Chris Steyn v Jacques Pauw: SA weighs in on ugly fight about investigative journalism

EDINBURGH — Formidable, fearless Jacques Pauw rooted out the most evil people the apartheid government nurtured in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was the kind of journalist I aspired to be when I was a student at Rhodes University. Later, I had the hard task of trying to live up to Chris Steyn’s reputation after I was appointed to one of her former jobs: crime reporter at the Cape Times. My brief was to make sure I picked up every murder, robbery and juicy crime scandal, every day, to scoop the opposition. Inevitably in journalism, particularly if there is any investigation to be done, rules are bent and laws are occasionally broken. I plead guilty to, among other things, stealing pictures for publication, bribing officials with bottles of brandy and illegally tuning in to police radio waves – all, of course, with the blessing of my boss. Steyn and Pauw have been working on major scandals that have required accessing high-stakes sensitive information from powerful, murderous people. There will be a lot both of them cannot tell us about their methods and craft to protect themselves and their sources. Steyn and Pauw are fighting over journalistic integrity, which is detracting from the great work both are doing to expose rot in the public interest. – Jackie Cameron

By Thulasizwe Sithole

Two of the best investigative journalists in South Africa are at war in the public domain, with onlookers taking sides in a debate that has erupted across the social media.

On one side: Jacques Pauw, author of The President’s Keepers – the book that was the final nail in the coffin for Jacob Zuma’s presidency. On the other, Chris Steyn, whose newer book, Lost Boys of Bird Island, which she co-wrote with policeman Mark Minnie, is the culmination of a career of investigating paedophilia at the highest levels of the National Party government.

Steyn’s book, as The Daily Maverick notes, has reignited interest in the sensational case implicating Port Elizabeth businessman and diver Dave Allen, former National Party Cabinet Minister John Wiley and former Minster of Defence General Magnus Malan in a paedophile network that abused young and vulnerable boys, most of them coloured, during “fishing” trips to Bird Island in the 1980s. Minnie died late last year.

Pauw and Steyn are not spring chickens, cutting their teeth as reporters and making their mark in the 1980s in the death throes of apartheid.

Journalist and author Jacques Pauw was a founder member of the anti-apartheid Afrikaans newspaper Vrye Weekblad, where he exposed the Vlakplaas police death squads, one of his publishers reminds us.

Chris Steyn, one of her publishers tells us, is an investigative writer and journalist.

Over the years, she has worked for the Rand Daily Mail, The Star and the Cape Times. She was editor of the investigative unit of sixteen newspapers in the Independent Newspapers group. 

The battle between these big names in journalism broke out after Pauw wrote a scathing review about Steyn’s book. As The Citizen reported in September, Pauw said that “much of the book doesn’t make sense and may in fact contain several lies”.

Steyn took issue with the allegations. In a piece published on News24, Steyn wrote: “As a fellow investigative journalist I have always had the utmost respect for Jacques Pauw and the work he has done. Therefore, I was surprised by the factual inaccuracies in his review of The Lost Boys of Bird Island, the book I co-wrote.

“Pauw calls the late Mark Minnie a ‘sloppy’ cop. Yet, he himself makes crucial mistakes in his comments on the book. If he was still alive, Minnie would have returned the compliment and charged Pauw with ‘sloppy’ journalism,” continued Steyn.

Not wanting Steyn to have the last word, Pauw came back with another attack, accusing her – in a lengthy riposte – of being deceitful.

In the latest development, Steyn has published the details of a polygraph test she underwent to help prove her case that she has acted with integrity in investigating and publishing her findings.

Revelations that Steyn felt compelled to undergo a lie detection test to prove her bona fides has unleashed a storm of outrage.

On BizNews, It is common knowledge that paedophilia is rife amongst the leadership of governments and high circles of society and even amongst the clergy of the RKC, so why would her story be untrue?”

Minnie himself admitted that they have none of the alleged victims to corroborate the story in an e-mail just before he killed himself. Read Jaques Pauw’s piece on the book on the Vrye Weekblad site. There are just too many versions of the truth in this whole saga…” said the commentator.

Should Mark Minnie not have been the one to have taken the test? The test proves that you absolutely believed everything that Minnie told you.”  But Cosmik Debris reminded Mike van Zyl that Mark Minnie is dead.

The polygraph really doesn’t clarify anything. It does not prove that the contents of the book is true or correct; at best it possibly proves that Chris Steyn herself believes it to be true and correct. There’s a huge difference between allegations actually being true and the person making them believing it to be true. I myself was a journalist during Steyn’s time at The Star and have first-hand experience of her modus operandi as a journalist, which I would rather not discuss here. I would rather put my money on Jacques Pauw’s story in Vrye Weekblad which pokes huge holes in Steyn’s book. Alec, just as you believe your take on the polygraph story to be correct, you may still be proven wrong. And I am no apologist for the characters in Steyn’s book – in fact I intensely disliked Malan and Wiley, whom I both met frequently in the course of my work, and I also intensely dislike any true child molester. But Steyn spared no thought for the immense harm she caused innocent people affected as collateral damage with her book of which her ‘facts’ were not proven beyond doubt and the allegations of her sources were not cross-checked and corroborated. It seems her only concern was sensationalism and good book sales. Alec, it’s sad to see someone of your journalistic calibre falling for a polygraph test that seems to be little more than just another con in a battle to shape public perceptions.”

And your point is?? Magnus, Minnie, John Wylie and Barend should be the ones taking these tests. Not Steyn. The book she wrote was a fixation of her imagination and therefore not possible to fictitiously lie in it,” said Morena Zwekwati.

I believe she’s not lying. But I do think somebody else had been lying to her and she was caught in this book to give it some sort of “credibility”. Minnie may have had his suicide planned long ago but wanted to go to the “other side with a ‘legacy’.

“Why on earth would somebody who wanted to murder a child in such a horrific way take the wounded child to a private hospital for treatment if they could just have disposed of the body in the sea on the island?!”

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    The Broeders will always protect their own because they are the most vicious gang in South Africa! If they don’t come clean as an organisation and really confess (and mean it) their atrocities against their fellow South Africans( white and black !) we cannot rely on God Almighty to rescue us from further abuse by other ( gangs) parties.”

Over on Twitter, people have also been sizing up the matter.