AfriForum vs TimesLive


Thu, Jan 21, 2021

Finding complaint 8395

Date of Article: 19/10/20

Headline: ‘The politicos were in Senekal for one reason: to leech off people’s pain”

Author: Justice Malala

Online: Yes

Particulars

This finding is based on a written complaint by Ms Mariska Nanni, manager of media relations for AfriForum, a written response from Ms Susan Smuts of the Sunday Times and a response to that from Mr Ernst Roets for AfriForum. It also references previous interviews with AfriForum representatives referred to by the parties, a Constitutional Court ruling,  and previous rulings of the Press Ombudsman.

Complaint

Ms Nanni, on behalf of AfriForum complains about a column by Justice Malala published in TimesLive that focused on demonstrations by various political groups who converged on the Free State town of Senekal when two men accused of the murder of a farm manager, Brendin Horner, were due to appear in court. The columnist, Mr Malala, was generally critical of all the parties who converged on the town. In respect of AfriForum, the organisation complains that he referenced “its false claims of some mythical ‘farm genocide’”, and also stated that AfriForum does not care for other murder victims – “just white Afrikaner lives”.

Specifically, Ms Nanni complains that the publication transgressed the following clauses of the Press Code:

The media shall:

  1. take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly;

1.2 present news in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarization;

1.3 present only what may reasonably be true as fact; opinions, allegations, rumours or suppositions shall be presented clearly as such;

2.1 not allow commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence reporting, and avoid conflicts of interest as well as practices that could lead readers to doubt the media’s independence and professionalism; and

6. The media may strongly advocate their own views on controversial topics, provided that they clearly distinguish between fact and opinion, and not misrepresent or suppress or distort relevant facts.

I would add the following clause need to be taken into account too:

 7.1 The media shall be entitled to comment upon or criticise any actions or events of public interest; and

7.2 Comment or criticism is protected even if it is extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced, as long as it is without malice, is on a matter of public interest, has taken fair account of all material facts that are either true or reasonably true, and is presented in a manner that it appears clearly to be comment.

1. Text

1.1 The piece in question ran under the headline “The politicos were in Senekal for one reason: to leech off people’s pain”, with a sub-head: “For AfriForum and the EFF it was not a day of protest, or of seeking solutions, but a public relations exercise.”

1.2 It was authored by well-known columnist Justice Malala.

1.3 The intro and second paragraph stated: “Politicians were the winners in Senekal last week. South Africans, in the meantime, lost out to the noise of those who thrive in chaos and wish to divide the country.

“The usual political suspects were all there. They could not help it. Like flies to a dog’s excrement, they descended on Senekal to play to the gallery. They offered no solutions, no wise words, no future. Instead, they added oil to the flame. They had populist words for their supporters, many of whom arrived outside court already drunk from their leaders’ empty rhetoric.”

1.4 Mr Malala referenced various political groups, including the MK Military Veteran’s Association, AfriForum, the EFF, and Helen Zille.

His piece was broadly critical of all politicians, saying their appearance in Senekal was “all about politicians’ testosterone. It was all about politicians’ egos

At their sumptuous pads in Cape Town and Johannesburg, the politicians who arrived in Senekal last week to stoke hate and pose for the cameras are sipping whiskies and laughing about how they ‘showed them’. This was not a day of protest, or of seeking solutions. All those politicians who pitched up in Senekal did it for one reason and one reason only – it was a photo shoot, a public relations exercise.”

1.5 With reference to AfriForum, he wrote: “AfriForum is an organisation whose sole purpose is to leech off white Afrikaner pain, legitimate or not. Its presence in Senekal was merely to drum up support in SA and elsewhere for its false claims of some mythical ‘farm genocide’

“Disagree with me? At the end of the news agency Reuters’ story on the events in Senekal there was this paragraph” ‘Murders of white farmers make up a small fraction of the total in South Africa, which has the world’s fifth-highest murder rate. In the 2019/20 financial year there were 21,325 murders across the country, of which 49 were white farmers, according to police statistics.”

AfriForum does not care for these 21,276 “other” lives. Just white Afrikaner lives. AfriForum is not looking for a solution for SA. It is looking for a whites-only solution.”

