When Spur videos become ghosts

Mark D. Young on his thus far failed efforts to view key CCTV footage of the lead-up to the infamous altercation

This article was supposed to be an in-depth review of the infamous incident at Texamo Spur. You know, the one that caused widespread outrage on social media and has allegedly resulted in, on my information, at least 20 or more Spur franchises suffering – some possibly terminally - under what the CEO of Spur Corporation Pierre Van Tonder says is an organised boycott?

A couple of days following the video of the incident going viral Spur Corporation's official communications released a short CCTV clip of the incident and invited members of the media to come and view the full video record of the period leading up to the incident.

The father involved had approached the other parent as, he claimed, his child had been assaulted in the play area by her child. The mother whom he approached, and whose child he can be seen grabbing in the footage released by Spur Corporation, had another version of events. Her side was extensively set out in a report in the Mail & Guardian on 24 March.

In this article she admitted that her child had told her she had hit another child quite hard. But this had been due to a protracted period of escalating tit-for-tat incidents in the Play Canyon (the restaurant’s play area).

That this then led to the protracted to-and-fro between both adults who, many might have hoped, would set a better example for their children, was what blazed onto Twitter, Facebook and other corners of the internet.

In what was seen by certain sectors of society as a one-sided move by Spur Corporation, only the father involved was banned from all Spur restaurants. The company’s response was understandable as, quite rightly, they do not want anyone in their franchises who – no matter the provocation – poses a risk to children.

Now, having regard to the old dictum that you must collect all the evidence before penning anything, I decided a good place to start would be to take up the offer by Spur Corporation to view all the video material.

After all, in the exchange of letters between the Spur Corporation's CEO and Dirk Hermann of the Solidarity trade union, Mr. Van Tonder once again made mention of the need to be informed by viewing and taking into consideration all the available evidence, including the footage from the Play Canyon.

So I sent Spur head office an e-mail.

At first, responses were immediate and cordial. However, they had one small issue. They repeatedly referred me back to the page on the Spur website where a communication about the incident and the rationale behind the banning of the one individual was explained by the CEO.

I again wrote to Spur and pointed out exactly what it was I wished to view – the video from the Play Canyon. At the time that they had released the CCTV clip they had said that they would not be releasing the footage from the three cameras in the play area as it included numerous other children. However, they had reviewed it and while they were “able to see that the children” were in the same vicinity as each other they could not “conclude from the footage that an altercation occurred.” This had also been shown to the media at the time.

I also included a few pointed questions about the existence of the Play Canyon video and various other issues of which I had, by then, become aware through my research into the story. Up to this point, I had been communicating through the office of the CEO. Now, however, I received a reply (in early June) penned by Mr. Van Tonder himself – albeit sent via another staff member.

The relevant questions and replies are as follows:

“1) Is there any footage of the alleged assault incident in the play area?

Yes, there is footage of what transpired in the play area, but it does not support your narrative.

2) If yes, how can I go about viewing that to ensure a full and complete understanding of the matter?

The footage can be viewed upon receipt of a signed non-disclosure agreement from yourself and the reputable publication that commissioned you stating that you will only use this footage to inform yourself and that what happened in the Play Canyon will not be disclosed in any public forum.”

The requirement for an Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) of this kind was a surprise as there had been a report published by News24 whose journalist had been permitted to view the footage and had, in their report, quite extensively detailed what they had seen (which was nothing much).

Nevertheless, wishing to do a thorough investigation, I replied that giving an NDA would be fine subject to the proviso that we would need to refer to the footage as either sustaining their version of events regarding a prior incident leading up to the public domain footage, or not.

I was supported in that approach by James Myburgh, Editor of Politicsweb.

Weeks went by without the forwarding of the terms of the NDA or further response from Spur Corporation. At the end of June I then sent the following mail to Spur Corporation's head office:

“Following my acceptance of the need for an NDA and my communication of same to Mr Van Tonder, I have not heard anything further from your CEO. As I now need to complete my article assignment I would like to know if it is your corporation's intention to honour its public undertaking - and the one implied to myself - for video from the play area to be viewed or not? Thank you.”

A number of minutes later the recipient forwarded my email onto the CEO and copied me in, with the following note:

“Hi Pierre, I don’t know what to do with this guy anymore. I don’t get a good feeling about him and so I don’t like him. Do I forward to Johan or what do I do?”

I have received no further reply. Now, given that Spur Corporation has argued that those wanting to comment on the matter should first view the “full footage”, I was puzzled to have suddenly hit this dead end.

Furthermore, the need for an NDA is something which raises an entirely different set of questions. They appeared to have no qualms at all about letting News24 view the footage and report on it fairly freely. If there was nothing to see, as Spur claimed on the 24 March, then there would seem to be little need for insisting on an NDA covering what actually happened in the play area. All responsible journalists and publications would, in any event, not do anything to prejudice the interests of the children involved.

For now then, radio silence from Spur prevails, and the investigative review remains on hold.

Mark D. Young is a South African investigative journalist.