Minister Bheki Cele vs Landbouweekblad
Fri, Feb 26, 2021
Finding Complaint 8387
Minister Bheki Cele vs Landbouweekblad
Date of Article: 22/9/20
Headline: ‘Cele: Boere moenie kla as hulle seerkry nie”
Authors: Johan van der Merwe and Joylene van Wyk
This finding is based on written submissions from Minister Cele’s office, written responses from Landbouweekblad editor, Mr Chris Burgess, as well as viewing of You Tube footage, a study of the transcript of the meeting in question supplied by the Minister’s office, affidavits of two farmers supplied by the publication, checks with other journalists who recorded the meeting, and a reply to questions that arose from these by Mr Burgess.
The Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, through his spokesperson Lirandzu Themba, complains that he did not utter the statement cited in the headline, or in the article attributed to him that “Farmers must not complain if they get hurt.”
He describes the reporting as “reckless”, relying only on the word of a farmer who was at the meeting. His office also says the supposed statement was not put to them for confirmation or comment.
Specifically, although he does not mention the clauses of the Press Code allegedly transgressed, these would be
The media shall:
1.1 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;
1.8 seek, if practicable, the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication, except when they might be prevented from reporting, or evidence destroyed, or sources intimidated. Such a subject should be afforded reasonable time to respond; if unable to obtain comment, this shall be stated;
10.1 Headlines, captions to pictures and posters shall not mislead the public and shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report or picture in question;
1.1 The story ran under the headline: ‘Cele: Boere moenie kla as hulle seerkry nie’ (‘Cele: Farmers must not complain if they get hurt’)
1.2 The intro/blurb of the article reads (translated from Afrikaans): “What should have been a safety meeting in Normandien in the north of KwaZulu Natal, degenerated, on account of reckless and emotion-laden utterances by Mr Bheki Cele, the minister of police, into an inflaming of emotions.” (“Wat ’n veiligsheidvergadering in Normandien in die noorde van KwaZulu-Natal moes wees het weens roeklose, emosie-belaaide uitsprake deur die mnr. Bheki Cele [sic], minister van polisie, ontaard in ’n ontsweping van emosies”)
1.3 It then quotes Mr Roland Collyer, a farmer in the district and chair of the Normandien agricultural union and the nephew of the Rafferty couple, who were murdered in the past month, saying he was disappointed that the minister responsible for the safety of rural citizens can do so much damage to his own image with such “irresponsible” statements.
“The whole gathering took place in Zulu and I am fluent in Zulu. At one point, he told the assembly, which included many landowners and residents, farmers should not complain if they get hurt after they have impounded cattle (vee geskut). However, I am convinced that our community's problems will be solved if we can resolve the livestock issue.”
1.4 The article reports that this statement came after land occupiers and residents complained that their livestock was being impounded by the farmers. Collyer said the land-occupiers and residents often let their livestock graze in commercial maize and wheat fields and farmers who impounded cattle are then accused of stock theft.
“Collyer asked Cele if it was fair for cattle to graze the crops of farmers after which Cele lost his temper and made the emotionally charged remarks.”
1.5 The article quotes Collyer saying Cele “also asked the meeting why farmers are so heavily armed and asked what we were so afraid of. It was a reaction to false evidence that a farmer aimed a firearm at children. It is disappointing that the minister reacted to this before he established that there was indeed such a case.”
1.6 The article quotes Mr Herman de Wet, chair of the TLU SA (an agricultural union) in KZN saying the allegations “may have stemmed from politics” rather than relationships on the ground. “Over the past six years, there have been more than 140 political assassinations in northern KwaZulu-Natal. A situation like the one currently in Normandien is a golden opportunity for local people with political aspirations to score cheap political points through incitement and false accusations.”
1.7 Collyer said the “troublemakers” were just a “handful of people” and most members of the community had good relationships across racial boundaries.
He said: “We hoped the minister would have come to sympathize with us after the murder of my uncle and aunt and give us feedback about how the investigation was progressing, but it degenerated into further divisions in the community.” He said they would wait until the “dust” had settled and then see what steps to take. The minister had promised to come again to visit them in three weeks.
