Dear Mr Bongani Sigoko (Editor of Sunday Times).
Date: 08/03/2016 Subject:
Termination of my employ at Sunday Times following capitulation of the newspaper to enter into a deal with former SARS officials and Johan Retief when the occasion presented itself for journalism to prove its bona fides through the Ombudsman process over the SARS expose I hereby tender my resignation from the Sunday Times. The reasons for my resignation are, among other things, what I consider to be unethical conduct by the Sunday Times editors and/or Times Media Group in entering into an underhanded deal with Ivan Pillay, Johann Loggerenberg, representatives of Minister Pravin Gordhan and other former SARS officials that my colleagues and I have been investigating for past two years for their alleged roles in the setting up and running of the rogue unit. The deal is to the effect that there will apparently be a truce between disputing parties, the suppression of ‘negative stories’ about former SARS officials and the suspension of the Press Council Appeal process which presented an opportunity for chairperson Judge Bernard Ngoepe to potentially set aside an adverse Press Ombudsman ruling which effectively branded me a liar.
This is evidenced by the three meetings, of which you are aware, held between three Sunday Times editors and Pillay, Van Loggerenberg and representatives of Gordhan. The other separate meetings were held between Sunday Times editors and Retief’s representatives (initiated by Retief) in January after the Deputy Press Ombudsman was tipped off that we now had a copy of the final KPMG report he had claimed did not exist In his adverse ruling against Sunday Times, which had cast aspersions on my professional integrity, Retief had said: “The panel has to stress that what was contained in the summary (or may not) turn out to be correct at some later stage – but we are convinced that the newspaper was not justified to present those “findings” as the true version of KPMG’s final report at the time of publication. This leaves only two options regarding Rampedi, who is adamant that he saw the “report” – either he was misled by his source, or he deliberately misled the public, his newspaper, as well as this office. The panel is not in a position to determine which of these two possibilities is true, and we leave it to the newspaper to take up this matter with the reporter.” With this flawed ruling, Retief effectively threw me to the wolves. He indirectly called on my employers to discipline me and also gave ammunition to journalists sympathetic to former SARS officials –mainly from Radio 702, Media 24, Mail and Guardian and the Daily Maverick – to publicly try to impugn my personal and professional integrity by implying I could not be trusted because I lacked credibility. My sin was daring to tell the other narrative and probing the activities of an unlawful unit established and run by their friends or associates. You know as well as I do that Retief could not anymore have argued against the existence of the KPMG report on the basis of which he singled me out to make an adverse finding, and on being asked by TMG to get a copy of the report to prove its existence, which I did, a deal is suddenly entered into which provides for the so-called out of court settlement with him. Even worse is that when I tried to defend my name in December, TMG and Sunday Times editors ordered me not to engage publicly about the matter pending the outcome of the Appeal process. Until the process was concluded, I was prevailed upon to desist from engaging on the matter publicly in the face of some journalists using the ruling to impugn my integrity. However, when the opportunity presents itself for the clearing of our names to occur, a deal is cut at my expense, without my consent and behind my back. This means I remain gagged while the company and the paper’s editors move on without their lives. Sunday Times effectively granted Retief’s wish to keep my professional integrity in doubt perpetually for obscure reasons. It was in this court that I broke my silence at the weekend and publicly defended my good name and integrity.
This deal seems designed to protect Retief’s reputation by saving his skin from a potentially compromising and embarrassing finding by Judge Ngoepe at the expense of my professional integrity and media independence. To any right-thinking journalist, this constitutes an act of betrayal of trust for commercial and political reasons in the hour of need when the truth was so gravely awaited by both the public we serve and the SARS as an organ of the state. The necessity and rationale for such deals remain unclear, and this creates suspicions of unethical and self-serving machinations at the expense of the truth being sought. Although I have been a leading writer on the SARS rogue unit expose and my name being specifically mentioned in Retief’s ruling in favour of Minister Gordhan, notice of the underhanded deals apparently struck last month came to my attention by third parties. Official confirmation about these deals was obtained when I asked various Sunday Times editors who admitted and apologised for failing to inform me of the deals and the rationale for doing so out of courtesy as an affected party. As you would know that on Saturday 5 March 2016 I expressed to you my serious reservations about these meetings and the deals sealed with people who are interested parties in this ongoing complex saga. I am of the view that the Sunday Times or any media for that matter must avoid being used as a platform for one narrative in a matter that in my view is of public concern and all versions must be told. This deal Sunday Times and Times Media entered into after they had undertaken to pursue the appeal against the Press Ombudsman ruling is in my view a self-serving and unethical attempt to sacrifice me for commercial and political expediency. When Retief ruled against Sunday Times in December 2015, TMG was unanimous that the Ombudsman finding was flawed and was cause for appeal to clear our names. Puzzling to me is what could have changed between the beginning of December 2015 when the TMG and Sunday Times editors were unanimous with the appeal process only to secretly dump it along with myself at the beginning of January 2016, and suddenly find it fit to enter into a deal with Minister Gordhan and other former SARS officials which seeks to discredit me and all the evidence that may point towards them in respect of the alleged rogue unit activities? Is it because the political the landscape was altered with Minister Gordhan’s reappointment as head of Treasury in Mid-December? It is rather troubling that in the SARS saga the media (and now seemingly also Sunday Times) have been co-opted to tell only one side, which seeks to present former SARS officials implicated in the illegal activities of the rogue unit as victims and everybody else as evil. Flowing from these deals, the subjects of our investigations around the SARS rogue unit are now feeling buoyed as to respond derogatorily to me when I contact them for comment. Two instances are worth mentioning to illustrate the point. This past weekend I had investigated allegations that Retired Judge Zak Yacoob, a friend to Ivan Pillay and Minister Gordhan, had during 2015 telephoned Advocate Sikhakhane SC and intimidated him for writing a report that has placed his friends in a spot of bother. This was conceded by Judge Yacoob himself.
