The media reserves its right to hold government accountable

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. Picture Leon Lestrade, Independent Newspapers.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. Picture Leon Lestrade, Independent Newspapers.

Published Dec 5, 2023


Business Report Stands Firm Against Bullying In an unprecedented move, Business Report, under the leadership of Executive Editor Adri Senekal de Wet, staunchly asserts its commitment to journalistic integrity and freedom of the press.

This response comes in the wake of Minister Pravin Gordhan's demand for a right of reply following the publication of the editorial titled "Pravin Gordhan’s deathly legacy: A threat to SA’s economic future" on November 28, 2023.

The letter to Minister Gordhan challenges not only the tone and content of his right of reply but also raises concerns about potential attacks on media freedom.

This editorial stands as a firm declaration that Business Report will not succumb to bullying tactics and will continue to uphold the principles of transparency, accountability, and responsible journalism in the face of serious allegations against the publication and its executive.

The letter calls for clarity and evidence on the accusations made, asserting the importance of a fair and balanced representation of the issues at hand.

Readers can judge for themselves.

Herewith Minister Gordhan's right of reply, and Adri Senekal de Wet's response:

Minister Gordhan’s bid to reform SOEs will not be derailed by lies, distortions and forces of greed

The article of 28 November 2023 by Ms Adri Senekal, the executive editor of Business Report, owned by Independent Media, cannot go unchallenged.

In the article “Pravin Gordhan’s deathly legacy: A threat to SA’s economic future”, she commits the cardinal sin in journalism and that is to stand in the way of the truth.

Her article has all the hallmarks of electioneering propaganda.

What the public should know is that the attack directed at the Minister of Public Enterprises in this article is part of a fight-back campaign by vested interests and other shadowy forces against the irreversible clean-up of state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

This is also a declaration of war against the African National Congress (ANC) in the context of ongoing corruption and the forthcoming elections – but those – inside and outside the ANC – working for the masses of our country will be vindicated and will be victorious against these dark forces of greed.

Minister Gordhan has known since assuming his current portfolio that he will take no prisoners in his quest to root out corruption, stabilize SOE boards, and hold people accountable.

Yet Ms Senekal conveniently chooses not to mention any of the progress that is being made.

Instead she peddles false narratives that rely on recycled distortions and falsities.

It is no secret that those opposed to the work of Department of Public Enterprises have chosen to use Minister Gordhan as a decoy in their quest to denigrate the administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa in the run-up to the 2024 elections.

Thus the attacks on Minister Gordhan form part of an elaborate ploy to peddle a contrived notion of state incapacity and supposed collapse of SOEs.

Yet what the public is not told is that the push back by these shadowy forces is because they are intent on recapturing the country’s economic apparatus for their own self-interest. Ms Senekal really ought to know better.

This administration will not relent from pursuing criminals who want the SEOs to continue to be their feeding troughs.

Minister Gordhan received marching orders back in 2018, when the President gave his first State of the Nation address, in which he set out the need to clean up SOEs.

In that address, the President could not have been any clearer when he said: “Amasela eba imali ka Rhulumente mawabanjwe.” (Thieves who are stealing public funds should be arrested and prosecuted).

So, no matter how much vilification is directed at Minister Gordhan, there is no reversing course from this objective.

However, what we cannot accept is for the public to be fed lies and distortions that seek to create a smokescreen about the true intent of those opposing the work to ensure that our SOEs can contribute to the development and the transformation of our economy.

There is zero truth to the claims that the government will wilfully subject SOEs to failure as a pretext for privatisation.

All our SOEs will be recalibrated so that they can play their developmental role.

Where there is a strategic rationale for leveraging private sector investment, for example in rail or power generation, the state will engage the private sector while retaining control of these critical assets.

2. Our work to transform SOEs requires ethical leadership and people who put the interest of South Africa first. Any deviation from this principle, means that those individuals who are unable to deliver the requisite outcomes must give way so that the interests of the country are not compromised.

Rather than be objective, Independent Media panders to the same elements that remain hell-bent on peddling distortions, lies and fabrications about the work of this administration.

Unsurprisingly, these fake and false narratives are pitched as expert commentary or pseudo analysis, when in fact the aim is to deceive and mislead.

It is therefore no wonder that the level of public discourse has become so parlous.

Our country sorely lacks meaningful engagement on critical issues, yet platforms like Independent Media continue to beat the old drums of untruths and seek to create villains while absolving thieves and saboteurs.

And these are some of the untruths that Independent Media wants the public to swallow hook, line, and sinker:

  • Minister Gordhan is waging a war against black talent. (It’s a lie).
  • Minister Gordhan is responsible for capital flight from South Africa. (Another contrived lie).
  • Minister Gordhan is unaccountable and untouchable. (Another preposterous lie).
  • Minister Gordhan is responsible for the rand’s devaluation. (Another lie).
  • Minister Gordhan is responsible for the Steinhoff corruption and implosion. (A total fabrication).
  • Minister Gordan is on a privatisation spree. (Another lie that is on constant replay to deceive the public).

Fortunately, the public can see through all these lies.

To make such claims is even defamatory.

Besides, the public knows that Independent Media could not possibly object to one of its newspapers being used as an election campaign pamphlet, where lies about Minister Gordhan and about government must be taken as gospel.

Ms Senekal’s article needs to be seen in the light it deserves.

It is a shoddy attempt at parroting what those opposed to the cleaning up of SOEs hope will become their election manifesto, with Minister Gordhan and the President as their bogeymen.

There is nothing that will reverse the progress that is being made to root out corruption across all our SOEs. To do otherwise will be treasonous.

