Appeal Decision: Arendse Colin vs Sunday Times

Fri, Jul 3, 2020

In the matter of

ARENDSE COLIN                                                                                       APPLICANT


SUNDAY TIMES                                                                                          RESPONDENT

MATTER NO: 6628/10/2019


[1]     On 30 June 2019 Sunday Times (“respondent”) published an article with the headline “World’s Most Dangerous City”, with a subhead “That’s what Cape town will become if cops fail to halt surge in gangland killings”. The article was bemoaning the failure on the part of the police to stop gang related killings in Cape Town. But more relevantly to this matter, the article ventured into what appeared to be some internal conflicts within the top echelons of the police force in the province. In the one apparent camps was Gen Jula, and, in the other, Gen Vearey. Mr Colin Arendse (“applicant”) lodged a complaint against the article. He had been interviewed – he prefers to use the word “interrogated” – by the journalist during which he answered only some of the questions. One of the vital questions he failed to answer was whether he had been correctly quoted by a mayoral committee member, Mr Smith, in which he was alleged to have referred to Gen Jula as a “Bantustan despot” or a “Bantustan stooge”. His reasons for refusing to even venture a mere comment, such as a denial, were not convincing. The article stated that Gen Jula had declined to comment about “the anti-gang unit and attacks he has faced since the start of the year from Vearey’s unofficial spokesman Colin Arendse”. This put the applicant into General Vearey’s camp, as it were. The applicant is not a member of the police force though; he describes himself as a community activist.

[2]     Briefly, the applicant’s complaints, as aptly captured by the Ombud, were the following:

2.1    That he was untruthfully referred to as “General Vearey’s unofficial spokesman”. In the papers though, reference is sometimes made to “unofficial mouthpiece” or “unofficial spokesperson”.

2.2    That his response to the journalist was neither accurately nor adequately captured.

2.3    That the use of the word “assassination” in the context of himself implied that he committed a crime.

The respondent disputed the complaints, but conceded that it was prepared to retract the part that the applicant was “General Vearey’s unofficial spokesman”.

[3]     The Ombud dismissed all the complaints except the one about being referred to as Gen Vearey’s spokesperson without attributing it to a source. She found that the respondent breached articles 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 of the Press Code, and ordered an apology. The applicant is now seeking leave to appeal the dismissal of the rest of the complaints. The respondent opposes the application.

[4]     In order for me to grant leave to appeal, the applicant must show reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Committee in the event the application is granted; this is what I need to determine.

[5]     After going through the Ombud’s Ruling, I am satisfied that she dealt with the matter correctly. I do not agree with the applicant’s argument in his application for leave. It is indeed so that a newspaper does not have to quote what the person says. It is still not clear why the applicant insisted on proof of what Mr Smith said before commenting. The problem of gang related killings was of great national concern. What was also apparent was that there were some moves afoot to replace Gen Jula with Gen Vearey and that there was some apparent internal divisions within the police at the senior provincial level which seemed to hobble the fight against gang related crimes. The applicant was not the focus of the story, except when referred to as being Gen Vearey’s spokesman. The focus of the story was two very important issues, namely, the internal conflict and the fight against gang related crime. An average reader would have seen the article in that light.

[6]     For the reasons given above, as well as those in the Ombud’s Ruling, I hold the view that the application has no reasonable prospects of success; the application is therefore dismissed.

Dated this 3rd  day of July 2020

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel