Steve Hofmeyer vs Sunday World


Wed, Jun 24, 2020

Complaint number: 7869

Date of article: 19, 20 April 2020

Headlines: Corona humbles ‘racist’ singer

                 : Corona humbles ‘racist’ Steve Hofmeyr (online)

Author of article: Ngwako Malatji

Respondent: Makhudu Sefara, editor

  1. Complaint                                            

1.1 Mr Steve Hofmeyr complains the article contained the following factual inaccuracies:

  • “After the tweet, the flag was taken and Hofmeyr later acknowledged receipt of the flag in a Twitter post”;
  • “In 2011, Hofmeyr used the ‘k’ word in a song composed in honour of AWB leader Eugene Terre’blance…”; and: “Hofmeyr … released the lyrics of the song We will survive on his Facebook page. ‘If Julius Malema is allowed to sing Shoot the Boer in public, we too will sing songs that have k*****,’ he said”; and
  • But Hofmeyr dismissed as untrue Ndlovu’s claims that he submitted his application after the cut-off date. ‘I submitted my application just after the lockdown. I have not even received the notification she is talking about. I’m hoping to get something,’ he said.”

1.2 He also complains that the following statements were unfair:

  • accused him of racism; and
  • stated that he had “crawled” and “begged” for money.

1.3 Hofmeyr adds that the:

  • reporter did not give him a right of reply;
  • newspaper made use of sensitive, personal information; and
  • article has harmed his dignity and reputation.

1.4 He asks for a public apology.

1.5 The following sections of the Press Code are relevant to this complaint:

  • 1.1: “The media shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”;
  • 1.2: “The media shall 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: “The media shall present only what may reasonably be true as fact; opinions, allegations, rumours or suppositions shall be presented clearly as such”;
  • 1.4: “The media shall obtain news legally, honestly and fairly, unless public interest dictates otherwise”;
  • 1.8: “The media shall 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”;
  • 3.3: “The media shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation…”; and
  • 4.1: “The media shall take reasonable steps to ensure that the personal information under their control is protected from misuse, loss, and unauthorized access.”
  1. The text

2.1 The article portrayed Hofmeyr as a racist singer begging for financial relief from the national relief fund.

2.2 The story said in July last year, Hofmeyr had been found guilty by the Stellenbosch magistrate’s court of harassing activist Johan Pienaar. “Pienaar had laid down the orange, white, blue flag on a pavement in Stellenbosch with the names of some of the most prominent apartheid architects and the word ‘enablers’ written on it,” Malatji wrote.

2.3 The activist reportedly took Hofmeyr to court after the latter had tweeted he would offer a reward of R1500 to anyone who removed the flag from the pavement. “After the tweet, the flag was taken and Hofmeyr later acknowledged receipt of the flag in a Twitter post,” the reporter continued.

2.4 Malatji also wrote that, in 2011, Hofmeyr used the “k”-word in a song composed in honour of AWB leader Eugene Terre’Blanche. “This was after Julius Malema, who was then president of the ANC Youth League, was involved in a legal battle with
AfriForum over his singing of the song Shoot the Boer. Hofmeyr immediately released the lyrics of the song We will survive on his Facebook page. ‘If Julius Malema is allowed to sing Shoot the Boer in public, we too will sing songs that have k*****,’ he said,” the journalist quoted him as saying.

  1. General statement

3.1 Before documenting the arguments from both sides, followed by my resulting analyses and findings, I need to state that both Hofmeyr and Sefara from time to time use highly emotional language in defence of their respective viewpoints. They also occasionally go off on a tangent.

3.2 Given the nature of the issues at stake, this is understandable.

3.3 However, I need to keep my eyes on the ball (read: concentrate on the reportage as evaluated against the Press Code), which is why I am going to ignore all statements that are not directly related to what was reported – as far as I can, that is. Clouding issues is the least this office now needs.

3.4 If I have not adequately done so, as I have been trying to do, I ask for readers’ understanding.

  1. The arguments

4.1 Inaccurate statements

4.1.1 The flag

The story said, “After the tweet, the flag was taken and Hofmeyr later acknowledged receipt of the flag in a Twitter post.”

Hofmeyr says the newspaper claimed that he took possession of the flag that had been briefly removed from an exhibition in Stellenbosch. He says this flag was only removed for a few moments before it was returned to the exhibitor, and denies that he took possession of the flag.  