1.6 He was as critical of EFF leader Julius Malema “and his red onesie army, always in pole position to exploit the suffering of blacks for his own political elevation”, and of DA leader Helen Zille.

1.7 The piece concludes that the politicians “were allegedly there because a young man, 21-year-old farm manager Brendan [sic] Horner, was attacked, stabbed and tied to a gate at what is supposed to be a safe place – his home. None of the actions of a single one of the politicians in Senekal last week has brought any serious South African closer to solving the crisis of murder – urban, farm, township, black, white – in SA. Today, more South Africans will be brutally murdered. Zille, Malema or AfriForum’s Kallie Kriel will not give a toss about them unless there are cameras rolling.”

2. Arguments

Ms Mariska Nanni for AfriForum

2.1 The main thrust of AfriForum’s complaint is that it has “never claimed or stated that there is a genocide of any sort in South Africa.”

2.2 Ms Nanni references a previous Press Ombud’s ruling in this regard.[1] She says the organisation has never, “on any platform or occasion, stated that there is a white or farm genocide taking place in South Africa. The contrary is true.” In that ruling, involving the Mail&Guardian, the then Ombud found AfriForum had never claimed “white genocide” was taking place in South Africa.

2.3 She also argues that it is false to state that AfriForum “is telling the world that there is a ‘farm genocide’ taking place in South Africa” and that he is “purposefully misleading the reader.”

2.4 She argues the reference to “’white farmers’ (which is also quoted in the article as fact) is also false. AfriForum has never stated that only white farmers are targeted and murdered. We have on several occasions stated that both black and white farmers are victims and have also sent out media statements regarding the murder of black farmers.”

2.5 She says she recognises that the article is an opinion piece but it includes statements of alleged facts “that are simply untrue.”

2.6 Further, in a book by AfriForum’s Ernst Roets, “Kill the Boer: Government complicity in South Africa’s brutal farm murders” (published in 2018), “an entire chapter…explain[s] why the wave of farm murders does not amount to genocide.” This chapter was also published on the internet making it “easily accessible to all.”

2.7 She also references an apology made by talk-radio host Bongani Bingwa on 702 where he conceded that his accusation that AfriForum had described farm murders as “white genocide” was “false and untrue” and had apologised. [2]

2.8 She argues a “quick Google search” would have confirmed to Mr Malala that AfriForum did not believe a “genocide” was taking place in South Africa.

“AfriForum is continuously faced with the challenge of malicious commentators who attempt to depict the organisation as something that it is not. This is a lazy attempt at discrediting the organisation through false stigmatisation and stereotyping without having to respond to the actual position that AfriForum has taken on the matter.”

2.9 She asks for an apology for the “false accusations” and either a retraction of the article or of the accusations.

Ms Susan Smuts for TimesLive

Ms Smuts argues on the following grounds that the term did not transgress the Press Code:

2.10 The piece was one of commentary and as such is protected by the Press Code. The finding in the M&G case was different as that was a news report “rather than an opinion piece”. The comments made in the Malala piece were “fair and reasonable when measured against public utterances made by AfriForum leadership.”

Furthermore, “utterances by AfriForum lend themselves to an interpretation that they are campaigning against a ‘farm genocide’

Comment in the Press Code, she points out, does not even have to be “reasonable”, but simply opinion “based on fact, be in the public interest and be fair.”

2.11 On the public interest: she argues that there is “no question” that “farm murders and the attendant implications it has for food security as well as the question of justice for its victims is a matter of public interest.”

2.12 On the question of comment: she says Justice Malala is a “well known and well respected columnist whose opinions and analyses are published in a column for Sunday Times Daily (formerly Times Select) every week, as well as in columns for other publications. His job is not to report what politicians and other public figures say. His job is to interpret their words and their actions, and to comment on such. His column is flagged “Opinion and analysis”. No reader would mistake it for a news report.”

2.13 On fairness, she references the majority Constitutional Court decision (by Judge Cameron) in Citizen vs Robert McBride [3]. The Citizen had appealed against a damages award against it made in the High Court and upheld (although the damages were reduced) by the SCA. The case arose from editorials (comment pieces) the Citizen had written criticizing the proposed appointment of Robert McBride, who had been given amnesty by the Amnesty Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the bombing of a civilian bar at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle.

