TWO YEARS ago we reported on Johann Rupert’s Magnus Gaffe in which he claimed variously to have been a key figure within the anti-apartheid movement whilst under the whip of Magnus Malan. This week, we can only watch aghast as the CEO of Remgro, Richement and Reinet (R as in Rands figure large in Johann’s inherited wealth and the media cartel his family owns routinely redact his directorships), went from berating millenials for being materialistic compared to his own generation (and denying any involvement in apartheid or the apartheid regime) to claiming intimate ties with the late Steve Biko.
Johann Rupert, also an heriditary academic at Stellenbosh University, appears to not have read his father’s biography, detailing the man’s illustrious business dealings with Nico Diederichs and Owen Horward, the titular State President and apartheid finance minister respectively.
Anton Rupert (Rupert snr), a kingpin in the financial system backing successive Nat governments, went from making cigarettes in his garage to a global financial market player and international tycoon in three easy steps.
First he setup Rembrandt and aquired a loan from Sanlam, Santam and Saambou to purchase Rothmans International in 1953. Then he bailed out the local banks when they came under pressure due to international sanctions during the 1980s. Next he turned these apartheid-era banks into Amalgamated Banks of South Africa (ABSA) with Rembrandt as major partner and set up a variety of special purpose vehicles for the luxury goods market, all this while sequestering apartheid billions in Switzerland.
Thus Federale Volksbellegings became Rupert Bellegings, as the family acquired much of the asset wealth of the National Party.
Far from being a ‘pragmatic critic of apartheid’, Rupert Snr was not only a sanctions buster, but a collaborator with the military junta under Magnus Malan and PW Botha. Correspondence between the politicians all demonstrate that the man had intimate though tempestuous ties with the National Party. Although somewhat of a dark horse, with Rupert Snr betting on both sides, he finally broke from the broederbond, later becaming involved in the settlement strategy under FW de Klerk.
All whilst promoting himself as a deal broker between the warring parties and effectively rewriting history. The latest round of apartheid revisionism, in which Rupert Jnr, seeks to associate himself with the late Steve Biko whilst casting aside his family’s obvious involvement with the apartheid regime is beneath contempt.
It is consistant with the public relations campaign to recast the entire Rupert family as instrumental in the collapse of apartheid, which undoubtedly they were, not as political activists, but rather as monied insiders orchestrating a shift in power via a well-executed palace coup that retained their grip on the economy in an end-game strategy that lead to the sunset clauses signed-off by the ANC.
The post-historical revision of this period, is similar to the story told by propoganda chief Cliff Saunders who maintains he was out of the country all along and played no major role in Botha’s ‘total onslaught’ strategy. Evidence given by Rupert jnr during the TRC is notable for the lack of corroborating evidence from Die Groot Krokodil, who avoided the commission, in no small part due to the actions of Naspers, a company in business with Remgro.
Think of Rudolf Hess, a nazi who flew solo to Scotland, apparently to negotiate peace, but more likely to escape Hitler’s death squads. Again, Mandela’s jailer James Gregory, who also ‘knew’ South Africa’s elder statesman, the founder of modern South Africa initimately, but was most obviously on a very different side of the fence and prison doors.
Whether being a late arrival at the conclusion to the tragic saga, the son of a major role player and beneficiary, qualifies one as a ‘pragmatic critic of apartheid’ is anyone’s guess.
SEVERAL pieces on the right-wing political site Politicsweb, a local news platform run by James Myburgh, demonstrates the narrow racialism of its multifarious contributors. The site purports to carry opinions from across the political spectrum, but has a seemingly limitless abundance of polemic and commentary from the likes of RW Johnson and the Freedom Front’s Pieter Groenewald,
First off there’s a familiar conservative spokesperson opining on the subject of the Ashwin Willemse incident ‘On racism, real and imagined: “Can a disagreement between sports broadcasters really qualify as news?” asks RW Johnson who then proceeds to denigrate the standing of the Equality Court, (in the process casting aspersions against its status in terms of the Equality Act): “Him and his lawyers are now proceeding to the Equality Court (the name has an Orwellian ring),” writes Johnson.