Sefara says the story did not say that Hofmeyr took possession of the flag, or that the item had been removed for a particular period of time. Instead, he submits, the article reported the following facts (which the latter does not dispute):

  • Hofmeyr was found guilty by a magistrate’s court in relation to this matter;
  • Hofmeyr tweeted that the flag must be removed, stating he would pay R1 500 to whoever does that;
  • The flag was removed; and
  • Hofmeyr acknowledged receipt of the flag in a tweet.

“The issue, which is very clear from our report, is that an activist (Pienaar) who laid out people he identified as racist, enablers of apartheid, was a victim of an attack instigated by Hofmeyr through his tweets – an instigation for which Hofmeyr was sanctioned by a court. That’s the nub of our report,” he argues.

Hofmeyr replies that he never took possession of the flag. “I was not in the same province at the time. The point Sunday World attempts to make is to shame me for my respect for any and all the flags of my cultural heritage. This will fail for many reasons,” he submits.

In turn, Sefara says the article never claimed that Hofmeyr took possession of the flag. “We reported that he instigated the removal of the flag…” The editor argues the court’s judgment proves that Hofmeyr used illegal means to harass and instigate violence against others. “He is a person ordinary people need state protection from.”

Analysis

The central issues in dispute are not if Hofmeyr (a) removed the flag, and if he (b) took possession of it (that would be for a court to decide), but rather if the newspaper’s reportage on these matters was accurate.

The sentence in dispute read, “After the tweet, the flag was taken and Hofmeyr later acknowledged receipt of the flag in a Twitter post.”

I notice this sentence did not say that Hofmeyr took:

  •  the flag away – only that “the flag was taken”. If the context of that incident is properly considered, it should be clear that the flag was taken after he had offered a reward for it. The implication was that someone (other than Hofmeyr himself) had acted on the latter’s challenge; and
  • possession of the flag. Instead, Malatji merely reported that he had “acknowledged receipt of the flag” (on Twitter). That statement was correct as Hofmeyr indeed tweeted, “Dankie almal. Die vlag is myne. Sal home (sic) more gaan haal.” (“Thank you everyone. The flag is mine. Will go fetch it tomorrow.”)

For these reasons, this part of the complaint has to fail.

4.1.2 The k-word

Malatji reported, “In 2011, Hofmeyr used the ‘k’ word in a song composed in honour of AWB leader Eugene Terre’blance…”; and: “Hofmeyr … released the lyrics of the song We will survive on his Facebook page. ‘If Julius Malema is allowed to sing Shoot the Boer in public, we too will sing songs that have k*****,’ he said.”

Hofmeyr complains that this was “completely untrue”.

Sefara differs. He says Hofmeyr released the lyrics of a song on Facebook called, We will survive. He says Hofmeyr inter alia said that, “if Julius Malema is allowed to sing ‘Shoot the Boer’ in public, we too will sing songs that have kaffir”. He submits Hofmeyr is trying to wiggle himself out of a tight corner by saying he did not release such a song. “The point is not the release of a song. Our story states clearly that he released the lyrics of a song on Facebook – which lyrics are completely full of hate and disdain for black people,” the editor says.

Hofmeyr denies:

  • he has a song called, We will survive. He says he does have a song called, Ons Sal Dit Oorleef. This song, he submits, does not mention Malema. “It is a song about mourning for the victims of Afrikaner farmers who have been slaughtered en masse on their farms. There is no hate in the lyrics and no disdain for any other tribes or races. Sunday World’s entire interpretation of it is fabricated and a blatant lie,” he argues; and
  • ever having released a song containing the k-word. He says he merely threatened to do so, should the courts allow Malema to continue singing, “Kill the Boer”. “The court’s ruling prohibited Malema from doing so and I did not release the song containing the K-word,” he says.

He translates the song as follows in English:

There's a land and a people baptized in one language

Bought with prayers and gunpowder and blood

Which must strive from his knee again and again

This we shall survive

From the jaws of outnumbering forces, to the fire on our farms

The angels stand with our wives and the children who die

Each headstone one statue for those who live

This we shall survive

My heart beats toktokkie where it breaks for my people

In front of the Crown’s cannon or the warrior's spear

It doesn't matter where we go anymore

This we shall survive

I lift my eyes to the mountains

Where can my help come from?