In that judgment, Cameron references a judgment made by Innes CJ “nearly a century ago”. Defining “fair” comment, Judge Innes had said “The comment need be fair only in the sense that objectively speaking it qualifies “as an honest, genuine (though possibly exaggerated or prejudiced) expression of opinion relevant to the facts upon which it was based, and not disclosing malice.” [4]

We will revisit the McBride case in the “Analysis” section

2.14 On the issue of facts, Ms Smuts says the paper relied on public statements made by AfriForum “and, to a lesser extent, comments made in their presence by other parties which were left unchallenged.”

She references comments made in a YouTube clip by Mr Ernst Roets in response to the views of an academic Professor Elmien du Plessis and quotes the following:

“Her argument is that this is not genocide because in Rwanda 8 000 people were

murdered per day. Sort of suggesting this is not a problem worthy of the outcry it

receives. So if 8 000 people a day were murdered in South Africa, then we would

have reason to go to the United States…

“The problem with the whole genocide debate is it’s only called genocide once it has

happened. And even then, there’s always been a large degree of denial, especially by so-called progressive professors such as yourself, Elmien.”[5]

2.15 She argues both these statements “imply a characterization of farm murders as genocide. The first implies that it is not reasonable to wait for 8 000 people a day to be murdered to characterize it as genocide; the second implies that once farm murders have abated, they may then be characterized as genocide.”

She argues that although Mr Roets refers Prof Du Plessis to his book to get AfriForum’s position on “white genocide”, he does not say what it is, “rather saying it is Professor Du Plessis and her ‘friends in the media’ who are ‘screaming white genocide’.’

2.16 She also references a Fox News segment on which Mr Roets appeared with Tucker Carlson in May 2018. Mr Carlson introduced his guest with these words: “Well, now to a fascinating and significant story the media have all but ignored.

South Africa is a diverse country, but the South African government would like to

make it much less diverse. An embattled minority of farmers, mostly Afrikaans speaking, is being targeted in a wave of barbaric and horrifying murders. But instead

of protecting them, the government just passed a law allowing it to seize their farms

without any compensation based purely on their ethnicity, and distribute those

farms to more favoured groups…

“You describe in this book a disorganised but in some sense intentional campaign to

crush a racial minority within your country, and the government seems onboard with

it. Is that an overstatement?”

2.17 Mr Roets responds that the book is about “government complicity in the scourge of farm attacks and murders”. Mr Carlson then asks a question about the government planning to take away people’s land “based on their skin colour”.

Mr Roets responded as follows: “Well, that’s what was adopted in our parliament in February, a motion was adopted that the property rights clause in the South African Constitution had to be challenged to allow for expropriation of private property without compensation. So the state president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said this would turn South Africa into the ultimate paradise and Garden of Eden. Deputy President David

Mabuza went even further, saying, basically threatening white farmers that if they

did not voluntarily hand their land to black people, then there would be a violent

takeover. So the situation is very dire in South Africa. But the good news is there is

still a process to be followed.”

Mr Carlson, she argues, “basically lays out a proposition of genocide and/or ethnic cleansing” and Mr Roets does not challenge this proposition. On the contrary, he supports it by implying that the government wants white farmers to hand over their land without compensation, or face having it violently taken from them.”

2.18 She also references a third documentary, this one by Katie Hopkins, “a far-right commentator from the UK” who made a film on farm murders. She says Ms Hopkins ends the documentary with these words:

““My truth from South Africa: Whites are being systematically cleansed from the land

by black gangs. Black gangs are supported by the language and actions of

mainstream politicians and are equipped by corrupt members of the police force. It’s

a sad conclusion but an inescapable one.”

Mr Roets tweeted about the documentary calling it “brilliant” and thanking her for “telling the stories that so many are trying to silence”. (As Ms Smuts points out, Ms Hopkins has been banned from Twitter for transgressing its hateful conduct policy.)

She also references an interview Mr Roets gave to CNN saying that “a systematic process of ethnic cleansing is a looming threat in SA.