While our justice system if far from perfect, the Equality Court is a shining light in this regard. Rather it is conservatives who must be taken to task for dangerous double-speak, bigoted opinion that essentially denies that Willemse has access to any rights in terms of his own opinion on the matter. As the liberal mantra often restated by conservatives goes, ‘we believe in the audi rule so long as only one side to the dispute is heard.’
Andrew Donaldson, forever a lapdog of the effete rich and trendy wealthy, finds the time to wade in with a pathetic Cry racism piece that although erudite, willfully proceeds to miss the point entirely by cynically misstating the Equality case: “shoehorning the controversy within a racial context will restore moral order and present the readily outraged with a familiar, comforting paradigm’ that of Cry Wolf? No Mr Donaldson, this isn’t about racism per se, but rather apartheid denial, the rotting carcass of quotas and the sell-by-date of former apartheid-era darlings, a corporation with anything but a sterling history of opposing racism.
With all the tact of a charging hippopotamus, the grandson of Verwoerd and Oranie spokesperson, Wynand Boshoff’s ‘Ashwin, actually we know what you mean’ delivers a thinly disguised hatchet job, attempting to deflect attention away from Naas Botha and thus Afrikanerdom in general. Deploying the tired and anachronistic ‘blame it on the British’ schtick that is so often used by former members of the Nationalist party to ingratitude themselves with the ruling ANC whilst also affecting a crushing blow to us English-speakers.
It is not terribly surprising then to find South Africa’s own Walter Mitty, one Andrew Kenny delivering an equally destructive blow to the English language. Having affected a mid-life career change from failed nuclear pundit to “contracted columnist to the Institute of Race Relations” Kenny’s vivid imagination proceeds to shower us with bizarre details verging on the fantastical, “I know nothing about rugby” he says before embarking upon a sorry attempt at the nitpicking obfuscation for which he is perhaps renowned. The result is a failed piece of political bumph posing-as-commentary which merely demonstrates that Kenny has zero credentials and course-work when it comes to the social and political sciences.
‘Hurt, pain & Ashwin Willemse‘ deploys a scurrilous and appalling comparison between the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, (perhaps to assert a vivid fantasy life in which Kenny recently acquired a moral position on non-proliferation?), to the aforementioned Supersport incident, before proceeding to freely mix metaphors and borrowing heavily from a Nixon-era public administration pundit:
“The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low” is a saying attributed to one Wallace Sayre. It is thus rephrased as Sayre’s Law, which was all really just another patronising putdown to the students of the University of Berkeley and the victims of the Kent State massacre, and grist to the mill, for a decade of revolt which gave the world free love, women’s rights and equality. Enough to ruffle the feathers of today’s youth and our modern generation of die-hard de-colonialists?
To cap it all, there is also a strange statement released by the Freedom Front’s Pieter Groenewald “Minister of Sport and DA leader must apologise” absurdly blaming the Minister of Sport and the leader of the DA, for the incident. Apartheid collaborators are racists, full-stop. Instead Groenewald wants a fantasy-world where “people must refrain from attributing incidents where people of different races are involved to racism,” begging the question, what happens when racism isn’t about race per se but rather structural racism? The two apartheid darlings Mallet and Botha turned into on-air monuments, the post-apartheid wing, Willemse, forever in the studio shadows.
The Freedom Front shows its metal, providing uncritical support for the discredited Naspers-Multichoice and its pathetic inhouse finding on the matter, arguably, all the result of extra-judicial privileges founded upon race, and despite the matter being sub judice. The outcome of the labour proceeding in which Willemse was not represented, has been rejected by the former Springbok, as too should any similar proceedings not meeting standards of due process. There has yet to be an official inquiry into the role of sports administrators during apartheid in terms of the TRC Act, which allows the Minister of Justice to appoint special inquiries subsequent to the winding up of the first commission.
REVELATIONS that South Africa’s media were the targets of a dirty tricks operation at the behest of the apartheid government, named Operation Romulus, and that the victim was the late Winnie Mandela, were bound to cause a sensation. More so in the aftermath of her death. Embedded journalism is highly problematic. The least of which is the impact, it has had on several titles that may be implicated.
The untested claims attributed to Stratcom agent, Vic McPherson are all contained in the documentary on Winnie by Pascal Le Marche. The Citizen however, was forced to remove an article entitled “Stratcom Reporters at the Weekly Mail”, issuing an apology to then editor, Anton Harber, as did the Huffington Post.
