Ed Herbst: Portents of violence and misogyny. Independent ethics?

Retired journalist Ed Herbst has kept a close finger on the violence that thrust itself on the University of Cape Town’s campus last year. In the piece below, the man at the centre of the firestorm Chumani Maxwele, was well known for his misogyny and penchant for violence before he unleashed it. But as Herbst explains this was deliberately withheld by the Independent Group’s Cape Times title. Herbst also searched through piles of newspaper clippings and found some unstated irony. In 2006 Karima Brown, Independent Groups’ current chief content officer condemned the SABC’s censorship: “Under the guise of transformation, the SABC has been all but hijacked by a clique of self-serving government lackeys…” Herbst extends the discussion to include the Alide Dasnois saga, following the article chief executive Iqbal Survé ran in the Cape Times newspaper following an agreement reached in court. Herbst says recent events question the stated commitment of both Survé and Brown when it comes to ethical news gathering. – Stuart Lowman

By Ed Herbst*

Veteran journalist Ed Herbst
Veteran journalist Ed Herbst

The man’s face is contorted with rage as he violently wrenches at the woman’s breast, the moment frozen in a photograph.

The man: Rhodes Must Fall leader Chumani Maxwele

The place: Wits University campus

The date: 7 April 2016

This attack saw him labelled as a violent misogynist.

To those on the campus of the University of Cape Town this came as no surprise, given his verbal abuse and assault of a woman lecturer.

After Dr Iqbal Survé’s clarion call at UCT on 7 April 2015 for the “racist” senior management of a “racist” institution to be replaced in its entirety, his employees, Cape Times editor Aneez Salie and reporter Carlo Petersen launched a venomous newspaper vendetta against UCT in general and its Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price in particular.

Deify Maxwele, demonise Price

The vendetta had two essential elements:

  • Deify #Rhodes Must Fall leader, the faeces-flinging Chumani Maxwele, as a folk hero who deserves cult status
  • Demonise Max Price by constantly portraying him as an arch racist who is resisting, along with his senor staff, the transformation of the University

Everything went amazingly well at first with Carlo Petersen’s articles enjoying banner headline treatment. For weeks on end his articles praising the Rhodes Must Fall activists and denigrating UCT’s senior management were high profile. Maxwele’s slightest distress, no matter how small and no matter how momentary, instantly became a guaranteed Cape Times front page lead.

UCT and Price were attacked in headline after headline. These headlines make interesting retrospective reading given that Maxwele has been banned from the campus for five years. He was banned by Judge Rashini Allie for the prima facie role he played in torching the campus but the imbongi headlines before the banning included; “UCT amnesty purely political – Maxwele”; “Maxwele the victim of a conspiracy”; “Maxwele says he will win”; “Activists outraged by UCT ‘victimisation’”; “Maxwele hails ‘yet another victory’” and so on and so on.


Then the wheels came off and Die Burger exposed the nefarious charade.

In July last year accounts started trending on social media about Maxwele being incarcerated in the holding cells at the Woodstock police station after a violent outburst in which property had been damaged.

Carlo Petersen is on Facebook and on Twitter and, during my investigation of the vicious vendetta that the Cape Times waged against Chad de Matos, a white UCT student who, innocent of any crime, was incarcerated in one of the world’s most dangerous prisons, I was told that Petersen was in constant Whatsapp contact  with the prosecutor Nathan Johnson – who was subsequently moved sideways to a smaller court in a country town. Given, thus, Petersen’s familiarity with these communication tools, my subjective perception is that he must have known about Maxwele’s incarceration.

“Balanced, fair and accurate”

Let me put this in context: On 12 December 2013, Dr Survé had this to say in a letter to staff about his absolute, immutable and irrevocable commitment to ethical journalism: “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. I have always valued the principles of transparency, fairness and independence.” (my emphases)

This commitment was further endorsed by Karima Brown, Chief Content Officer for Independent Media (Pty) Ltd:

“My responsibility as a journalist is to be balanced, accurate and fair”. Karima Brown stated in an interview with Michael Bratt of Media Online.

Our job is to bring people the truth of what is happening.” Karima Brown stated at 1 minute 48 seconds of this interview with eNCA’s anchor, Dan Moyane.

Furthermore, Brown, in a Business Day article (27/6/2006) also provided a trenchant critique of the routine censorship by omission at the state broadcaster where she had worked in radio news: “The organisational culture and ethos in the Auckland Park newsroom promote self-censorship. Under the guise of transformation, the SABC has been all but hijacked by a clique of self-serving government lackeys who believe they alone know what the public should see and hear. These individuals are not just in news management. They are on the SABC board, in the newsrooms and they even include senior journalists.”

So did AneezRhodes_must_fall_pic Salie and Carlo Petersen immediately investigate and communicate these disturbing  and prescient social media complaints  about Chumani Maxwele’s violent behaviour to the Cape Times readers?

They did not but Die Burger did.

Following up on these social media messages Die Burger’s senior court reporter, Jana Breytenbach, simply phoned Maxwele and the Woodstock police station and confirmed that after a complaint to the police, he was incarcerated for a night after an outburst which saw property being damaged.

Nothing stopped Carlo Petersen from doing what Jana Breytenbach did or, indeed, from following up on her article but, showing clear but unpunished contempt for the edicts of Survé and Brown about truth and ethical reporting, he did not.

It goes without saying that if Max Price had ended up in a police holding cell for malicious damage to property he would have been crucified by the Cape Times for weeks on end in front page leads, editorials and op-ed opinion articles about innate ‘white arrogance’.

Since Maxwele’s incarceration in the holding cells of the Woodstock Police station a year ago he has attacked a woman on the campus of Wits University and has been found by a judge to have been the key figure in a carefully planned and forcefully executed plan to set fire to the University of Cape Town, its buildings, vehicles and historic artefacts – something that has caused the country incalculable harm. In his UCT/RMF articles Petersen has tried to communicate as little as possible of any news that does not redound to Maxwele’s credit or harms the reputation RMF. As an example, when the Jammie Shuttle bus was torched by Maxwele and his RMF cohorts, as cited by Judge Allie and captured on security camera footage, he was quick to write an article which sought to absolve RMF of blame and attributing the crime to a “third force.”

Our common compact

As Business Day columnist Gareth van Onselen argues: “…our common compact is the Constitution and the bill of human rights.”  The right to know, enshrined in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, gives all South Africans the right of access to information which affects their lives. The bias and constant censorship by omission that characterises the articles of Carlo Petersen denies readers of the Cape Times and its IOL online portal that right. In doing this he seems to have the full support of the company’s senior executives, Aneez Salie, Karima Brown, Vukani Mde and Dr Iqbal Survé.

In August last year the SA Press Council ordered the Cape Times to apologise for its reporting on the Tiger Tiger Five. It is currently assessing another complaint, that of former editor, Alide Dasnois.

This news has been withheld from readers of the Cape Times.

  • Ed Herbst is a pensioner and former reporter who writes in his own capacity.
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