Pule on Sunday Times ‘smear campaign’


SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper has been on a
10-month long “smear campaign’ designed to “blackmail’ and “criminalise’ her, said
Minister of Communications Dina Pule at a press conference held in Johannesburg on
22 April.

Pule described the Sunday Times coverage as “a highly sophisticated plot to blackmail’
her into making decisions favourable to certain “business interests’ regarding the
multi-billion rand tender for DTT (digital terrestrial television) set-top boxes (STBs)
and “related issues’.

She said that she is cooperating with the investigations underway by the
parliamentary ethics committee and the public protector to clear her of the Sunday
Times’ “spurious allegations’ of irregular conduct relating to last year’s ICT Indaba and
tenders. The minister is due to appear before the ethics committee on 2 and 3 May.

“I remain confident that I will be vindicated of all these alleged claims against me
and I want to appeal to the Sunday Times to wait until this is done,’ continued Pule.

“The Sunday Times has accused me of being involved with irregular tender processes
in favour of my alleged boyfriend, his friends and family. They have accused me of
being a corrupt minister bribed by a pair of shoes. Further, they have accused me of
ceding control of the Department to my alleged boyfriend.’

The minister said the Sunday Times’ intention had been to “demonise’ and “intimidate’
her. She made particular reference to the latest Sunday Times article published on 21

“This article is headlined “Pule paper trail reveals how her lover’s cronies got jobs’ and
claims I was involved in a R2.6bn deal relating to a key parastatal. This is an insult of
the highest order. The three journalists who are behind all these articles – Mzilikazi
wa Afrika, Rob Rose and Sephen Hofstatter – need to produce proof to back up these

“It is unfortunate that South African journalism had been reduced to slander and the
spread of salacious rumours. The Sunday Times has willfully misled and distorted
facts. In this latest article it says that I bypassed treasury regulations. My only role
in the matter was to issue a legitimate letter of instruction to the director general of
the Department of Communications. I don’t have a say in the awarding of tenders,’
said Pule.

She stressed that the Sunday Times had failed to link her to any irregular proceedings
as there was no link. “The Sunday Times doesn’t quote which of treasury regulations I
am supposed to have bypassed. It’s an example of shoddy journalism. I’ve never tried
to escape scrutiny.

“Last year when the first Sunday Times article about alleged irregularities regarding
the sponsorship monies and tender process for the ICT Indaba appeared, I invited the
Auditor General to investigate. He didn’t find any wrongdoing on my part or that of
the Department. Neither have I heard from any of the sponsors about these alleged
missing millions or rands. I’m taking the matter up with the press ombudsman
because the Sunday Times has crossed the line. Newspapers and journalists have
found me guilty in the court of public opinion.’

The minister said South Africa had witnessed an extraordinary call by a newspaper
that is supposed to be objective, addressed to President Jacob Zuma, to fire her.

“This is despite the fact that I should be considered innocent until proved guilty. The
Sunday Times’s intention is to sway public opinion against me. My responses to all
Sunday Times questions have been taken out of context or put in at the end of the
stories. It’s not fair. The Sunday Times has refused to let facts stand in the way of
the smear campaign. It’s journalistic malpractice.

“I’m here today to tell you the real reasons for the smear campaign and the fabricated
stories. I believe in freedom of expression as I’m a member of parliament but
freedom of expression shouldn’t be a one-way street.

“A week after the ICT Indaba in Cape Town in June last year is when the smear
campaign started. Sunday Times said the sponsors of the event were furious and that
millions of rands were missing. After this first story came out the smear campaign
was taken on by business interests involved in the manufacture of DTT STBs, by
certain politicians and by people in the parastatals under my watch. These people
found allies in Sunday Times.’

She declined to name the business interests, politicians and parastatal staff allegedly
involved in the smear campaign against her for “legal reasons’.

The minister did not make clear why she waited 10 months before defending herself
against the Sunday Times stories but stated that while she won’t take legal action
against the newspaper, she was going to take the matter to the press ombudsman.
She has not reported the matter to the police.

When questioned about her relationship with her “alleged boyfriend’ (Phosane
Mngqibisa), the minister said she “knew him as a comrade’.

In conclusion the minister categorically stated that she wasn’t fighting for her political
life as suggested by one of the journalists at the press conference. “I’m not thinking
of resigning because there is no shred of evidence against me.’

According to an eNews report broadcast on 22 April on e.tv, the editor of the Sunday
Times Phylicia Oppelt has called on the Minister to produce evidence supporting her
claim that the three journalists are blackmailing her.

Report by Joanna Sterkowicz


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