Readers may remember the circumstances in which the apartheid government bought and paid for the Citizen in what became known as the Information Scandal, and the manner in which both South Press and Medialternatives itself were banned, the latter by none other than Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee, after yours truly exposed the problem of apartheid embedded journalism at the Independent Group (formerly Argus Group).
“We failed to seek out comment from Harber, Gqubule and Mathiane before publishing untested allegations. We are deeply sorry and apologise without reservation” wrote Huffpost editor-in-chief Pieter du Toit. A title, which is also the subject of some controversy surrounding its inclusion in the Naspers stable. An apartheid corporation, responsible for Stratcom and whose newsrooms until recently carried portraits of editors such as D F Malan and HF Verwoerd.
Thus it came as no surprise that Weekly Mail, along with its former racist bedmates, was now being implicated. After a sterling run as the bastion of progressive politics, the successor to the Weekly Mail, threw its lot in with 24.com, while the online version of the newspaper under Chris Roper, became the proving ground for former apartheid spies and journos.
Winnie Mandela repeats many of the claims in a recent interview conducted before her death. The result ended up in a takedown of posts at two media houses, both themselves implicated in the apartheid regime. The original Citizen article is only available as a cached page on google.
It may seem a little too convenient then, that Politicsweb, responsible for banning Medialternatives on Black Wednesday, rose to the defense of Harber, apparently quoting a 1995 Weekly Mail expose of Stratcom and thus the words of one Paul Erasmus
The article pictured to the left, by
embedded investigative journalist Stefaans Brummer, fails to examine the implications of a stratcom operation aimed at the Weekly Mail newsroom, and its NIA successors under the new regime.
Was Harber in fact also the target as many newsrooms were during the struggle? The full extent of Operation Romulus is only now becoming public record.
A fuller investigation into the many skeletons housed and embedded within South Africa’s press and their shortcomings during apartheid, is most certainly warranted. Declassifying documents may be the first step according to Open Secrets’ Hennie van Vuuren.
Watch eNCA below reflect on the media during this period.
WITH the current national fixation on “state capture”, public fascination with the intrigues of the Zuma administration and calumny surrounding the Guptas, it is easy to forget the blueprint for graft was laid decades earlier. Apartheid, Guns & Money, a 600+ page doorstop of a book by Hennie van Vuuren, and published by Jacana Press, debunks several popular myths associated with the past regime — that corruption is a purely racial phenomenon, that apartheid South Africa was an “isolated state”, that democratic freedom signalled a break from the past, that the defeat of apartheid was inevitable and that we cannot undo this wrong.
Van Vuuren reveals in painstaking detail, utilising research garnered from recently declassified documents and interviews with key players, how a secret economy — “a global covert network of nearly 50 countries was constructed to counter sanctions” and “allies in corporations, banks, governments and intelligence agencies” helped move cash, illegally supplied weapons for the apartheid money for arms machine. ‘In the process whistleblowers were assassinated and ordinary people suffered.’
Revealing a ‘hidden past in a time of oppression”, the work is a masterful coup, providing details on the Special Defence Account (SDA), long the bane of the anti-apartheid movement. An investigation into the assassination of activist Dulcie September is both poignant and long overdue. Dulcie was “not just murdered she was erased.” Obtaining a copy of the TRC investigation unit’s report into the murder, kept under lock and key for 20 years by Dept of Justice officials ‘took an enormous effort by a team of lawyers and the South African history archive’.
The full extent of the apartheid enterprise under PW Botha and Magnus Malan et al, will come as a shock, as we finally discover the details of the secret projects, many of which were only alluded to in proceedings of the TRC, and its 3000+ page report prefaced by an awkward explanation that many documents pertinent to the proceedings had already been destroyed.
It is an extremely disturbing picture which emerges, the more so since it speaks, both to a current generation, for whom the machinations and covert nature of the regime will come as a surprise, as too survivors, many of whom may have been too young to appreciate the high level of manipulation occurring. That the TRC report has its failings can be seen in the statement by Van Vuuren, that not all documents were destroyed by Armscor in Project Masada. There also appear to be tonnes of documents sequestered in archives such as that of the National Party, and this begs the question on what is being done to preserve South Africa’s heritage of the past struggle for future generations.