What the public needs to understand is that as government we are fully committed to capacitating our SOEs so that they can attract the requisite investments and the right skills, and thus be able to drive their mandate to full effect. The SOEs are public assets that must deliver for the public good.

No amount of political machinations are going to change this.

And this is why as government, we are also determined to establish an overarching governance structure to marshal all SOEs and insulate them from political interference and from counter revolutionary forces.

"A luta continua; vitória é certa"! Ellis Mnyandu is the spokesperson for Minister Gordhan and the Department of Public Enterprises.

Part 2: Adri Senekal de Wet responds to the minister

Adri Senekal de Wet.

I am writing to you in my capacity as the Executive Editor of Business Report, in response to your request for a right of reply following my editorial on 28 November 2023, on behalf of Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Before we publish your reply, we would like to raise some observations with you and put some questions to you and Minister Gordhan.

Taking into consideration the content, tone, and language of your response to this article, and others, as well as that of your right of reply to other media outlets on a similar subject matter as to my recent article, your response could well be construed as an attack on media freedom.

It could also be interpreted as a direct attack on Independent Media and its executive, since Business Report is not alone in its criticism of the performance of SOEs, or of Minister Gordhan.

Below are articles published by other media platforms and organizations:

I am sure you are very aware of many other articles by various other media outlets along a similar vein too, such as the one penned by Stephen Grootes on Daily Maverick to which you also demanded a right of reply.

In exercising your right of reply, you have made strong statements regarding Independent Media, Business Report, and its Executive Editor, accusing them of serving “shadowy forces”, engaging in “electioneering propaganda”, and “perpetuating false narratives”.

These accusations are serious and have merited careful consideration before we responded to your demand.

As a publication committed to transparency, accountability, and responsible journalism, Business Report values the principles of freedom of expression and the press, as enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa.

However, we believe that the accusations made against us require clarification and a right of reply to ensure a fair and balanced representation of the issues at hand.

It is within the public interest to receive accurate and transparent information on newsworthy matters such as how your department functions, what its wins and losses are and how these, and the decisions made in your department, impact on the people.

While we respect your right to respond to articles that concern you, we assert our right to report on matters of public concern without fear of reprisal or interference.

Of grave concern to us though, is your purporting to speak for the President and the ANC as, well as Minister Gordhan.

“This is a declaration of war against the African National Congress (ANC) in the context of ongoing corruption and the forthcoming elections…”.

This is a direct quote from your response.

Pravin Gordhan.

At no time, in my article, did I refer to the ANC, or infer anything to do with elections.

My article was on the performance of the SOEs under Minister Gordhan.

Our interpretation of this line is that (according to you), the ANC feels we are at war with it?

Your remarks about corruption are equally concerning since it is Independent Media, and our press cohorts, who continue to call corruption out and expose those who have contributed to this country’s challenges.

These are broad and unfounded accusations that could in turn be considered deflection and propaganda.

We would ask you to reconsider your position.

We also request that you provide us with comprehensive answers to the points raised in my editorial and your subsequent reply you wish us to publish:

Allegations Against Independent Media: Clarification on the basis of the accusation that Independent Media is opposed to rooting out corruption in state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and the requisite supporting evidence of your claims Identification of Independent Media’s alleged political affiliations – with supporting evidence.

Disclosure of the "shadowy" and "dark forces of greed" undermining government efforts, as per your allegations.

Proof of Authority: Confirmation of the authority bestowed upon you by the President, the government, and the ANC to make the specific allegations against Independent Media. Clarity on the alignment of your allegations with the views of the Director-General of the Department Investigations.

Accountability: Detailed information on the status of investigations into matters related to SOEs by the SAPS, NPA, AFU, and SIU. Copies of proclamations signed by the President authorizing the SIU to conduct investigations and recover state funds.

Progress updates on SIU investigations, referrals to the Special Tribunal, and collaboration with other investigative agencies.

Response to Criticisms: Substantive responses to the criticisms raised in the editorial regarding progress in combating corruption, stabilizing SOE boards, and holding individuals accountable.

We believe that providing clear and verifiable information on these points will contribute to a constructive dialogue and foster a better understanding of the issues raised.

This request also aligns with the constitutional principles of transparency, accountability, and the public's right to access information.

Let me end by emphasising the crucial role of a free press in our democratic society, a sentiment that was eloquently expressed by former President Nelson Mandela and reiterated by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), as to World Press Freedom Day, observed on 3 May, which serves as a reminder of the importance of freedom of the press and the duty of governments to uphold the right to freedom of expression. In the spirit of promoting open discourse and maintaining the principles of press freedom, I look forward to receiving your comprehensive response by Monday 3 December 2023.

This will afford us the opportunity to publish your perspective alongside my editorial, ensuring a fair and balanced representation of the matter.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we anticipate your prompt and thorough engagement.

Sincerely, Adri Senekal de Wet

Part 3: The Department says it will use other platforms for its response

Your publication is not interested in abiding by the widely held journalistic ethics, standards, and practice of giving space to an opposing view so that your readers can make informed decisions about the issues that your article purported to raise.

Rather than provide the Department with a “Right of Reply”, your publication has instead opted to obfuscate by questioning our right to challenge your article, which presented a hostile and baseless narrative about the Department of Public Enterprises and its political head, Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Your claim that our “Right of Reply” is an “attack on media freedom” is disingenuous and indicative of your publication’s intention to create a pretext to refuse giving the Department space to respond to your incendiary article.

The Department reserves its right to use alternative platforms for its response to your editorial so that the South African public can know the truth.