2.19 She quotes Mr Roets from his book saying: “Combating the scourge of farm murders by attempting to have such murders recognised as genocide is an unwise strategy. To engage with the concept of genocide is to engage with a highly controversial, hotly debated, technical legal definition, where the tendency is almost always to interpret whatever is happening as not complying with the definition. Other than the fact that the crime of genocide does not extend to occupational or economic groups, and given that insufficient evidence exists of a coordinated campaign to destroy the group, the term genocide remains arguable. The link between hate speech against farmers and acts of violence against farmers is not sufficient to prove genocide, as the evidence that these acts of violence are an immediate consequence of the incitement that was committed remains a vague science. Also, being proved wrong on the question of genocide tends to create an impression that farm murders are not really a crisis.

“On the other hand, it appears that the argument that a process of ethnic cleansing

might be happening in South Africa is becoming increasingly stronger, particularly

with reference to white landowners. A variety of factors have to be considered in

conjunction with the stark reality of farm murders …

The most effective strategy against farm attacks would be to campaign against farm

killings with the necessary vigour, without making statements that are impossible to

prove. In adopting this approach, we maintain our credibility in speaking about a

crisis that is very real and that has far-reaching consequences. On the other hand, as long as the South African government refuses to decisively deal with these 12 issues, it is safe to argue – even if a motive of genocide or ethnic cleansing is hard to prove – that the South African government is at least complicit in an extremely alarming crisis developing in their midst.”

2.20 In other words, she argues, Mr Roets “objection to AfriForum’s campaign being characterized as a message of genocide is tactical. It’s not because they don’t believe it is genocide, it’s because they will find it hard to prove it’s genocide.”[6]

2.21 She also cites a BBC documentary in which it reported AfriForum was not claiming there was a genocide against white South Africans, but the organisation’s Kallie Kriel said there were “elements” of it, like inflammatory rhetoric and the “brutal murder of farmers.”

2.22 Ms Smuts refers to the UN definitions of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

The UN says there are two components to genocide – a mental element and a physical element, “which includes killing members of the group, or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.”

Among other things she quotes the following: “...the target of destruction must be the group, as such, and not its members as individuals. Genocide can also be committed against only part of the group, as long as that part is identifiable.”

2.23 She cites the UN on “ethnic cleansing” saying it has not been codified but is defined as “rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove persons or given groups from the area…”

2.24 On this basis, she argues it is “reasonable” for a commentator to reach the conclusion that “AfriForum’s attitude to farm attacks is genocide” for the following reasons:

1. The term genocide as defined by the UN is consistent with “AfriForum’s

characterisation of white farmers being driven off the land by black criminals with

the complicity of a government that is threatening to confiscate land based on the

colour of the owner’s skin.”

2. The differences between genocide and ethnic cleansing are “sufficiently small” that it is “immaterial which term is used in discussing AfriForum’s views.”

The UN acknowledges “that the popular conception of genocide is wider than the definition in law. In any event, we submit that even if we accept there is a difference, as per AfriForum’s views, ethnic cleansing is still a wild exaggeration of what is taking place, given the general crime situation faced by South Africans across the board.”

3. AfriForum’s comments (noted above) “support an interpretation of genocide”. Moreover, the group challenges only the mainstream media for saying it believes what is happening is “genocide” and not the people, such as Katie Hopkins, whom “they actively align themselves with.” 

4. AfriForum’s “own words support an interpretation that the only reason they are

sensitive to the term genocide is because it could undermine their campaign, and

not because they don’t believe it is a genocide”. It “characterises farm attacks in such a way as to create an impression of genocide and/or ethnic cleansing”, even though they stop short of labelling it as such…a “classic dog whistle”.

5. “Sometimes AfriForum make a point of describing farm attacks as ethnic cleansing; sometimes they appear to endorse a description of them as genocide. How is a commentator expected to wade through such tissues of double speak?” Thus it was reasonable for a columnist to characterise its campaign as “a false claim of some mythical ‘farm genocide’…He interprets their words – he is not their stenographer.”

6. Furthermore, any reasonable reader would understand the description of “some mythical ‘farm genocide’” as “opinionated speech”.

“AfriForum’s approach of adopting a highly technical legal meaning of the term

“genocide” stifles freedom of expression and debate on terminology that may

legitimately be used to describe their narrative”.

7. The fact that the words “farm genocide” were placed in inverted commas indicates that this is the author’s own interpretation of AfriForum’s campaigns, rather than being a quote from AfriForum itself.

