Tichaona Zindoga in JOHANNESBURG, South Africa
A MAJOR South African publication, the Sunday Times, has admitted writing falsehoods against Zimbabwe as it pushed a nefarious agenda for some South African political interests. The Sunday Times has wide readership in South Africa and has a bureau in Zimbabwe where it enjoys considerable circulation.
In 2011, the Sunday Times wrote stories alleging that South African police and investigative arms were conniving with the Zimbabwe Republic Police to illegally exchange prisoners whereby the South African authorities would deport suspects to Zimbabwe where they would be tortured and die.
The practice is known as rendition.
Both South African and Zimbabwean authorities denied the claims at the time, although senior officers in the Hawks — South Africa’s prime investigative unit — lost their jobs as a result of the fake news, which other media across the world amplified.
But last week, a well-known forensic investigator, Paul O’Sullivan, exposed the Sunday Times, which he also showed to have written a string of false stories meant to destabilise the South African Revenue Services (SARS) and the Hawks.
The Sunday Times did this to abet corruption by senior officials in the former administration of president Jacob Zuma commonly known as “State capture”.
Two journalists – Stefan Hofstatter and Mzilikazi waAfrika – were named as having been part of the plot.
After being called out, yesterday the Sunday Times admitted to the grand fibs.
“We have spent the past few weeks reflecting on our reporting of allegations of police killings in Cato Manor in KwaZulu-Natal and the illegal deportation of Zimbabweans to face execution in their country — known as renditions,” wrote editor Bongani Siqoko in a prominent retraction.
“These stories were written by a team of senior journalists and published in this newspaper in 2011.
“As reporters and editors we have an ethical and journalistic duty to interrogate suspicions of abuse of power, accusations of wrongdoing, and any other incidents that are in the public interest.
“We did just that in these stories, basing our decision on news value, professional judgment and the public’s right to know.
“We were in pursuit of nothing, but the truth and we were not motivated by political, commercial or personal interests . . . But we admit here today that something went wrong in the process of gathering the information and reporting the Cato Manor, SARS and Zimbabwean renditions stories. This is after we engaged constructively with all key parties involved in the stories.”
He added: “What is clear is that we committed mistakes and allowed ourselves to be manipulated by those with ulterior motives.”
Siqoko revealed that the Sunday Times was returning prizes that the journalists won for the fake stories.
Foreign news services from South Africa and Western countries have been notorious for peddling falsehoods against Zimbabwe to portray lawlessness in the country and justify punishment by the international community.