1.8 Under a sub-head reading “Cele kommentaar” (Cele comments), the article quotes his spokesperson Ms Lirandzu Themba as saying the minister had listened to all sides and stated that the relationship between the communities and the police had to be improved, and “also stressed that the racist allegations made against the farmers cannot be ignored.”
“Farmers have been accused of terrorizing some community members with firearms. This is just one of many allegations.”
1.9 She also said a team from the office of the national police commissioner General Kehla Sitole would go to Normandien and see how the police station can be equipped to handle the crimes that have been reported.
1.10 On the way in which Cele answered Collyer [at the meeting], she said Cele felt that the farmer was undermining him and the opportunity by the manner in which he posed the question. "The farmer even laughed when he was addressed about his behaviour.”
Lirandzu Themba on behalf of Minister Cele
2.1 The Minister argues that the report that he made a statement that farmers should not be surprised “if they get hurt” was “irresponsible and reckless” and had further fueled tensions around the farming community.
2.2 The publication did not afford the Minister an opportunity to verify whether this statement was “indeed said but relied on the word of a farmer who was at the meeting.”
She said the SAPS had a full recording of the meeting and all the Minister’s comments were transcribed. “At no point were these remarks ever made.”
Mr Chris Burgess for Landbouweekblad
2.3 Mr Burgess said the publication stood by its story.
The comments attributed to the Minster were “confirmed to us by three independent sources, all of whom are fluent in isiZulu, and were in attendance on the day.”
He said they would investigate whether a recording exists.
2.4 He also confirmed they had not approached the minister to confirm this statement “because within the context of the day, where emotions got heated, and taking into account the colourful statements the minister has uttered in the past, we felt it was not unreasonable to assume that he could have said something to the extent that we reported.”
2.5 He says it would be difficult to prove “unequivocally” that the Minister uttered the words attributed to him, and the “evidence” (Mr Burgess’ quotation marks) offered by the Ministry could be “subject to manipulation.”
2.6 He offered to give the minister a “prominent” right of reply “that will even-handedly give more context to what the minister might or might not have said, as well as to mention that he vehemently denies ever having uttered those words, which I’m sure the farming community will be greatly relieved about.”
He says this may “go some way towards ameliorating all the ill-feeling that unfortunate meeting has generated.”
2.7 Mr Burgess also provided two sworn affidavits from two farmers who attended the meeting. (Both are in Afrikaans and translated.)
One was from Morgan Jenkins Gregory, who said he had been present at the meeting on 21 September 2020 in Normandien. He said Minister Cele had answered a question in isiZulu by saying “hulle (kommersiële boere) moet nie huil (kla) as hulle seerkry nie.” (“They [commercial farmers] must not cry [complain] if they get hurt.”)
2.8 He said Mr Cele was informed by a farm dweller that farmers impounded their cattle if they ate the farmers’ crops.
“I also want to mention that the statement was not the only contentious one that day.” He said the deputy minister also warned farmers, during his speech that the cameras “that we bought out of our own funds” and set up on thoroughfares (‘toegangroetes”) must be available to the whole community.” Cele said something similar during his speech.
He said nobody said that the cameras were only for the farmers. In any event, there were black farmers in the area who did not contribute financially to cameras, “but the cameras' information is used for anyone who needs crime information, whether he stays here or not.”
He said it was just “serious arrogance” for the two men to claim any “say over the cameras.”
2.9 He also detailed other points Mr Cele made, namely:
- Asking what the farmers are afraid of that they carry weapons?
That the police in Normandien don’t do their work properly and that he (Minister Cele) would reopen all the old cases and establish a task team to investigate them.
2.10 The second affidavit was from Roland Collyer, the farmer quoted in the story. It is handwritten in Afrikaans except for the two contested quotes which are in isiZulu.Mr Collyer says he was at the meeting in Normandien on 21 September 2020 convened by Minister Cele after the murders of farmers Glen and Vida Rafferty.The Minister addressed the meeting only in isiZulu and said the following: “Abafanele bakhale uma belimala” (“They must not cry when they get hurt”). This was after farm dwellers complained that farmers impounded their cattle when they grazed in the farmers’ fields.
He also said: “Bapatha lani izibhamu besabani”. (“They carry guns; what are they scared of?”)
2.11 The farm dwellers (plaas bewoners) also said that the police were scared of the farmers, to which he reacted in English and isiZulu:“We are not afraid of them,all cases will be re-opened.”
