AfriForum vs. Mail & Guardian


Thu, Dec 6, 2018

Particulars

Lodged by: Mr Ernst Roets, deputy CEO of AfriForum

Date of article: 15 October 2018

Headline: AfriForum decries SA farm murders down under

Author of article: Sarah Smit

Respondent: Beauregard Tromp, deputy editor

Complaint                                            

AfriForum complains the article:

  • falsely stated that it went to the United States to fight against “white genocide”; and
  • has tarnished its credibility and has had a significant and unfair negative impact on its reputation.

The text

The article was about AfriForum’s intended visit to Australia. The article inter alia stated: “Earlier this year, [AfriForum] made a similar visit to the United States to garner support for its fight against … so-called ‘white genocide’.”

The arguments

AfriForum

‘White genocide’

Roets says AfriForum does not believe that farm murders constitute white genocide, and emphasises that it has repeatedly published its views about the topic – also during his recent trip to the United States.

He furnishes me with a:

  • video he had published during his trip; and
  • a link to an interview with Bongani Bingwa from Talk Radio 702, in which the latter initially argued AfriForum claimed that there was a genocide in South Africa. He says he asked Bingwa to produce evidence to this effect, which he was not able to do. After the interview, Bingwa then apologised to AfriForum for its mistake.

He also says that, if one does a Google search for “AfriForum & genocide”, the very first article that appears is the above-mentioned audio clip.

Roets adds that the purpose of the trip to the US included discussing the content of his book, Kill the Boer. In this book, he says, he devoted an entire chapter to explaining why what is happening in South Africa cannot be described as a genocide.

Reputational damage

Roets argues that the tone of the article made it clear that it was written with the intent to discredit AfriForum’s campaign against farm murders. “Fair criticism is always welcome, but this article contains claims that are blatantly false and that could either be the result of malicious reporting, or gross negligence,” he submits.

He says AfriForum regards this in a serious light, as its credibility is at stake. “I submit that the article has had a significant and unfair negative impact on our reputation due to the fact that a position that we (and most of our members) regard as reckless – and a position that we have actively taken a strong stance against – is attributed to the organisation,” he argues.

The M&G

Tromp says the use of the term “white genocide” should be understood in the context that it was intended.

He argues that the article referred to AfriForum’s well-publicised visit to the US where it met with lobby groups, senior US politicians, appeared on prominent media and even managed to garner the attention of US president Donald Trump.

He says AfriForum’s message was clear – white Afrikaner farmers were the victims of targeted killings, and argues: “The land white Afrikaners occupy are under threat by the black government who intend to distribute this to black people. And in all, this pointed to a systematic attack on the existence of white people in South Africa.”  

The deputy editor says Roets may argue that this was not their intended message, but this is how their message has been relayed by numerous news organisations they visited – without any “visible” attempt at correcting this on the part of AfriForum, even when these crass summaries of its view was offered in its presence. He adds that some have connected the dots, which also include references to “ethnic cleansing” offered by AfriForum’s presentation, and concluded that the idea of a “white genocide” was a reality, an idea which has taken root over the past five years and gained traction among right-wing groupings the world over.  

Tromp quotes an interview by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson with Roets as follows:

Carlson: “South Africa is a diverse country but the South African government would like to make it 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 an intentional campaign to crush a racial minority in your country and your government seems on board with it. Is that an overstatement?”

Roets: “Well what the book is about is the government complicity in the scourge of farm attacks and farm murders that we’ve seen in South Africa. So, we know that in the last two decades there’s been, according to government statistics, which we believe that, we have reason to say that it’s maybe downplayed a little, there’s been about two farm attacks every day and two farm murders every week. In the book I highlight about ten different reasons why I believe the South African government is complicit…”

Asked by Carlson whether he thinks the government would adopt a policy of taking away land from people based on their skin colour, Tromp says Roets answered in the affirmative, falsely stating that this is what had been adopted and that an amendment in law to this effect had been passed.  

Roets also claims that there is a hierarchy, in South Africa and abroad, which places white farmers at the bottom, where their murders and torture do not make the news.

Tromp argues the tactic of AfriForum claiming they were misrepresented is well-worn, as is the case with its countering the UN declaration that apartheid was a crime against humanity, or trying to row back on Roets’ statement about law professor Elmien du Plessis, quoting Jewish writer Victor Klemperer, that after the Holocaust and with the tables turned, he “would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest.” He adds that AfriForum has also referred to apartheid as “a so-called historical injustice”.

He says in a summary of his book, https://www.killtheboerbook.com/about-the-book/ , it reads: “It is argued that a looming process of ethnic cleansing should be regarded as a serious threat and something to be prevented.”

