep-seated, ANC-benefiting PRASA corruption which culminated in his book The Republic of Gupta – A Story of State Capture?
That book was followed by the best-seller of the year by former Naspers reporter, Jacques Pauw, which recorded in frightening detail the extent of ANC criminality.
As it flew off the shelves, it was followed by Enemy of the People – How Jacob Zuma stole South Africa and how the People fought Back by Adriaan Basson, the editor of the biggest and best South African news website, News 24 and Pieter du Toit who was appointed editor-in- chief of the Naspers-owned HuffPost late last year.
Kadalie’s prescient media commentary is further emphasised when you read her column, Independent Journalism Under Threat, published within weeks of the Sekunjalo take-over in 2013 of the Independent News Media newspapers with an initially-clandestine R1.4 billion loan.
Ethical journalism at INMSA died an incendiary death when Iqbal Survé, was given control of the largest group of English newspapers in the country by the Public Investment Company via a R1.4 billion rand loan which some believe will ultimately be converted to worthless equity when it falls due for repayment in the very near future. Read this insider’s perspective by Chris Whitfield, now the editor of The Witness in Pietermaritzburg.
Furthermore, investigative journalism effectively ceased at INMSA once Survé took control.
In the closing chapter of his book, Jacques Pauw writes:
I am grateful to the Taco Kuiper Fund for Investigative Journalism based at Wits Journalism for a generous grant that enabled me to do extensive research for this book.
It is the annual Taco Kuiper awards for investigative journalism that provide the benchmark for this sphere of endeavour by the Fourth Estate and is it not significant that, since the Sekunjalo takeover in 2013, INMSA journalists have not featured among the prize-winners?
Shone in their absence
In an article Call to be brave transformation force by Dougie Oakes, the editorial and op-ed writer at the Cape Times, we read that Survé ‘lashed out’ at Naspers. Firstly, is the headline not a bit ironic given the fact that Sekunjalo does not fare too well when it comes to transformation analysis? Secondly, for the last two years, Naspers reporters have won the major Taco Kuiper awards and Survé-employed reporters have shone in their absence. The 2017 award went to Suzanne Venter for her investigation of the avoidable Life Esidimeni tragedy and the previous year it went to Pieter-Louis Myburgh for his startling revelations about Gupta corruption.
In a letter to staff shortly after the Sekunjalo takeover, two senior news executives Vukani Mde and Karima Brown – who were appointed by Iqbal Survé after writing an article defending Jacob Zuma – threatened white staff and made their pro-ANC allegiance a matter of permanent record.
They said that the new owner of the company, Dr Iqbal Survé ‘wears his ANC heart on his sleeve’ and they showed that they concurred with this approach by wearing ANC regalia to an ANC political meeting to show their solidarity with a political party which is widely perceived to be a murderous, criminal enterprise which aligns itself with the world’s most brutal tyrants.
Would it not be fair, therefore, to say that INMSA, under new management since late 2013, showed as much enthusiasm for investigating ANC corruption as the SABC? What emphasises that point, I believe, is that Iqbal Survé threw the full weight of his papers behind the NDZ campaign and dismissed Wally Mbhele the editor of the Sunday Independent for publishing an article critical of the grasping Brian Molefe, a Zupta benefactor. He then replaced Mbhele with Zuma acolyte, Steve Motale, who promptly produced a front-page piece of smut which sought to portray Cyril Ramaphosa as the ultimate blesser, a cross between Casanova and a rampant bovine in heat. This, if anything, alienated the majority of Nasrec delegates which resulted in Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma being placed 9th on the NEC list.
The ANC privately acknowledges the validity of Kadalie’s criticism but the more vocal of their supporters are unable to use their favourite counter – the race card – against her because she is not white and her record in the UDF precedes her.
Unsurprisingly, her laptop was stolen from her car after she parked it in the underground parking at the Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront a few years ago. CCTV footage showed that another car followed her and, after she exited the car and locked it, a signal jammer was used to re-open it and only her laptop was stolen. It was never recovered. Stealing laptops is second nature to the ANC – ask Ryan Coetzee, he’ll tell you! (And a few favoured insiders get paid millions in advance to recover stolen laptops with no proof being provided of success – this is how the ANC rolls.)
Kadalie flayed the Mbeki-era ANC in one excoriating Business Day article after another: And SA’s new black elite said ‘Let them eat pap’; ANC creates new diaspora with race-based laws; The point is delivery, not the race of the deliverer; Silence around murder of Somalis speaks volumes; Media and politicians abuse race card for own gains; No vote of confidence for Mbeki’s ‘Party of Death’; SA’s big-mouth communists offer no real solutions; Criticise the President and cross his sycophants; Mbeki’s silence rotten as Land Bank Dirt piles up; Inquiries aplenty, but none into ANC abuses.
Unsurprisingly, women’s rights played a pivotal role in her writing: Sisters in power give ordinary SA women little joy and SA’s women leaders leave their sisters in the lurch had an almost eerie prescience given the negligible role of the insolvent ANC Women’s League in the recent ANC elective conference at Nasrec. Her standout article for me on this topic was Women’s rights the victim of sordid saga in June 2004. This related to the relentless sexual harassment of a woman diplomat, Lara Swart and other female staff members, in our Jakarta embassy by our ambassador to Malaysia, the late Norman Mashabane. I drew on this article for my own articles on the subject of the serial sexual predators in the ANC’s patriarchal hierarchy and among its allies like the Guptas.
Her brave journalism was one again on display when she contradicted the Iqbal Survé UCT narrative – that he had severed his links with the university because, he alleged, it is a racist institution opposed to transformation.
She promptly wrote a letter to the Mail & Guardian contradicting Survé’s claim. As a consequence, Survé’s lawyers served papers on her saying her letter had defamed him and demanding a million rand in compensation for his hurt feelings. That was two and a half years ago and nothing further was heard after senior counsel sprang to her defence and wrote back saying they opposed the motion. Kadalie was vindicated when UCT Vice Chancellor Dr Max Price, in an interview reflected in Jonathan Jansen’s book on the Fallist depredations, confirmed that he had asked Survé to step down from his UCT-related positions because the scandals in which he was involved did not reflect well on the university. Further details on this matter were contained in the Honours thesis by UCT student Ricky Stoch.
In 2011 Kadalie, as a resident in the University Estate suburb below Table Mountain, strongly opposed a development by the Oasis company which resulted in the destruction of an historic building. After a tribunal hearing, Oasis was compelled to rebuild the villa but it obviously no longer had the heritage provenance of the original dwelling. A year later the Press Council dismissed in its entirety a complaint registered by Oasis about a letter Kadalie had written on this matter to the Cape Argus.
For the past few years her columns were carried in The Citizen and Beeld and syndicated to all Naspers newspapers. They can be accessed by typing her name into the search bar on the websites of these newspapers. Tafelberg would be doing us a favour if they published a second compendium of her articles.
The interview in the By supplement was the second lengthy Naspers article about her in little more than a year.
Don’t expect the Sekunjalo newspapers to follow suit – not that Kadalie is fazed by that.
In djou gevriet!
- Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.