8. “As for the complaint that our columnist said AfriForum wants a whites-only solution, we submit that the utterances alluded to above support this view. We accept that AfriForum has on occasion stated that both black and white farmers have been victims. At other times they are very happy to let the narrative run to white farmers being attacked by black gangs.” However, it cannot dictate which “version our columnist should write.”

9. The paper also notes that AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel is on record saying that apartheid was not a crime against humanity. “We submit that it is hypocritical to object to us invoking freedom of expression to describe AfriForum’s campaign as ‘farm genocide’ when he uses the same freedom of expression to make comments which are far more open to challenge.[7]

Further arguments

2.25 In response, AfriForum’s Ernst Roets makes the following points:

  1. There is no basis for the publication to argue that it has relied on public utterances by AfriForum’s leadership to defend itself. “AfriForum’s leadership has repeatedly and publicly stated that AfriForum does not believe that farm murders constitute genocide… no other organisation or commentator that has spent as much time as AfriForum to explain that farm murders do not constitute a genocide.”
  1. “The claim that this is an opinion piece and not a news report is also not sufficient, given that the claims are stated as a fact. What is attributed to AfriForum as a factual claim in the opinion piece is exactly the opposite to AfriForum’s position. It is both false and damaging to AfriForum’s reputation.”
  1. The quotes that TimesLive has referenced from AfriForum in its defence “only serves to further the point that AfriForum maintains that farm murders do not constitute genocide. Nowhere in those quotes do I say that farm murders amount to genocide.”
  1. His book “makes it abundantly clear that farm murders do not constitute genocide.” In fact, the chapter on genocide has been published on Politicsweb to make this more widely available.
  1. It is “malicious” to attribute views to AfriForum “by quoting the comments of journalists or commentators made on interviews or documentaries”, which the organisation has no control over.
  1. He acknowledges that he said “ethnic cleansing” is a “threat” to South Africa. But he did not say it was happening. Moreover, ethnic cleansing is not the same as genocide.
  1. The publication quotes him as saying that farm murders do not constitute genocide, but then argues this is “tactical. This is misleading and “malicious”. “Farm murders do not constitute genocide, because it doesn’t comply with the definition of genocide. That is the point. Other than that, it is also bad strategy in the fight against farm murders to try to argue that it is a genocide, precisely for the fact that it isn’t genocide.”
  1. He is concerned by the response because he wonders why the publication in question “is so hellbent on trying to claim that AfriForum’s position is exactly the opposite to what it really is.”
  1. “AfriForum’s characterisation of farm murders is most certainly not consistent with the UN’s definition of genocide. As a matter of fact, that is why I wrote a chapter on farm murders and genocide, quoting the UN’s definition of genocide and explaining that farm murders do not comply with this definition.”
  1. The argument that the difference between genocide and ethnic cleansing is small, “illustrates a shallow understanding about the crimes of genocide and ethnic cleansing. There is a significant difference between the two.”
  1. AfriForum has also never claimed “ethnic cleansing” is happening in South Africa. This is not the organisation’s position. “The only evidence put forth by TimesLive is a quote where I say that ethnic cleansing is a threat. That doesn’t mean that it is happening.”
  1. It is also misleading to claim that AfriForum “is aligning with groups who believe that farm murders amounts to genocide”. That AfriForum was interviewed by Katie Hopkins “can in no way imply that it agrees with everything she says. AfriForum also regularly agrees to be interviewed by TimesLive and will agree to do so again, despite the fact that TimesLive falsely claims that AfriForum’s position is that there is a genocide in South Africa.”
  1. He says the publication acknowledges that AfriForum does not characterise farm murders as genocide “and then describes AfriForum’s denial that farm murders is genocide as dishonest, and then claims that AfriForum in fact says that there is a genocide. See the problem here? It isn’t AfriForum that is being dishonest.”

15. It is not true that AfriForum “sometimes describes farm murders as ethnic cleansing”. The organisation has never done so.  Nor has it endorsed “a description of genocide as one that complies with farm murders.”