Sections on “Naspers: the tap root of the National Party” vindicate my own investigation into the subject, as does the discovery of correspondence by one Ton Vosloo gifting the National Party with ample funding. The role of PW Botha, as a Naspers board-member, is also aptly described, as too the controversial incident involving his company’s opposition to the TRC, (the appearance of 127 apartheid collaborators who walked away from the commission, as conscientious journalists) and it is trite that many of the corporate entities upon which the late Anton Rupert sat, and related to the enterprise, like that of Christo Wiese, were also involved in the regime. But according to van Vuuren, nothing has emerged yet from the recently discovered archives, directly linking the Rupert family to the PW Botha administration and earlier Nat administrations, save for his generous donations to party successor FW de Klerk.
One cannot help thinking that any story about Federale Volksbellegings and sanctions-busting would be incomplete without relating the history of one of its founders. It thus appears the author has either not read Anton’s own biography about “the organisation that finally lured Rupert away from academia”– or has sought to downplay the Rupert factor for some political reason, as they say, ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’. This failing, minor in comparison to the great work in uncovering details of the SDA speaks to the need for peer review and perhaps a more scientific approach to the puzzle. There are still quite a few surprises in store for readers, and especially related to covert information regarding previously unknown collaborators and I won’t give the game away by relating all the dirt here, suffice to add that Apartheid Guns & Money is certainly a great start for information activists and a must have in any private collection of apartheid arcana, and deserves to be made available to scholars via public and academic libraries.
When it comes to freedom of expression there is a need for South Africans to protect our gains and broaden the right to even more people. In order to move forward, we have to take on the challenges of the present and learn the lessons from our past. As part of our human rights focus for March, we look at the case of the Grassroots community newspaper which came into being at a time when apartheid was at its most vicious.
The offices of a community newspaper were burned to the ground in October 1985. It was situated opposite the Grand Parade and next to Cape Town’s historic City Hall. A few weeks earlier three of the newspaper’s employees were taken into detention by apartheid security police who swooped on their homes in the dead of night, armed to the teeth. Several other staff members went into hiding, moving around in disguise, some shedding their beards and moustaches, others donning scarves and wearing Gandhi-like spectacles.
In the time ahead, the paper was banned in terms of emergency regulations. Police conducted several raids on the premises of Grassroots’ printer Esquire Press, and in the late 80s one of the staff members was shot and left for dead near a cemetery in Gugulethu. Fortunately – and almost miraculously – she survived the attempt to end her life.
In many parts of the City and indeed, throughout the land, protests, teargas and funerals were as much part of daily life as having a haircut or taking the kids to school. The rebellion against that monstrous crime against humanity – apartheid, was growing with each passing day. The apartheid state unleashed unspeakable violence on the black oppressed and white democrats – arresting, hurting, maiming and killing those who dared to take a stand, and even those who did not.
Just over 25 years on, these recollections of the Grassroots Community Newspaper experience, seem strangely surreal, even to those who were there when it all happened.
The idea of Grassroots, which operated from 1980 to 1990, was conceptualised in the late 70s by progressive journalists in the Writers Association of South Africa. It was further brainstormed with activists in the Cape, most coming from the fold of the Congress Movement – the ANC and its allies.
The mission was to add a newspaper to the armoury of the resistance movement in South Africa with the overall aim of bringing apartheid to an end and replacing it with a democratic government and society. For obvious security reasons these aims were not documented – or publicly stated – but were well understood by those who drove this mission and the thousands who participated in its operation.
The activists drew inspiration from Durban dock workers strike of 1973, Mozambique gaining independence from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975 and the nationwide 1976 uprising which began in Naledi, Soweto.
Activists argued that strong, enduring community organisations, built from the ground up, would make it almost impossible for the Apartheid State to crush resistance in the way that they did in the 60s and – to a lesser extent – after the 1976 rebellion.
Grassroots established itself in an office off Greenmarket Square with the veteran activist Johnny Issel heading up a small staff component. The paper was to be tabloid size, with some 12 to 16 pages and would appear monthly.