Oh my God your words lie woven through me

This we shall survive

Today I stand on your farm old friend

There is dust hanging over the silence as far as I can see

But yesterday's spirits will revive tomorrow

This we shall survive

Sefara says Hofmeyr concedes that he was involved in a public skirmish following Malema’s singing, Kill the boer, kill the farmer. He submits the issue is not that Hofmeyr has not released the song, but rather that he released the lyrics on Facebook in an attempt “to apply indirect pressure through a racially-divisive public threat of releasing a song about the k-word”.

The editor argues the fact that the court’s ruling against Malema stopped Hofmeyr from carrying out his initial racist threat of singing songs with the k-word, does not negate the wrongfulness of the initial racist threat – which is what the story referred to.

Analysis

The complaint is that the newspaper wrongly reported that Hofmeyr had released a song containing the k-word. He says he merely threatened to do so (should the courts allow Julius Malema to sing, “kill the Boer”).

So let me take a closer look at exactly how Malatji reported on this matter:

  • In 2011, Hofmeyr used the ‘k’ word in a song composed in honour of AWB leader Eugene Terre’blance…”; and
  • Hofmeyr … released the lyrics of the song We will survive on his Facebook page. ‘If Julius Malema is allowed to sing Shoot the Boer in public, we too will sing songs that have k*****,’ he said.”

I note Hofmeyr does not deny that he wrote or composed a song containing the k-word – he merely denies that he released such a song.

In fact, he implicitly admits having written such a song with the following statement, “… I did not release the song containing the K-word,” he says. This implies, does it not, that there was such a song (which has not been released). And that is exactly what Malatji reported. He did not state that Hofmeyr had released such a song – only that he had composed it.

Also, the words of his song, as translated by Hofmeyr, is of a song that he has released – which is not the same as “the song containing the K-word”, to use his own language.

Hofmeyr’s argument that Malema’s name was not included in the song does not hold water either – the article did not say that. It merely referred to Hofmeyr’s threat that he would sing a song containing the k-word if Malema was allowed to sing, “shoot the Boer”.

4.1.3 Wrongly quoted

The story ended as follows: “But Hofmeyr dismissed as untrue Ndlovu’s claims that he submitted his application after the cut-off date. ‘I submitted my application just after the lockdown. I have not even received the notification she is talking about. I’m hoping to get something,’ he said.”

Hofmeyr denies that he ever uttered those words. He adds that the reporter never spoke to him.

Analysis

I shall return to this matter shortly, as I do not want to jump the gun.

4.2 Unfair statements

4.2.1 Racism

The introductory sentence to the story read, “At the best of times, controversial Afrikaans singer Steve Hofmeyr insults, demeans and spews racist venom against the government.”

Hofmeyr says he has never been found guilty of racism by any South African institution, adding the allegation that he was a racist was harmful to his reputation and career. 

Sefara says Hofmeyr has publicly declared the old South African flag defines him. This is the apartheid era flag, a source of pain for many black people, a flag that symbolized the brutality of an illegitimate regime, a regime inflicting what the United Nations called crimes against humanity, a flag that represented the power of a government that ran hit-squads that killed many freedom fighters, he submits.

He adds the story did not say anywhere Hofmeyr had been found guilty of racism by a court – but his racist actions to have an activist’s apartheid enabler’s material seized was rebuked by a court of law, he argues.

Hofmeyr replies the former South African flag defines many South Africans who grew up under the flag, including lives and achievements from almost two decades before apartheid. It cannot simply be removed from one’s frame of reference, nor being edited from history, he argues. The banning of the flag drummed up a lot of criticism, especially from liberal South Africans who warned that the banning of any symbols is an infringement of freedom of speech – and yet they were not accused of spewing racist venom, be states.

He says he takes exception to the defamatory sobriquets “racist”, “radical”, “extremist”, “supremacist and “apartheid apologist” when he has not been found guilty in any court or Human Rights Commission for any case or event where he might have acted racist.

Hofmeyr says he has denied these insults for years with a simple post placed repeatedly on social media, saying he:

  • distinguishes between races – he does not hate other races;
  • praises aspects of apartheid, like many others have done; and
  • denies he wants the old South Africa back.

He also argues that the article was presented as a factual news report and not as an opinion piece. He says the newspaper presented the statements in question as facts and not as mere commentary, which violated the Press Code and common decency.

Sefara replies that Hofmeyr’s actions, his words and public comportment have, quite correctly, led to views that he is racist. He says these are views strongly held by people who have been insulted and hurt by Hofmeyr. “… his idea that his actions are not racist simply because they have not been contested in a court of law or organ of state must be rejected as either naïve or an offshoot of his white privilege. Hofmeyr argues as if he doesn’t know the difference between a killer and a convicted murderer.”

