Orania Movement vs. The Herald


Thu, Jul 20, 2017

Ruling by the Press Ombud

18 July 2017

This ruling is based on the written submissions of Mr James Kemp, deputy chief executive of the Orania Movement, and those of Nwabisa Makunga, deputy editor of The Herald newspaper.

The Orania Movement is complaining about an article on The Herald’s website of 1 July 2017, headlined Exclusive whites-enclave leader’s shady past – Criminal record and ‘web of lies’ uncovered as relatives tell all.

Complaint                                            

The complaint is about the introductory sentence which read, “A web of criminal convictions and illicit affairs has unraveled around the leader of a controversial Orania-style, whites-only settlement in the Klein Karoo.”

The Orania Movement complains that, by misleadingly comparing the community to a different one (The Eden Project), the newspaper suggested that the people of Orania were pursuing a community based on racial discrimination – while it was a cultural community in accordance with the South African Constitution.

The text

The article was about a Weekend Post investigation which reportedly revealed that Mr Jaqui Gradwell (56), who had been arrested the previous week, had a string of convictions against him.

He reportedly planned to create a self-sustaining community with its own schools, clinics and houses, called The Eden Project, as a mirror image of Orania.

The arguments

Makunga notes that the article only referred to Orania twice (both are quoted above).

He argues that the references to Orania were fair, and that the story never said the community was unconstitutional.

The deputy editor points out the story mentioned an “Orania-style, whites-only settlement” – and not “like Orania, a whites-only settlement” – from which he argues, “In other words the story in effect says in the style of Orania (which is a self-sustaining, exclusive settlement) this new settlement is for whites only. The distinction between the two must not go unnoticed.”

He invites Kemp to write a letter to the editor, which would be considered for publication.

Kemp replies that even the phrase “Orania-style, whites-only settlement” created the impression that Orania was a whites-only community, adding that this reportage has tarnished the community’s reputation.

He says he has already conveyed his disappointment to the editor – and does not wish his letter to be “hidden away somewhere”. What he wants, he says, is for the newspaper to admit it was wrong to compare Orania to The Eden Project.

Analysis

The crux of the complaint is the use of the words “whites-only (settlement)”.

Makunga’s argument in this regard is rather interesting and creative, but is it convincing? Not quite.

The litmus test is whether reasonable readers would have understood that the words “whites-only (settlement)” referred to The Eden Project only, and not also to Orania (as argued by the deputy editor), or to Orania as well (a la Kemp).

Let me quote the relevant parts of the story again:

“A web of criminal convictions and illicit affairs has unraveled around the leader of a controversial Orania-style, whites-only settlement in the Klein Karoo. A Weekend Post investigation has revealed that Jaqui Gradwell… In a mirror of Orania, the aims of his settlement, Die Eden Projek – or Eden Project – are to set up a self-sustainable community with its own schools, clinics and houses.”

In this text The Eden Project, Orania, a self-sustainable community (with its own schools, clinics and houses) – and “whites-only” – were all mentioned in one breath. In fact, “whites-only” was immediately preceded by the words “Orania-style”.

Based on that, I do not believe that a reasonable reader would have had any reason to divorce “Orania” from “whites-only”.

In other words, I accept Kemp’s interpretation of the text – the story did indeed depict the town as a “whites-only” settlement.

The next question, then, is how reasonable this description of Orania was.

I take into account Kemp’s argument that Orania is a community based on culture and not race. Orania seemingly wants to be an Afrikaner-only community – all who associate themselves with the Afrikaner culture, are welcome in that settlement. It describes itself as an Afrikaner-only town, not as a whites-only town.

So then, why the description of Orania as “whites-only” – not only by The Herald, but by numerous other publications, both inside and outside the country? Are they all wrong in their interpretation?

To get more clarity on this matter, I have taken the trouble to peruse Orania’s constitution. The following sections are relevant:

·         2.2.1: Afrikaners are described as a cultural-political community of Afrikaans-speaking South Africans “of predominantly European descent”; and

·         4: The main aim of the movement is the restoration of the Afrikaner’s freedom and the continuation thereof in a democratic republic of their own.

It could be argued that no Afrikaans-speaking person of coloured or black African descent has enjoyed “freedom”, in any case not to the same extent as  their white counterparts – and certainly not political freedom – during the time that white Afrikaners enjoyed theirs. The “freedom” the community pursues was, historically, a whites-only one – so, it follows that the “restoration” of that freedom would also be whites-only, some would argue.

So, what is the present situation?

According to some (Google) sources 97% of Orania’s population is white – the rest is coloured (not black).

“Predominantly” of European descent? Rather “overwhelmingly”, some would say. It could be argued that the 3% of coloured Afrikaans-speaking Oranians do not contradict the “rule” of a whites-only town, but rather affirms it – it depends from which angle one looks at it. Some also argue that the “Afrikaans-only and not whites-only” statement is mere propaganda.

Please note that I am not taking sides on this matter – I am merely looking at it from both sides in an attempt to determine how reasonable the use of the term “whites-only settlement” was.

In this process, I became convinced that both sides have some legs to stand on.

Given the arguments stated above, I conclude that the following is fair:

·         I do not blame the newspaper for presenting Orania as a whites-only town ; and

·         Orania’s version that it is not a whites-only town, but rather an Afrikaner-only town, should be respected – and published.

Lastly, the story neither stated nor implied that Orania’s existence was unconstitutional.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

Because I am not finding that The Herald has breached the Code of Ethics and Conduct, I have no mandate to direct it to publish anything. I note though, that it has already offered Kemp a right of reply in the form of a letter to the editor – which I sincerely hope will materialise. If not, The Herald is (of course) free to publish Kemp’s views in any case.

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