  1. The quotation marks around the phrase “farm genocide” can “most reasonably” be construed as though the author is attributing those precise words to AfriForum. “Even if that wasn’t the meaning, it makes no difference as far as our complaint is concerned, given that the author is attributing something to AfriForum that is the exact opposite of AfriForum’s position.”
  1. The arguments about AfriForum’s position on genocide “is not only not “reasonably true”, it is blatantly false and the exact opposite of our actual position.”
  1. Analysis

3.1 Although AfriForum complains that the clauses about truthful and accurate reporting have been transgressed, this is undoubtedly a piece of comment. Two clauses of the Press Code that are relevant in this dispute. They are:

6. Advocacy

The media may strongly advocate their own views on controversial topics, provided that they clearly distinguish between fact and opinion, and not misrepresent or suppress or distort relevant facts.

7. Protected Comment

7.1 The media shall be entitled to comment upon or criticise any actions or events of public interest; and

7.2 Comment or criticism is protected even if it is extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced, as long as it is without malice, is on a matter of public interest, has taken fair account of all material facts that are either true or reasonably true, and is presented in a manner that it appears clearly to be comment.

3.2 In both, comment is protected but it must be based on “reasonably true” facts.

The dispute in this case is over the facts: has AfriForum ever said, or believed, that farm murders are akin to genocide?

3.3 Also, is it fair to say that the organisation only cares about “white Afrikaner lives”? It complains that it has drawn attention to the murders of black farmers.

3.4 In the article, indubitably a piece of commentary and opinion, various political parties and leaders are criticized for essentially being opportunist about the murder of a young farm manager (his first name, incidentally, is misspelled in the piece) and the subsequent protests and threats to the accused by some white farmers.

The criticism is even-handed. The column condemns those who “wish to divide the country”.

3.5 In his criticism of AfriForum, no more or less trenchant than of the other organisations, Mr Malala said its “sole purpose is to leech off white Afrikaner pain, legitimate or not. Its presence in Senekal was merely to drum up support in SA and elsewhere for it false claims of some mythical ‘farm genocide’.”

3.6 Most of the lengthy arguments which comprise this complaint and its defence centre around the phrase “farm genocide.” Mr Malala cites the Reuters news agency which reports that murders of white farmers “make up a small fraction of the total in South Africa, which has the world’s fifth-highest murder rate. In the 2019/20 financial year there were 21 325 murders across the country, of which 49 were white farmers, according to police statistics.”

3.7 For a reader, the question is what the term “farm genocide” means? Does it refer to targeting of an occupational or geographical class? Is there “urban genocide”?

Do the quotation marks indicate the writer believes the phrase can be attributed to AfriForum, or did he put it in quotes because, although it was his phrase, he believed it describes AfriForum’s belief?

In any event, the phrase itself does not make sense. Genocide as defined by the United Nations, as Ms Smuts points out, singles out national, ethnic, racial or religious groups, and includes, at its worst, killing members of these groups. As far as I am aware, there is no international recognition of “genocide” by occupation or geaography.

3.8 Nonetheless, it conveys the impression that “genocide” aptly describes AfriForum’s understanding of farm murders.

3.9 In her arguments, Ms Smuts points to various instances where AfriForum has supported a position that murders of white farmers are akin to genocide.

AfriForum, for its part, denies this vigorously.

3.10 I checked all the sources that Ms Smuts refers to in her careful rebuttal of AfriForum’s complaint. The three main ones are the YouTube clip of AfriForum’s Ernst Roets, made while on a trip to the United State in 2018, the interview with Mr Roets on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, and the film made by the well-known British right-wing commentator, Katie Hopkins in which Mr Roets appeared.[8]

3.11 In the message put up on YouTube by Mr Roets, he spends most of it criticizing the academic, Professor Elmien du Plessis, and some journalists, such as Pieter du Toit, for what he argues is a mis-characterization of AfriForum’s position on farm murders and land expropriation.

He criticizes Professor Du Plessis in particular for her comments that at the rate farm murders are committed, it “will take 432 years to kill all commercial farmers and their families.”

He argues this is akin to saying violence against women is not an important issue because at the rate women are murdered, it will “take 10 000 years to kill them.”

He also specifically mentions the Rwandan genocide where at its height, 8 000 people were killed a day; he does indeed say, as Ms Smuts points out, that “something is only called genocide once it’s happened.”

But the main point he is making is that just because it is not “genocide”, this does not mean AfriForum’s focus on farm murders (and incidences of torture) is not legitimate.