I had also investigated attempts that were allegedly made on behalf of Pillay to either intimidate or seek a meeting with Sikhakhane SC and that Sikhakhane SC had told them that such meetings would be inappropriate. I found that the involvement of a retired Constitutional Court Judge seeking to defend a side and interfering with the process was a matter of public interest. However, as soon as I presented to Sunday Times editors the evidence of these events, true to the apparent capitulation, the paper refused to publish for unconvincing reasons events that may embarrass Minister Gordhan, Judge Yacoob and other former SARS officials. I think by being persuaded to suppress certain truths in this saga, Sunday Times editors are prejudicing the public from knowing all possible versions. Even a known fraudster like Yolisa Pikie, Pillay’s former advisor, felt so emboldened by the deals between Sunday Times and his people that he saw it befitting to send me a cheeky and dismissive text message in the middle of the night on Saturday in which he stated as follows. “Regarding your call this afternoon, I believe that I ought to remind you that several complaints are pending at the Press Ombudsman about your coverage of SARS. Specifically, the Ombudsman had made an adverse ruling against you in December. Sunday Times had decided to appeal we (Ivan Pillay) appealed. These proceedings are now in abeyance by mutual consent on the understanding that matters of fact regarding your past reportage must be resolved. It’s therefore disturbing that I should receive a call from you purporting new allegations which I am sure emanate from the same discredited sources. I urge you to never contact me again”. This was after I had called and received verbal comment on allegations he had unsuccessfully tried to organise a meeting between Mr Pillay and Sikhakhane SC. It was the first time since August 2014 that interacted with me in such a cheeky manner. Internally, even some of my Sunday Times colleagues are now pleading discomfort to share a by-line with me on SARS stories claiming that their sources had threatened to abandon them for continuing working closely with me. I was told this at an editorial meeting two weeks ago. I think by being persuaded to suppress certain truths in this saga, Sunday Times editors are prejudicing the public from knowing all possible versions. I find that by doing this the Sunday Times has joined the well-orchestrated media chorus that has abandoned its journalistic ethics in pursuing the narrative that only those who are African are capable of acting illegally, irregular or in a corrupt manner and those who are Indians and whites aren’t and must be protected at all costs and allegations against them treated with extreme caution.
I am disappointed that the paper has now entered into the deal with people who have been tirelessly wooing the media to isolate me and tell only their narrative. The Sunday Times and other media must be aware that it is those who fear the truth that have been seducing the media to present only their version of events and discredit any one that dares to explore the other version. I think the Sunday Times must desist from entertaining a narrative that in the SARS saga only those that are African did wrong regardless of the facts to the contrary. The dispute is much more complex than that and we owe all those involved to tell both truths even if it will expose as fictitious the myth that Whites and Indians can do no wrong. This is not the role we should play. It is possible that not only one side erred in this saga. I think the narrative being pursued is a racist one seeking to discredit all those who are African in the dispute, including journalists who seek to explore the other narrative. I think the public deserves to know all the narratives and make up their minds about what they believe. It is only those afraid of the truth that connive behind the scenes to get assistance from media houses. Had they been innocent, they would not frantically seek positive coverage. Fully aware of how TMG management and Sunday Times editors have seemingly compromised themselves through these deals, I have considered it untenable to continue being part of this newsroom and the company because of these underhanded deals. I tried to reconsider my decision as requested on Saturday but I battled throughout the weekend to convince myself otherwise. I hereby officially distance myself from the perpetuation of the deals and therefore remove myself from the scene because I don’t want to be party to or be bound by the terms and conditions of these questionable agreements. Troubled as I am about these unsavoury development, I remain duty bound and in honour of my contract shall accordingly serve my one month’s notice. However, I would like to reiterate that the truth is like toxic waste. Even if you burry it, it has a funny way of emerging from the surface. And I hope Sunday Times and TMG as a media company would be on the right side of history when that truth eventually comes out. I wish the paper and the company all the best.