According to one of the six journalists accused by then editor in chief of City Press Ferial Haffajee of racism in 2013, the case against Haffajee and the media company may indeed now be settled legally, but it is far from happily resolved.
The case was meant to be heard in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Thursday, but a settlement was apparently reached out of court between the parties last week.
However, according to the most outspoken member of the group, photographer Denvor de Wee, he did not actually agree to a settlement. He merely withdrew his case.
He told The Citizen that the company that owns City Press, Media24, had offered cash settlements to four of its former journalists to drop their case of defamation against Haffajee. They had been claiming R3 million in damages each.
De Wee says he did not take a cent of it.
‘Black racists aren’t different’
In 2013, Haffajee called the six journalists racists in an email to her staff in 2013 after a team-building exercise went awry. The email was then distributed publicly and went viral on social media. She also tweeted: “I don’t tolerate white racists, so what makes black racists any different? Today, I drew a line in that sand. Two sides: one awful coin.”
The journalists, De Wee, Mawande Mvumvu, Khanyiso Tshwaku, Muntu Vilakazi, Percy Mabandu and Athandiwe Saba, had raised the issue of racial transformation in the newsroom. Their comments, some of which included that white editors would struggle to break big stories if black politicians were the subjects, did not sit well with Haffajee.
She came out of the meeting “with a bitter taste”, despite there being “delicious” food. In her email, she slated the journalists for the “racist mauling” of her editors. The letter was “not really up for discussion”, she said and she “objected loudly” to what she called the racist view that only a black editor could get political stories from black politicians.
“Mostly, I object to the naked racism on display yesterday. I object to the racist mauling that Tash [Natasha Joseph] and Nicki [Nicki Gules] came in for. They are a transformative desk – the very best of the desks I have ever appointed in my editing years.
“I object loudly to the racist view that only a black editor can get political stories through calls from black African politicians. For one, I am black and African and will not live under your imposed identity on me. As to your views of our political connection, it is insulting and rubbish. I’ve disproved that many times in my reporting life, as do our colleagues almost every week when they get scoops. I don’t buy into this racism and never will.”
De Wee alleges Media24 offered money to the journalists so they would walk away from the case. He told The Citizen that he had withdrawn from the case because he had no money to pay for further legal fees.
He also said that, as far as he was aware, the other three claimants had also not taken any of the money offered by the company. None of the journalists who sued Haffajee works for the company any more.
He wrote on his Facebook page on Wednesday morning: “I am not aware of any settlement. According to my knowledge, I have not signed any agreement. I withdrew, because I didn’t have the funds to pursue the claim legally. I withdrew, because I just couldn’t sign away my story, nor could I be party to censorship. In this case, being paid to go away,” said the former photography editor.
When asked how much money he had been offered by Media24’s lawyers, he told The Citizen he had been advised legally not to disclose that information. He told TimesLive on Thursday about an alleged confidentiality clause in the proposed agreement that the company’s lawyers had asked him to sign that he had asked to be removed. In the end, although he “almost finally agreed to it”, he decided not to sign in order to avoid being censored – and because “I am not for sale”.
He added that all he had ever wanted from Haffajee was “a public apology on at least the same platforms I was defamed”.
The Star last week reported that Haffajee denied defaming her former staffers and had apologised to them for earlier singling them out.
Attorney Andrew Boerner was equally reticent to tell Business Day on Tuesday about any further details, only that “the action was withdrawn and the dispute has been settled.”