2.12 He also said the whole meeting was conducted in isiZulu except when he addressed him (Mr Collyer) and a Mr Anton Pitout directly.
2.13 Mr Burgess says there is no proof that the evidence provided by the Minister’s office (see below) has not been redacted or edited in any way, nor that the recordings are “representative of the whole event”.
2.14 He says the publication’s evidence has “at least been submitted under oath.”
2.15 In support of its argument, the Minister’s office provided the Ombudsman with video clips from YouTube of the meeting, as well as a transcript.The clips themselves did not appear to cover the entire meeting; the video jumped somewhat and the sound was poor.The transcript provided did not entirely match the video.
2.16 However, it does give a good idea of the meeting and the issues that arose. Many unidentified audience members raised issues that appeared to reflect some of the tensions in the community.Some(both black and white) appeared to be critical of the local police. .
2.17 Minister Cele is recorded as having said that he was visiting after “the brutal murder of the Langa family, the farmers” (this may be an error of transcription – the couple murdered were the Raffertys). 2.18 He is challenged by an audience member asking why he is “afraid” of white people. He responds in isiZulu:“No you must not give white people wrong impression, There is no one who is afraid of white people” (Hhayi, unga, ungagudi abelungu, akekho umuntu osaba abelungu la.”)
2.19 An audience member refers to a “white person who killed somebody here” and should have been arrested a “long time ago.” He responds that “our job as the government is to protect people of South Africa without looking at their faces and their gender – that is our job. We have no business to look at your race. We have no business to look at your gender….We were supposed to come here to visit the family. When we entered into this hall, it became evident that there were very serious problems…So we had to come today to solve them…
“The reason we came here was to respond to the heartless scumbags and criminals who broke into people’s houses and killed a wife and a husband. It doesn’t matter if it’s white person, it doesn’t matter if it is a who… One of them could be in court today…We are still looking for the other four...” (“Ukuza kwethu la kwakuwuzophendula izirelemnqa zezilan’kuba zabantu abangenahliziyo abangen’ endlini badubule umfazi nendoda. It doesn’t matter noma umlungu, it doesn’t matter noma uyini…. Oyedwa ufanele ukuthi use-court namhlanje. Eh cishe uma sisafuna ke abanye abane ngoba siyathola ukuthu babeningana.”)
2.20 He goes on to address the Commissioner saying they must find out the “list of cases that were opened against the white people, the lists of cases that were opened against the African people. We have to find out how far are those cases.” (“…kuzofanele sithole wonke, wonke ama-list amacala avuliwe evulelwa abamhlope evulelwa abamhlope, evukekwa aba...thethwa la, awekho amacala azolandelwa la bese kuba khona angalandelwa. Kuganele aladelwe wonke..”) He says there are about 14 such cases.
2.21 He also criticizes the police station “that looks like a tavern…it is like people are always drunk”. (“Kodasikwazi ukuba nepholisteshini eyijoyinti. It sounds like ijoyinti leli polisteshini. Ngathi kuhlale kudakiwe nje…”
2.22 He then addresses a Mr Lombard saying he agreed with him that “we need to fix our relationships”.
2.23 Later he says despite the need to work on reconciliation, “a crime is a crime and must be treated like a crime. Our job is simple as South African Police.Our job is to protect all inhabitants. That’s what the constitution says.”
2.24 He also threatened to fire police officers that “do not help you”.
2.25 The problems that must be resolved includes working on relationships and arresting people who have committed crimes. “It doesn’t matter whose child are you…It doesn’t matter whether you are tall or short. Or you are white of you are black or who you are. If you commit crimes you should be prosecuted..” (“It doesn’t matter ukuthi ungunyana kabani. It doesn’t matter noma umude noma ufishane. Noma umhlope noma umnyama, noma uyini.Uma wenza amacala kuzofanele umthetho uthathe indawo yawo.”)
2.26 Ms Themba also provided me with a list of other journalists who were present at the meeting, pointing out that none of them had reported this statement. “Surely the media houses who were present would have reported on this and taken the Minister to task about it during the Press briefing held straight after the event. But instead a reporter who was not at the event reports that such a statement was made based on statements by two farmers. This is mind boggling.”