The real driving force behind this project was hundreds of community activists who had been drawn into the unfolding struggle in the late 70s and early 80s. They participated in newsgathering meetings, distributed the paper door-to-door across the Cape Flats, helped produce content for the paper and represented their organisations and communities at Grassroots forums that including quarterly General Meetings and AGMs. Many of these activists were referred to as charterists, those whose political programme was encapsulated in the Freedom Charter which was adopted in Kliptown in 1955.
A small number of journalists in the mainstream papers, mainly black, contributed to the Grassroots effort. Eager to support the struggle against apartheid and angry at the racism practised in newsrooms themselves – both Afrikaner nationalist and English liberal – they assisted with skills development and writing and editing. The Journalists and the growing anti-apartheid activist fraternity all shared the view that the mainstream media – apart from its job reservation practices – almost exclusively gave voice to an enfranchised minority. This was then part of the motivation for the development of alternative media platforms.
Issel was banned and Leila Patel took over as co-ordinator for two years until student leader Saleem Badat stepped into the hot seat between 1983 and 1986. By the mid-80s Grassroots consisted of the newspaper, a student publication Learning Roots, a political magazine, New Era and a media education project. A rural project was established with Saamstaan newspaper in Oudtshoorn as the flagship and a range of skills training initiatives across the province.
There were passionate debates during this time about the content of Grassroots, advertising policy, democratic practices in a newspaper project and importantly, how to deal with state repression.
The notion of Grassroots as a “collective organiser” featured strongly in the philosophical outlook of key players in the project. The paper had to do more than just inform and entertain – it had a critical role to play in bringing activists together around common goals, inspiring the formation and growth of local organisations and educating communities about their rights. This vision took Grassroots into rural towns and villages and eventually culminated in the launch of Saamstaan in 1984. That is a story on its own which was told in a 24 minute SABC documentary three years ago.
At its height Grassroots attracted 40 to 50 representatives from civic organisations, trade unions, student bodies and religious groups to its weekly news gathering meetings and hundreds from right across the Cape would gather for the Annual General Meeting. Activists would gather in large numbers in selected communities and, armed with copies of Grassroots, would encourage residents to be active in their local civics, bolster the trade union movement and make a contribution to student campaigns.
Far from being a conventional newspaper, Grassroots developed into something of a movement, bringing together people from across the social and geographic spectrum under one umbrella. It certainly prepared the ground for the formation of the United Democratic Front in 1983, since the UDF united a broad cross-section of organisational formations, but on a much bigger scale.
The paper’s content focused largely on local issues – electricity and maintenance campaigns, rates and rental tariffs. It was not the content of the paper that was a threat to state security, but rather what the project represented in its entirety. It had become a powerful mobilising tool and was helping to build people’s power from grassroots level. In the second half of the eighties, though, the paper did begin taking on more of a political character, as the struggle against apartheid intensified.
The paper was largely funded by a Church group in Holland, committed to the fight against apartheid. Grassroots was sold for nominal amounts and so income from sales was insignificant. The advertising revenue was limited since only a handful of small businesses on the Cape Flats advertised in the paper. Big businesses, which largely sided with and benefited from apartheid, were certainly not going to pour its resources into an anti-apartheid community paper.
Though the paper was relatively small, its impact was massive. Countless activists have spoken of Grassroots’ inspirational effect on their morale, since they viewed the project as quite an act of defiance against a seemingly monolithic and powerful State. Significantly, a large number of activists acquired media skills through their involvement in Grassroots and Saamstaan and they today occupy important positions in both mainstream and civil society communication sectors.
Grassroots closed its doors in 1990, the same year that negotiations to establish a democratic South Africa began. For a few years before that, participation had already begun to wane, partly due to repression, but also as result of activists devoting most of their energy to the work of the United Democratic Front.
Debates still occur over the decision to close Grassroots. It is argued that alternative community media platforms are of critical importance, to advance Constitutional ideals and rights and protect our democratic gains as well as to counter the lack of balance and diversity in the mainstream press.
These debates will rage intermittently for many years to come and may lead to new realisations and initiatives in time to come. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: Grassroots inspired and empowered a legion of activists and community members at a particularly turbulent time in our country. Its place in our media and political history is assured.
This story first appeared on The Journalist.