3.12 He also says some murders may be politically motivated, and references EFF leader Julius Malema’s rendition of the old anti-apartheid song “Dubula iBhunu”. He says in the clip that the number of farm attacks increased in the ensuing months.

He disputes that there is disproportionate media coverage of them, using statistics to show that “vigilante incidents” (of violence by whites against black people in rural areas) get more coverage.

3.13 In the YouTube message, he argues against the label that critics pin on AfriForum, ascribing to it the belief that the murders are “genocide”. Addressing Prof Du Plessis he says “Who are these people screaming white genocide? Well, every time this debate comes up, it’s you and your friends in the media screaming white genocide.”

He argues that “white genocide” is a “strawman” put up by AfriForum’s critics to shoot down.

3.14 In his interview with Tucker Carlson, a well-known right-wing TV political commentator (in May 2018), it is Carlson who says South Africa is a diverse country “but the government would like to make it less diverse” – and speaks about “government complicity” in farm murders.

3.15 Katie Hopkins, an even more right-wing British commentator, who was banned from Twitter last year for hate speech, [9] prefaces her film by saying “white farmers are being systematically cleansed from the land” by black gangs. It is she who raises the spectre of “genocide”. But Mr Roets, although he focuses on the murders of white farmers, does not say this.

3.16 In the BBC report, to which Ms Smuts refers, she is correct that Mr Kallie Kriel refers to “elements” of genocide. Here is the relevant excerpt: “Unlike other groups, AfriForum was not claiming that there was a genocide against white South Africans, but there were ‘elements’ of it, like inflammatory rhetoric and the brutal murder of farmers, Mr Kriel said.”

3.17 Perhaps more instructive is the Constitutional Court judgment that Ms Smuts refers to, The Citizen vs Robert McBride.

The judgment arose out of an appeal by the Citizen newspaper which had lost a damages claim brought by Robert McBride for highly critical editorials it had published about his possible appointment as police chief of one of the country’s largest metros, Ekurhuleni.

In the editorials, the newspaper slammed his appointment as inappropriate, calling him a “murderer” who had killed civilians in a bombing attack in 1986.The editorials also said he was not contrite about this.

Ms McBride sued on the basis that he had been given amnesty in the Truth and Reconciliation process, and that it was defamatory to refer to him as a “murderer” who was not contrite.

3.18 In her argument, Ms Smuts quotes from the majority judgment written by Cameron, J, which quotes Chief Justice Innes from a judgment almost a century ago. On commentary he says: “The comment need be fair only in the sense that

objectively speaking it qualifies ‘as an honest, genuine (though possibly

exaggerated or prejudiced) expression of opinion relevant to the facts upon

which it was based, and not disclosing malice’.”[10]

However two paragraphs later, Cameron, J quotes Innes, CJ again on the importance of factual accuracy, saying: “In the succinct words of Innes CJ, the defendant must…justify the facts; but he need not justify the comment.” [11]

3.19 The majority judgment in the McBride/Citizen case followed exactly this dictum. The damages awarded to McBride were substantially reduced on the grounds that an amnesty cleared one of legal and civil liability but did not erase the past. Thus it was the right of the editors to refer to McBride as a “murderer” in their commentary (however ungenerous this may seem, and the two minority judgments reflect this).

3.20 However, it found that the newspaper was wrong to say in its commentary that Mr McBride was not “contrite”. In fact, he had, in his amnesty application, expressed his contrition for the deaths of the three women that resulted from the bombing of Magoo’s Bar in Durban at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle.

For the injuries, deaths, sadness and loss that I have caused people through my participation in the struggle to liberate our country I am truly sorry,” he said in his amnesty application in 1997.

3.21 So despite the fact that the two editorial writers “genuinely” held views that Mr McBride was not suitable for the post of police chief, one fact on which this opinion was based was incorrect – namely the fact about his lack of contrition.

The Citizen … had to prove its claim that Mr McBride was without contrition. But, far from proving as a fact that Mr McBride was not contrite, the Citizen called no evidence to establish the assertion. It barely tried to cross-examine Mr McBride to draw into question his evidence that he was contrite.” [12]

Judge Cameron substantially reduced the damages awarded to Mr McBride but still awarded him damages for the comment that he was not contrite, describing it as “seriously and grievously defamatory.”[13]

3.22 The point here is that the judgment reflects the ethos of the Press Code. Comment, “even if it is extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced”, is protected but must be based on fact.