2.27 She also avers that this statement was not put to the Minister for confirmation or a right of reply, even though they contacted his office for comment.
2.28 She said the evident jumpiness of the video clip was due to “network issues”, as the meeting was held in a rural area. “I respectfully submit that there is no way that the SAPS as law enforcers would doctor evidence – this is fraud and is a very serious charge.”
3.1 The quotes attributed to Minister Cele are undeniably controversial.To have visited a farming community shortly after a double murder and then to say that farmers should “not cry if they get hurt” would be an extraordinary statement for a minister of police to make.
3.2 This is why it seems so important to ensure the quote is correct – the more controversial the quote, the greater the necessity to verify it.
3.3 It is common cause that Landbouweekblad did not have a reporter at the meeting and relied on farmers who were present (and who say they are fluent in isiZulu), for the quote. Only one, Mr Collyer, is quoted in the story. It is also common cause that the quote was not put to the Minister’s office for confirmation or comment.
3.4 The key question in this case is whether it was reasonable for Landbouweekblad to use a story that not only featured a controversial quote by the Minister, but used it as a headline?
3.5 I put various questions to the editor of Landbouweekblad, Mr Chris Burgess, to try to ascertain the reasoning behind this editorial decision.I listened to the YouTube clips provided by the Minister’s office and read the transcript (in isiZulu with an English translation).I also contacted some of the other journalists who were present at the meeting from the list provided by Ms Themba to try to ascertain whether he had in fact said this or not and put these responses to Mr Burgess.
3.6 I asked Mr Burgess by email whether his journalists had checked the quote with anyone other than the two farmers who provided affidavits. He confirmed they had not checked the quote with the minister: “Given the context, we didn’t think it was beyond reasonable doubt that the minister could have said what he said” He gave the following reasons:
‘The minister has a propensity for verbose, colourful and at times rather controversial statements (examples provided below)
- It was a very emotionally charged event, where some very inflammatory remarks, and rather aggressive accusations, were made
- So bad did it get, that the minister actually lost his temper at some point (as can be seen on the footage) after a farmer asked him if he thought it was fair that they had no legal recourse for their problems
- Our journalist first heard that the minister had made the remarks as a rumour from a member of KwaNalu, the commercial farmers union in KwaZulu Natal. The official, who hadn’t attended the meeting, told our journalist that he had been phoned by several very upset members (farmers) who had mentioned to him that the minister had uttered several inflammatory statements at the said meeting (our journalist can provide his notebooks as evidence).
- Our journalist then phoned three farmers who had attended the meeting for confirmation. Among these was the head of the local farmer’s association. They all confirmed that the minister had made the remark in isiZulu (a language in which they are all fluent). ‘
“Given these set of circumstances, we didn’t even consider that the minister hadn’t said it, which maybe is a sad indictment of where we are in this country.”
3.7 Mr Burgess also provided a list of links to previous controversial comments the minister had made including about “destroying the infrastructure where liquor is sold”, exhorting the police to use “lethal force” if a criminal “pulled a gun”, stopping a lawful film shoot on a Cape Town beach , threatening to close down bars and shebeens for “non-compliance” (“We need to make the people listen who refuse to listen. We need to push them a little”), and a claim made during the ANC expression of solidarity with “Black Friday”, a US-based campaign against police brutality in the US, that “there was no police brutality in South Africa.”
3.8 He also referenced a TimesLive article about the exact same event, wherein Minister Cele is quoted as saying “This thing of yours of putting me on the spot and demanding I answer as you speak is arrogance, that was completely arrogant. You have no respect. You are not my magistrates. If you treat me like this, what do you do to the people who work for you, singabantu nathi (we are also human).” The article reports that “racial tensions ran high.” 
3.9 I put to Mr Burgess that I had not seen any evidence of the quote in the footage provided, but more importantly that none of the other journalists I had spoken to recalled the quote. He replied: “Given the fluid nature of these meetings (which is also very evident from the footage), it’s not unreasonable in our opinion to assume that not everything was recorded, or that material was omitted. Without casting unnecessary aspersions, we’re also not sure how it can be proven that the submitted material was not tampered with in any way.”