He adds it is important to note that the media do not only reflect court outcomes, however important these may be – the media also reflect popular culture and sentiment not based on court processes. When artists share beliefs, they must expect that their opinions will be reflected upon by many in society, including the media, the editor reasons.

“So one, Hofmeyr specifically, can’t engage in reductionist reasoning when publicly criticised for their public commentary, as if that which is allowed to be commented on is court outcomes only. As a media, we must allow the public to comment in our stories about his racist-inclinations, even as we put them in quotations, as we did, in the headlines. His argument that we can’t express society’s views of his racism is flimsy and ought correctly to be rejected,” Sefara argues.

Analysis

At the centre of this part of the complaint are the use of the words “insults”, “demeans” and “spews racist venom”.

Here is my argument: When A says he is insulted by B, he is insulted – whether that was B’s intention or not. It is not for B to say, “I did not insult you”. What B can say, is: “I did not mean to insult you.” The litmus test for an insult does not lie with the person who is accused of insulting others, but rather with the person who believes to have been insulted.

Let me be more specific. In the old South Africa, many whites said they did not mean to insult blacks – but if blacks felt insulted, they were insulted, even though that might not have been the intention.

I take into account that the use of the word “insults” is commentary, used in a hard news story. This is always a risky thing to do. In this case, though comment was based on people’s experiences and perceptions (read: commentary) which, for them, became reality (read: fact).

The basic question, therefore, is if it was true that Hofmeyr insulted black people, as reported by Malatji. The answer to this is obvious – and because of that, the reportage was justified.

This does not necessarily mean that Hofmeyr intended to insult black people.

The same argument applies to the use of the words “demeans” and “spews racist venom”. The truth is in the eye of the beholder – even though Hofmeyr denies being racist.

4.2.2 Crawled; begged

Malatji reported, “As the onset of Covid-19 hits his pockets, the Afrikaner supremacist has crawled to the Department of Arts, Sports and Culture with a bowl begging for help.” 

Hofmeyr says he did submit an application, like several others in the industry – but argues that this cannot be described as “crawling” or “begging”. He says as a result of this reportage, people have even expressed the hope that he would contract Covid-19 and die.

Sefara replies the use of the word “crawl” denoted “making uncomfortable moves toward objectionable people” (the government) in the hope of gaining something (the grant). He submits that, in the context of the story, Hofmeyr has had to swallow hard to approach a government led by black people – the people his actions show he not only holds in contempt but insults by saying they were responsible (architects) for their own oppression. “Taking into consideration his views about the old flag defining who he is, and his threats and eventual release of song lyrics about kaffirs, his approach is not a straightforward request for help. It’s a soul-crushing exercise, a crawl for help from people he does not believe in, people he holds in contempt,” he argues.

Hofmeyr asks how is it even possible to believe that a taxpayer reacting on the state’s invitation for benefits due to a crisis, has something to do with “crawling”.

“My religion and ideology are protected by our constitution and cannot be held against me for state aid I qualify for. At no stage did I crawl to the government for assistance … I am a taxpayer that applied for assistance that I feel I was entitled to. I was informed that my application was submitted late and if that is the case, I accept it. We read and trust our mainstream media for what they know, not what they guess or feel.”

Analysis

In this case, the newspaper has erred – and it did so for failing to properly distinguish between “state” and “government”. Hofmeyr applied to the state, not to the (ANC-led) government, as argued by Sefara – the same state that he pays his taxes to.

The use of the words “crawling” and “begging” was therefore unfair and out of context, and it presented (wrong) conclusions or opinions as fact.

4.3 Other parts of the complaint

4.3.1 Slander; no right of reply

The story said, “Artist manager Brian Mokoena said that it would be a serious indictment on the department if it granted Hofmeyr money. ‘This man’s craft is about preserving and promoting white supremacy, so giving him money will be like funding his racist agenda beliefs. This is taxpayers’ money and the majority of taxpayers in this country are black people whom he sees from his racially tainted glasses as k-rs,’ he said.”

Hofmeyr complains the article quoted Mokoena, who had been given the opportunity to slander him, while he was not afforded the opportunity to provide his side of the story.

Sefara affirms that the reporter did speak with Hofmeyr. In fact, he also sent him follow-up questions, thanking him for the discussion earlier. “The reporter insists that the interview was done through his phone and is willing to provide the phone for its record to be retrieved. Our submission is that Hofmeyr is economical with the truth when he claims he never spoke to him,” he submits.

