HuffPost apologises for spreading Winnie smear against journos

This after it posts 2017 clip of Madikizela-Mandela linking Thandeka Gqubule and Anton Harber to Stratcom

'I was an activist, never a spy' - journalist on Madikizela-Mandela claims

Two journalists accused by the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela of being behind a smear campaign against her rubbished the claims against them on Friday.

Madikizela-Mandela named the journalists in a video clip published on HuffPost SA. The video has since been pulled from the website after HuffPost SA acknowledged that it was published without the necessary comment from the respective journalists, Thandeka Gqubule and Anton Harber.

Speaking to News24, Gqubule, named by Madikizela-Mandela as a reporter who "specialised in writing very negative stories" about her dismissed the allegation, saying she was "an activist, never a spy".

Gqubule, the economics editor at the SABC, told News24 she and those close to her had decided to not yet comment on the allegation out of respect for President Cyril Ramaphosa's official 10 days of mourning for the struggle stalwart.

"[What is being said] is utter malicious hogwash, but we will contextualise it so that the toxicity of this kind of shaming, naming and narrative building does not occur to other people and that it doesn't sully the belief in journalism as a public good," Gqubule said.

'Terribly disillusioned with the media'

She described it as a "manufactured narrative", but would respond with documentary evidence after the internment out of respect for Madikizela-Mandela's children as well as her own, whom she said are "now being hounded".

"Next week, my lawyers and myself will respond responsibly and comprehensively and we will be asking national intelligence to publish whatever active files intelligence was having on me, because I was an activist and never a spy. I was an ordinary journalist like anyone else."

In the clip, posted on HuffPost SA this month of an interview conducted in June 2017, Madikizela-Mandela recalled becoming "terribly disillusioned with the media because some of them were actually used by the then apartheid state.

"There were reporters who specialised in writing very negative stories about me, like Thandi Gqubule [sic], a girl who was called Nomavenda… They were working for what was then called the Weekly Mail," she said in the interview.

"I was pleasantly surprised to see Anton Harber talk like that because he was editor of the then Weekly Mail, and the Weekly Mail at the time was so anti-ANC, anti-me. They actually did the job for Stratcom. Stratcom was all about strategic communication… 70% truth and 30% lies. They used the Weekly Mail and it was a very respected paper…"

Additionally, in the documentary Winnie, aired on Wednesday night on eNCA, StratCom head Vic McPherson claimed to have had 40 journalists who worked for him "directly or indirectly" writing malicious articles about Madikizela-Mandela.

Approached for comment, Harber also dismissed the allegation.

He said the suggestion that he or the Weekly Mail did the work of Stratcom was "absolute, dangerous nonsense".

"The Weekly Mail exposed Stratcom, and was targeted by it. Stratcom was in the business of destroying people through disinformation, and it seems like that is continuing."

In a post by HuffPost SA editor-in-chief Pieter du Toit on Friday, he apologised for publishing the video.

"Gqubule and Harber are journalists who have reputations for being honest and principled. We respect them both. The video clip should not have been published without first seeking their views," Du Toit wrote.

"We have begun internal procedures to determine how the clip was published and will be taking action based on our findings."

Lies and propaganda

Meanwhile the South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) in a statement said it acknowledged the brutality of the apartheid regime and its misinformation campaigns, but given the context of lies and propaganda, it believed it was critical that concrete evidence be produced to substantiate claims that specific journalists supported the apartheid state’s security establishment.

"In the absence of any such evidence, the circulation of unsubstantiated rumours is irresponsible, dangerous and extremely damaging to media freedom and the media environment as a whole. Further, we believe it puts journalists at serious risk of physical harm and having their credibility unnecessarily questioned," it said.

"Those who have concrete evidence of any such wrongdoing by journalists working in South Africa at the height of apartheid should come forward. That would help South Africa get to the bottom of this."

The forum called for "cool heads" so that a sober debate could be had about "ways to cherish Mama Winnie's legacy in building a truly democratic nation".

"That is a nation where conflicts and debates are handled in an open, democratic fashion, without the kind of smear campaigns that were prevalent during the apartheid era."