3.23 In all the references provided by Ms Smuts about whether AfriForum believes the killing of white farmers is “genocide”, the closest is Mr Kriel’s comment to the BBC that there may be “elements” of it in inflammatory rhetoric against white farmers, but he says the organisation is not claiming it is.

As for the Tucker Carlson and Katie Hopkins pieces, they are both known right-wing commentators, neither of whom are particular experts on South Africa. The stances they took are not surprising.

But one cannot impute their thoughts and words to their interview subjects, as Mr Roets points out.

3.24 In short, there is no evidence that AfriForum has claimed the killing of white farmers is akin to genocide. Even if they wanted the message to be conveyed in a subliminal way, one must ask why the organisation so fiercely contests this each time it is accused of it.

3.25 There is no indication whether Mr Malala used the words “farm genocide” to depict AfriForum’s view or his own but the fact that it was in inverted commas can reasonably be construed to mean that the organisation had used it.

3.26 In his ruling against the Mail&Guardian on the same issue, the then Ombudsman said the following:

AfriForum’s statement that apartheid was not a crime against humanity probably is shocking to most people – but in itself it also does not justify the statement that it believes that white genocide is a reality in South Africa...The M&G has all the right in the world to be critical of AfriForum and of Roets – but it should not fabricate a strawman and then shoot it down in flames. It has to come with more compelling arguments than it has done. In other words: Convince me with facts, and not with perceptions.

3.27 Thus in respect of the clause 7 on protected comment, the commentary is based on one point that is factually incorrect.

3.28 In respect of the other complaints about truthful and accurate reporting, the piece was an opinion piece and clearly marked as such. The complaint that Mr Malala had written that AfriForum’s concern is “white Afrikaner lives” is clearly opinion. It is in the same vein as saying that the DA’s concern is mainly the white middle class, or that the EFF is populist, or that the ANC represents a coalition between the black elite and the poor (all of which have been said). This was clearly in the realm of opinion, and although AfriForum has mentioned black farmers being killed, its focus has been on a white farming constituency as evidenced by this excerpt from one of its newsletters commenting on the Black Lives Matter campaign.

“The same Ramaphosa, who wants to launch a campaign against white racism after the death of a black American, said earlier on an international platform that no landgrabs were occurring in South Africa; neither were any murders on farmers – or specifically white farmers – occurring in South Africa.”[14]

3.29 Mr Roets says in this same piece that it is perfectly reasonable for activists to focus on Black Lives Matter in the case of the United States where disproportionate numbers of black people are killed by police, just as AfriForum believes that a particular minority in South Africa is the victim of attacks.

If it was indeed true that black people were being targeted, attacked and murdered by police officers in extraordinary numbers, it is indeed well to conduct a campaign against it. The same is true for farm murders. It is extremely ironic that critics of AfriForum’s campaign against farm murders – especially certain high-profile media commentators – so readily react to our campaign by saying that it is immoral to single out a group of victims when talking about crime, but at the same time are quick to proclaim their support for the BLM campaign.”[15]

Finding

TimesLive should apologize to AfriForum for attributing the phrase “farm genocide” to the organisation, as it is not a correct depiction of its views. In fact to the contrary.

It should also make it clear that AfriForum’s position is that farm murders do not constitute genocide.

The rest of the complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

The Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Pippa Green

Press Ombudsman

January 18, 2021


[3] http://www.saflii.org/za/cases/ZACC/2011/11.html

[4] Ibid, par 81

[7] See https://www.news24.com/news24/SouthAfrica/News/apartheid-was-not-a-crimeagainst-humanity-afriforum-ceo-20180514

[8] See here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIn7f8bgt5I&feature=youtu.be; here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dMYhLZb96Q and here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2HWRRSziC_GMgJImMxwulE9Xj9TMzKQ_

[10] Op cit, par 81

[11] Ibid, par 83.

[12] Ibid, par 115

[13] Ibid, par 129

[14] https://afriforum.co.za/en/on-black-lives-matter-and-farm-murders/

[15] Ibid