Hofmeyr maintains that the journalist did not approach him for comment on this specific article. “Presenting me with proof of this interview with your journalist will certainly solve this point as it will be ascertained when it happened, for which publications and what questions were asked. I shall gladly concede this point, but I do now have acute credibility issues with your publication and ‘your’ journalist,” he says.

Sefara says Malatji sent Hofmeyr follow-up questions through WhatsApp messaging after a conversation between the two on 18 April 2020.

He submits the text showed that it had been read, but Hofmeyr did not respond. He argues that the newspaper could not have manufactured the information that his application for a grant was submitted late and turned down.

Analysis

As proved on a screen grab supplied to this office by the newspaper, the reporter wrote the following message to Hofmeyr: “Good day sir. Ngwako Malatji Sunday world newspaper. Thank you for talking to me earlier in the week about your application for relief funds. Can you please explain if it is right for you to apply for relief funds, which are tax papers’ monies and largely paid by black people whom you called kaffirs in the song you waxed in honour of Eugene Terre’Blanche? Is it also not an issue for you because you have indicated that black people, some of whom are running the government of the day, are architects of apartheid? Is it also correct to ask for money from the same government whose legitimacy you have undermined, by embracing the old flag among others? Your quickest response will be appreciated. Many Thanks” (Quoted unedited).

Based on this evidence, which strongly suggests that the reporter did speak with Hofmeyr, and that he did ask him pertinent questions regarding the subject-matter of his article, this part of the complaint has to fail – and so does the complaint documented above under Sub-section 4.1.3.

Regarding the complaint about slander: Slander, or defamation (in its written form) is a legal concept that belongs in a court of law. Therefore, I shall consider this matter below, under the sub-headline, Reputation.

4.3.2 Sensitive, personal information

Hofmeyr says he had to provide sensitive information including bank statements and copies of cancelled contracts in his application. “Certainly this type of sensitive information can't just be made available to a newspaper,” he reasons.

Analysis

These are my comments:

  • If any information about Hofmeyr’s bank statements and copies of cancelled contracts were published, I would have entertained this part of the complaint;
  • The source who informed the newspaper about his application does not fall under this office’s jurisdiction; and
  • The newspaper cannot be blamed for receiving sensitive information about a prominent public figure.

4.3.3 Reputation

Hofmeyr complains the allegation that he was racist was harmful to his reputation and career. 

Sefara says sponsors, including DSTv, boycotted Hofmeyr because they did not want to associate with him “because of the harm he has caused to the black population through numerous actions, including the tweets previously referred to, the kaffir lyrics and many others. If anything, he is the architect of his own pain, inflicted, long before our story was published”.

He says he believes Hofmeyr feels embarrassed to have been exposed as seeking help from a government led by black people, a people he ridicules and disrespects. “Our story has the effect of unmasking his bravado as nothing more than hypocrisy. I strongly believe that his complaint must be rejected outright,” he concludes.

Analysis

Based on my finding above, I do not have enough grounds to find that the reportage has unnecessarily harmed Hofmeyr’s reputation and career. The only area where I faulted Sunday World on is the use of the words “crawl” and “beg”. I believe that an apology by the newspaper would do enough to rectify that harm (which, in this case, was unnecessary).

Finding

4.1 Inaccurate statements

4.1.1 The flag

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

4.1.2 The k-word

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

4.1.3 Wrongly quoted

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

4.2 Unfair statements

4.2.1 Racism

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

4.2.2 Crawled; begged

The use of the words “crawl” and “begging” were in breach of the following sections of the Press Code:

  • 1.1: “The media shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly”;
  • 1.2: “The media shall present news in context and in a balanced manner…”; and
  • 1.3: “The media shall present only what may reasonably be true as fact; opinions, allegations, rumours or suppositions shall be presented clearly as such.”

4.3 Other parts of the complaint

4.3.1 Slander; no right of reply

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

4.3.2 Sensitive, personal information

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

4.3.3 Reputation

This part of the complaint is dismissed.

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 breach of the Press Code as indicated above is a Tier 2 offence.

Sanction

Sunday World is directed to apologise to Hofmeyr for stating, as fact, that he “crawled” and “begged” for a grant.

The newspaper is directed to publish the apology on all its platforms where the statement in question was published.

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

Acting Assistant Press Ombud