3.10 On the YouTube clips and the transcription provided: there was no evidence of the contested quote in either. Admittedly the clips were very jumpy and the sound was bad, which may well have been due to network problems as Ms Themba says, or it may be due to Mr Burgess’s argument that “we’re … not sure how it can be proven that the submitted material was not tampered with in any way.”
3.11 I also watched news broadcasts of the event, and more importantly spoke to four other journalists who attended the event. All were mother-tongue Nguni speakers. None of them could recall the contested quotes, although all confirmed that the meeting has been “emotional”.
One, Lwandile Bhengu, the author of the TimesLive article cited above, kindly re-listened to her recording of the event and said the contested quotes were not there.
Another, Bongi Dlulane from Newzroom Afrika, said he could recall neither quote, but offered that had the Minister indeed uttered these statement, he was sure it would have made his TV news bulletin, as it would have been highly newsworthy.
3.12 While it is true that the farmers who were the source for the quote in the Landbouweekblad story made sworn affidavits to this effect (Mr Collyer and another, Mr Morgan Gregory, after the complaint was made to the Press Council), affidavits in and of themselves do not amount to proof – they are still allegations, however sincerely believed. I also do not doubt the honesty of either Mr Gregory or Mr Collyer, but they are not disinterested parties in this case, nor objective observers such as journalists.
3.13 In a recent finding by a panel of Adjudicators in the case of Aris Danikas vs the Daily Maverick, we found that the publication should have given Mr Danikas the right of reply on an allegation that he had stolen money from a business partner, even though former head of the Hawks in KZN, General Johan Booysen, had made a sworn statement to this effect. We also found that his reputation had been damaged by the allegation. 
3.14 Direct quotes are probably the most important – and challenging – part of covering meetings as a journalist, especially emotional ones as this was described. It is essential to get them correct. A mistake made in good faith by a reporter who may have misheard or misunderstood is one thing.
But to essentially base a controversial quote on the evidence of two attendees who are not professional journalists – however well-intentioned they may have been – is highly unprofessional, even dangerous, in my view.
3.15 Furthermore not to even put the controversial quote to the Minister’s office for comment is an egregious breach of professional ethics.
3.16 Combined with a headline (“Cele: Boere moenie kla as hulle seerkry nie”) that directly attributes to Minister Cele something that the reporters did not hear themselves, and in any event is disputed, compounds the breach.
3.17 In the case of ANC vs City Press, the Ombud ruled that a headline directly attributed to Mr Magashule (“Secretary-General Ace Magashule says: We don’t need white votes”) breached the Press Code.
There was no evidence at all that Mr Magashule had uttered these words. City Press appealed the ruling and Judge Ngoepe, upholding the Ombud’s ruling, found the misattribution of the quote to Mr Magashule to be “quite serious and negligent.”
3.18 Quotes in news articles should be sacrosanct. If a reporter is not at a meeting, every effort should be made to ascertain the correctness of a quote. In this case, although farmers complained about it, the contested quote was not even put to Minister Cele’s office for confirmation.
To use Mr Burgess’ own argument, Minister Cele is known for controversial quotes and is usually quite unapologetic about them. Had he said the things attributed to him, he would probably be unlikely to deny it.
3.19 It also cannot be that we base our journalism on what people are most likely to say (or might have said), given their statements in the past. This is the basis for “fake news”, and allowing popular narratives to supersede the facts.
3.20 It is one thing to reflect the farmers’ impression of the meeting of and the minister’s speech (even including the incorrect quotes as long as they are attributed); it is quite another to put it as a fact in a headline.
Landbouweekblad has breached the following sections of the Press Code:
1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 in that it did not ascertain that the quotes were correct apart from relying on one source, and in fact did not even have a reporter at the meeting. It should have clearly reflected that these were allegations made by farmers who attended the meeting.
1.8 in that it did not put the contested quotes to Mr Cele’s office for comment or confirmation.
10.1 for the headline that stated as fact that Mr Cele had said that “farmers must not complain if they get hurt.” This was misleading.
These are Tier 2 offences.
Landbouweekblad is ordered to apologize to Mr Cele, and to offer him a right of reply.
The apology must be published on all platforms in which the original story was published and as a prominent link to the original online story.
The apology must be approved by the Ombudsman.
The Press Council logo and a link to this finding must also be published.
The Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven (7) 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.
February 26, 2021