Gumede's trying to smear us - M&G

Newspaper responds to businessman's pre-emptive allegations


Mr Robert Gumede, a millionaire businessman, has launched a pre-emptive complaint to the press ombudsman, the press appeals panel, and the chairperson of SANEF.

He has also circulated this complaint to media organisations (see here) and appeared in an SABC news bulletin repeating some of its primary allegations, which are false and defamatory.

Mr Gumede has done this in response to questions the Mail & Guardian put to him last week regarding two payments of R50,000 made by him in 2004, using his wife's bank account.

The M&G last week asked Mr Gumede about the purpose of these payments.

Through his lawyers he asked for more time to respond and ultimately agreed to do so by 17:00 on Wednesday.

Before responding to the M&G's detailed questions however, Mr Gumede, through his lawyers released what purports to be a complaint to the press ombudsman, but is in fact a crude attack on the Mail & Guardian, its editor, Nic Dawes and two of its journalists, Adriaan Basson and Sam Sole.

He is seeking to portray our investigation as driven by malice and as a "personal vendetta" against an innocent citizen. It is not.

Worse he has launched a personal attack on Dawes, Sole and Basson that is based on the kind of unsubstantiated innuendo that he himself purports to decry - and which would not meet basic journalistic, never mind legal, standards.

Mr Gumede's statement makes a number of untrue allegations. We will deal with some of the most serious.

He makes much of a payment of R900 made to Sam Sole by John Sterenborg in June 2001, alleging that it is evidence of bribery.

Mr Sterenborg is a former business partner of Mr Gumede who has been engaged in protracted legal battles with Mr Gumede over the dissolution of their association in smart-card company Applied Card Technologies, in which Mr Gumede invested.

The facts of this payment are as follows.

Mr Sole was working at the time for the investigative magazine Noseweek.

The editor of Noseweek, Mr Martin Welz, was approached by Mr Sterenborg who said he wanted to relate certain facts that he would prefer to discuss in person.

Uncertain of the value of such a trip, Mr Welz reached an agreement with Mr Sterenborg that Mr Sterenborg would cover the cost of Sam Sole flying from Durban to Johannesburg to hear Mr Sterenborg's story, given that Noseweek could not afford such expenses on a speculative journey.

This was Mr Welz's decision not Mr Sole's.

In the end Mr Sole paid for the ticket and was re-imbursed by Mr Sterenborg and this payment constituted no benefit to Sole.

Mr Sterenborg's story, which included allegations about Mr Gumede, was not backed by substantial evidence and no story was ever written by Sole for Noseweek, let alone published.

The attempt by Mr Gumede to portray this as "bribery" or "corruption" is simply unsustainable.

Mr Sole did write a series of articles featuring Mr Gumede's conflict with Mr Sterenborg, but that was nearly two years later for the M&G, and we stand by the content of these articles.

The suggestion that, in pursuing our current investigation, we "threatened and intimidated" people to provide us with information about Mr Gumede is untrue and indeed ludicrous.

If Mr Gumede's pre-emptive attack is an attempt to bully the M&G into silence, it will fail. The Mail & Guardian will continue to investigate matters of public interest without fear or favour, and we will do so mindful of the duty imposed upon us by the Press Code.

Statement issued by Nic Dawes, Mail & Guardian editor, and Sam Sole, managing partner of Amabhungane, November 3 2010

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