Max du Preez rejects Indy apology over Zuma 'wrecking ball' piece

Columnist says there was no factual inaccuracy in his claim that a judge said Zuma and Shaik enjoyed a "corrupt relationship"

The veteran journalist Max du Preez has publicly rejected an apology issued by Independent Newspapers over a claim he made in a column run by the group late last year.

In the column headed, by the Pretoria News, "Zuma - SA's one-man wrecking ball", (December 30 2015), Du Preez stated:

"If [Jacob Zuma]  had surrounded himself with able ministers and advisers and listened to them he could still have been an exemplary president....But the after-effects of his corrupt relationship (in the words of a judge) with his financial adviser, the debt he owed to those who put him in power and his obvious view that he was more of an African chief than the president of a modern democracy led him on a different path."

The piece provoked a furious reaction from The Presidency. In a statement Zanele Mngadi said Du Preez,

"... repeats a lie that Judge Hilary Squires corrected a few years ago. The Judge pointed out that he never said that President Zuma had a corrupt relationship with Mr Shabir Shaik. The phrase was created by the media and was repeated many times until many people began to believe it was true, flying in the face of fair and truthful reporting. It is mind boggling why Independent Newspapers and Mr du Preez decided to repeat this lie that has been corrected by the Judge before."

This relates to the controversy that erupted in late 2006 after a Supreme Court of Appeal, in a subordinate civil matter, misattributed the phrase a "generally corrupt relationship" - to refer to the relationship between Shaik and Zuma - to trial court Judge Hilary Squires rather than prosecutor Billy Downer. This error was used, at the time, by then Business Day / Weekender journalists' Vukani Mde and Karima Brown (now senior group editors at Independent Newspapers) to attack the integrity of the court, and to question whether the judiciary was capable of protecting Jacob Zuma's rights to a fair trial. In the SCA's main judgment on Shaik's conviction in the criminal matter (which did not make the same error) the appeal court described the relationship between Zuma and Shaik as "an overriding corrupt relationship" and a "sustained corrupt relationship."

On Wednesday (January 7 2015) last week Zenariah Barends issued an apology on behalf of Independent Media stating:

"On Tuesday, 30 December, Independent Media published a piece by one of our columnists, seasoned journalist, Max du Preez, titled "Zuma - SA's one-man wrecking ball." Subsequent to the publication of the article, the Presidency pointed out a factual inaccuracy in the piece as contained in the following line: "But the after-effects of his corrupt relationship (in the words of a judge) with his financial advisor..." Judge Hilary Squires, the judge referred to in the piece, indicated that he had not made that statement so often attributed to him in the media, and went to great lengths to correct the misconception.

At the time of publication, Independent Media had not picked up the inaccuracy or when it initially responded on the issues raised. Our internal fact-checking process should have picked this up, and we regret the failure on our part to do this. We have alerted the columnist to this.

Independent Media apologises to the Presidency and our readers for perpetuating a factual inaccuracy contained within a column on our platform. We endeavour to be more vigilant in monitoring the accuracy of our reportage as well as the opinion pieces carried on our platforms.

In principle and in line with the SA Press Code we uphold the rights of our columnists to express their opinions free of censorship."

This apology was also run in the group's newspapers and added to the online version of the column with the offending line removed from the main body. However, in a letter published in The Mercury and posted on his personal Facebook page Du Preez vehemently rejected the apology and retracting saying he stood by his claims. He wrote:

"I stand by every word in my "Zuma wrecking ball" column two weeks ago. Last week newspapers in the Independent group that used my column, published a "correction" and an apology to the President. This is the letter I sent to those papers' editors:

I strenuously object to the "correction" this newspaper published last Thursday regarding my column earlier that week. I found this sentence in the Independent Media statement especially offensive: "Independent Media apologises to the Presidency and our readers for perpetuating a factual inaccuracy contained within a column on our platform."

There was no factual inaccuracy in my column in question. There was no reason to apologise to President Jacob Zuma.

When I was told that the Presidency had complained about my column, I sent an explanation accompanied by a legal opinion to Independent Media's editorial executives and told them I would distance myself from any "correction" or apology. The apology was published without informing me of the contents thereof.

The "factual inaccuracy" in question was my statement that Zuma and Schabir Shaik had a "corrupt relationship (in the words of a judge)". Your statement says I was referring to Judge Hillary Squires who had heard the initial Shaik corruption case. How did you come to that conclusion, other than following the lead of the Presidency's complaint?

Squires indeed indicated after his judgment that he had never called that relationship a "generally corrupt" one. I did not use that phrase, nor did I mention Squires. (Squires called the Zuma-Shaik relationship a "mutually beneficial symbiosis".)

However, on October 6, 2006, the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal, Judge CT Howie, issued the judgment of a full bench that had heard Shaik's appeal on his conviction on corruption and fraud charges - Shaik v The State (1) [2006] SCA 134 (RSA). In the judgment the relationship between Shaik and Zuma was termed a "sustained corrupt relationship", and in another instance referred to "an overriding corrupt relationship that existed between Zuma and Shaik". The full judgment can be read here.

In other words, my statement that Zuma and Shaik had a "corrupt relationship (in the words of a judge)" was factually 100 percent correct.

I supplied this information and link to the drafters of the Independent Media statement before it was published. I was stunned that they nevertheless went ahead and apologised to the president.

Thank you

Max du Preez"

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