He remarks that, in an interview with The New American https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=om66HYrpBNk Roets also speaks about their campaign against “the persecution of minorities”.

He says the authoritative Council for Foreign Relations also took note of AfriForum’s visit, stating: “In their campaign against expropriation without compensation, AfriForum has launched appeals abroad, raising the spectre of the murder of white farmers and stoking fears of ‘white genocide’ among American, European, and Australian leaders and media outlets.”

In summary, Tromp says AfriForum speaks with a forked tongue – on the one hand, it encourages the idea of “white genocide”, as proven by the accounts offered here, but it also tries to distance itself from this when it becomes politically inconvenient for them.

He concludes the M&G believes it was correct to refer to AfriForum’s US campaign as, in part, being directed at furthering the “white genocide” narrative.  

AfriForum again

Roets denies that AfriForum has ever claimed anything about a systematic attack on the existence of white people in South Africa.

He says the M&G’s defence, claiming that a report is accurate because that is how something is perceived, despite the fact that that might not have been what actually transpired, amounts to unethical journalism.

He says that, while AfriForum has in fact referred to “ethnic cleansing”, it specifically stated that there was no such process underway in South Africa. He adds that there is a difference between ethnic cleansing and genocide – so, even if AfriForum were to claim that there was a process of ethnic cleansing in South Africa (which it is not claiming), that would still not justify a report that AfriForum was pushing a “genocide” narrative.

He says that, contrary to what some people have “concluded”, AfriForum has repeatedly stated that there was no white genocide. 

He concludes: “Making a claim of targeted killings is not synonymous to making a claim about genocide. South Africa has experienced targeted killings of estate agents in the recent past. There was however no genocide of estate agents. There is also a crisis of (what appears to be) targeted killings of politicians in South Africa. There is however no genocide of politicians. In 2016, Mail & Guardian published an editorial entitled A Mockery of Democracy, in which Mail & Guardian discussed the ‘targeted killings’ of politicians. Certainly Mail & Guardian would object to any conclusion that the publication was pushing a narrative of political genocide.”

Roets concludes that the article was false, misleading and a gross violation of the Press Code.

Analysis

‘White genocide’

Tromp’s arguments are not convincing – not when scrutinised in isolation, and neither as a whole.

The fact that AfriForum (rightly or wrongly) believes that white Afrikaner farmers are the victims of targeted killings and that the government’s intention to distribute land to black people points to a systematic attack on the existence of white people in South Africa, does not mean that it (therefore) propagates the idea of genocide – and neither does the belief that minorities are persecuted.

The deputy editor’s argument boils down to this: “AfriForum may say it does not believe that white genocide is taking place, but people perceive that they do – and therefore they do.”

Perceptions are important, yes, but they can also be wrong.

Tromps argument about AfriForum’s references to ethnic cleansing is also not convincing. “Ethnic cleansing” may amount to mass murders of a minority group, but that is not necessarily the case. It can also refer to the mass removal of a minority – much like the recent migration of thousands of Muslims from Myanmar.

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 same goes for Roets’s rather astonishing comment that after the Holocaust and with the tables turned, he “would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest”.

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.

Reputational damage

I do not agree with Roets that the article was written with the intent to discredit AfriForum’s campaign against farm murders.

However, I need to take his statement seriously that the article has had a negative impact on AfriForum’s reputation because the view that white genocide is a reality in South Africa is indeed reckless.

Finding

AfriForum’s complaint is upheld.

The statement that AfriForum tries to garner support for its fight against “white genocide” is in breach of the following sections of the Press Code:

  • 1.1: “The media shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”; and
  • 3.3: “The media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving … reputation.”

Seriousness of breaches                                              

Under the headline Hierarchy of sanctions, Section 8 of the Complaints Procedures distinguishes between minor breaches (Tier 1 – minor errors which do not change the thrust of the story), serious breaches (Tier 2), and serious misconduct (Tier 3).                                              

The breaches of the Press Code as indicated above are all Tier 2 offences.

Sanction

The Mail & Guardian is directed to apologise to AfriForum for falsely and unfairly stating that it was fighting white genocide in South Africa, and for any possible damage that this could have done to its reputation.

The newspaper is directed to publish:

  • the apology at the top of the same page where the story was carried, with a headline containing the words “apology” or “apologises”, and “AfriForum”; and
  • online, at the top of the page(s) where the article appears.

The text should:

  • be published at the earliest opportunity after the time for an application for leave to appeal has lapsed or, in the event of such an application, after that ruling;
  • refer to the complaint that was lodged with this office;
  • end with the sentence, “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding”;
  • be published with the logo of the Press Council (attached); and
  • be prepared by the publication and be approved by me.

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.

Johan Retief

Press Ombud