Citizen sorry for Mbeki 'womaniser' story

The Citizen newspaper on Monday issued a statement of apology to President Thabo Mbeki over a front-page story it carried last week labelling him a "womaniser".

The statement said the newspaper wished to "associate" itself with sentiments expressed by Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, the chairperson of Caxton which owns the Citizen.

Slabbert has offered apologies to the president and his wife for any embarrassment caused by the article.

Referring to the front-page article on April 10, the Citizen said: "At no stage did we intend to give credence to allegations by journalist Max du Preez which may have cast aspersions on President Mbeki.

"However, we realise the prominence afforded to his assertions may have given a misleading impression.

"It was not we who attributed adverse conduct to the president. Nor did we mean to imply that his private business had any bearing on the performance of his duties. We regret the unpleasantness which has followed the publication of the aspersions."

The story in the Citizen last Tuesday quoted Du Preez as saying: "...he (Mbeki) is seen as a womaniser. It is publicly known, and I think we should start talking about this, that the president has this kind of personal life. I'm not saying it's scandalous. He's a womaniser."

In a letter to the editor, printed in the Citizen on Wednesday, Slabbert - a political analyst and leader of the former Progressive Federal Party - said he found the report in "extremely poor taste, politically irrelevant and journalistically parasitical". He said the comment by Du Preez was "simply lifted ... from a chance remark in a radio interview".

Slabbert in his letter said he had no intention of interfering in the Citizen's right to publish what it deemed fit, but this did not mean he was not entitled to his own opinion and to state it publicly.

Du Preez appeared on the SABC's The Editors programme on April 8 in which he made remarks in the context of a letter written by African National Congress Women's League President Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to Deputy President Jacob Zuma, in which she denied accusing Mbeki of womanising.

Slabbert said that if the womanising ways of prominent people constituted a security risk, as was suggested by the Citizen in an editorial accompanying the Du Preez article, then "the French government and the British royal family would be in a permanent state crisis as well as their countries".

"As chairman of Caxton/CTP Pty Ltd, but not necessarily on its behalf, I wish to extend my apology to the president and especially to his wife for the embarrassment and hurt the report must have caused," Slabbert wrote.

The ANC last week rallied around Mbeki and harshly criticised Du Preez for his comments on Mbeki as well as The Citizen for the headline article it published. - Sapa

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