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.
IN AN INTERVIEW published by Business Day/Financial Mail and written up by Carlos Amato, aptly entitled:’Johann Rupert on being cast as the poster boy of ‘white monopoly capital‘ the financier and inheritor of apartheid billions, appears anxious to recast himself as a key member of the anti-apartheid struggle.
Unfortunately the facts do not support the Rupert version of history.
The CEO of Remgro and a holding company active in SA media, already implicated in extensive apartheid denial — alongside the creation of alternative facts — is recorded as saying: “Remember that the National Party shut down Remgro’s import permits for 10 months in 1988. And I was threatened by Magnus Malan with his hit squads. He said I was costing them votes because a number of us were speaking out against the NP. So what’s happening now is nothing new. Then it was because I was against apartheid, now it’s because I’m against state capture or cronyism”
Wrong, Mr Rupert, that would make you, a businessman, a central member of the anti-apartheid movement. There is no record that the Ruperts were ever vocal in their alleged opposition to the inhumanity of apartheid. None of the explanations regarding Johann’s father, Anton leaving the Broederbond for instance, tackle the central problem of what he was doing there in the first place.
There is no mention in Anton Rupert’s 2005 biography of an alleged landmark event in his life, involving PW Botha’s rubicon speech. If Botha had “reaffirmed his rejection of apartheid” as his speech writers would have it, it certainly never figured loudly in the writing of historians.
Maano Ramutsindela writing in a book on transfrontier conservation parks, examining the legacy of the Rupert family and the areas thus administered by the apartheid regime, states: “Given that enemies of the apartheid state of all backgrounds were harassed, hunted down, maimed and killed, the media was at pains to explain why the agencies of the apartheid state did not harm Rupert as it did others, including anti-apartheid activists from the Afrikaner community. The explanation offered is that Rupert did not oppose apartheid loudly, because he wanted to protect his business interests (Die Burger 2006)”
It may well be that the Ruperts and their company were pressured by the cabinet of the late PW Botha, in the inevitable powerplay between verligte (liberal) and verkrampte (conservative) Afrikaners during the closing stages of the transition and at the end of the successive states of emergency, but to say:
“I was threatened by Magnus Malan with his hit squads” and because “I was against apartheid” is a blatant fabrication and outright lie, one which strips the victims and survivors of the apartheid system of human agency.
The issue of whether or not there was ever a problem with Remgro’s import permits is risible considering the firm was itself, a sanctions buster, one which enabled the government of the day to withstand the considerable boycott and disinvestments campaign being waged by those on the other side of the fence.
Denying or revising the instrumentality of apartheid should be a punishable offense.
At best it is a variation of the tired theme: “I was merely following orders”. A defense resoundingly rejected under the Nuremberg principles and international statutes.
The chicanery by the heir to the Rupert fortune, ignores the reality that indeed many activists, including myself, suffered under the threats issued on a daily basis by Malan, Viljoen, Coetzee et al, and thus the de facto military junta.
Rupert’s latest claim ignores the pivotal role played by his father Anton, in the creation of the apartheid state, the industrialisation of South Africa under the auspice of the National Party and the significant enrichment of the Afrikaner people, at the expense of fellow black South Africans.
It was the Catholic Bishop’s Conference which funded struggle titles, such as South Press and New Nation, not Remgro.
Whilst at South Press, an exposé of Malan’s trophy-hunting operations in Angola brought the ire of the authorities. I was subject to a campaign of dirty tricks which eventually lead to the demise of the title. Unlike Rupert junior who hid his private views behind the officialdom of apartheid’s boardrooms, I had no such insider junket.
Rupert’s assertions must therefore be rejected.
SEE: 1950-1990 Signs of Apartheid What South Africans had to look at every day for four decades. by Amanda Uren on Mashable’s Retronaut
HUFFINGTON POST need look no further than inside the offices of its local owners at the Naspers Building, where portraits of apartheid theologian DF Malan were openly displayed near the editors office, as late as 2006 when I attended an Eidos training course.
Two portraits that of Naspers founder JBM Hertzog and Perskor business partner H F Verwoerd are depicted in the piece published by Huffington.
By attempting an investigation of apartheid artwork, in a curious piece seemingly giving the appearance of editorial distance from the problem of their own association, the company is merely playing into the hands of those at Naspers who would revise history. The article fails to disclose Huffington’s business connection and involvement, and unfolds as if the portraits shown are merely that of some troublesome politicians.
Naspers itself has redacted its online corporate history to avoid uncomfortable questions surrounding director PW Botha.
No Mr Du Toit, you’re not investigating mere ‘apartheid art, you’re investigating your own history — the history of the self-same company instrumental in the creation of apartheid and the resulting tragedy which unfolded.
Recently Naspers directors have appeared at pains to create the impression they are the heroes not the antagonists of the struggle for freedom. The historical record is a little different and shows that Naspers were indicted on crimes against humanity and gross violations under apartheid by the TRC. The piece is consistent with the campaign of opposition to accountability.
In bringing the Huffington Post to South Africa, Naspers have gained an English language daily online title. They need to be reminded apartheid is still a crime, whatever the language, and whichever the colour of the ‘alternative facts’ procured by the Deputy-Editor.