When an editor crosses the line

When an editor crosses the line

Brendan Seery.

An open letter to Adri Senekal de Wet.

Dear Adri Senekal de Wet,

I do realise that, as editor of Business Report, one of the Independent’s stable of publications, you have to sing for your supper and that is why you so often leap with alacrity to the defence of your boss, Dr Iqbal Surve.

I also realise that – given the one-sided way you and your publications have covered (and continue to cover) the issue of government pensioners’ money being channelled to Surve and his companies in circumstances best described as questionable – you would not recognise real journalism if it bit you in the bum.

Normally, I ignore your wannabe-journalist-and-analyst bleats.

However, last week you crossed a line, with your false and defamatory (I’ll leave aside badly written, because that is par for your course) attack on investigative journalist Sam Sole of amaBhungane.

You accused him of being a “trooper” for the old SA Defence Force (SADF) and say he was involved in “apartheid journalism” (whatever that is).

I know Sam is capable of defending himself and I won’t seek to do so here – other than to share with you two little stories about him when we worked together as investigative reporters on the Sunday Tribune newspaper in the 1990s.

The first takes place in a nondescript office building in Centurion on a hot summer afternoon.

Across the desk from us, in his grey and mauve military uniform, General Niel Knobel – the surgeon-general of the SADF – has just lost all colour in his face. And he’s getting greyer by the second, as Sam reads out to him a fraction of what we know about “Project Coast”, the secret military chemical weapons programme.

Initially, the general blusters, then he appeals to our “patriotism” and invokes that hoary old military stand-by, “national security”.We – Sam, myself, Peta Thornycroft and Jean Le May – already know about front companies like Delta G Scientific, Roodeplaat Research Laboratories and the links with the Libyans. And, despite Knobel’s actual and implied threats, we write about it. Remember, Adri, in those days, the Boers were still serious about applying the Defence Act and the Official Secrets Act.

Sam gave me the lead which enabled me to unearth the name of Dr Wouter Basson from court records in Pretoria.

Many was the time one or all of us on that team was accused of “being paid” by someone – the CIA, ANC, MI6, Mossad, the whole “spook” menu – to do our jobs.

No one paid us. I remember an afternoon arranged by Sam at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

On one chair sits Reverend Frank Chikane, then Thabo Mbeki’s special adviser.

On the others, the two white men who, as part of the chemical and associate programmes, had prepared the chemicals used to try to poison Chikane back in 1990.

They are close to tears as they apologise: they were in a war and they thought the ends justified the means, they say.

Chikane forgives them and they pray together.

Were it not for people like Sam Sole, this country would not know a thing about state capture.

One day, Sam and those others will be recognised as professionals, if not heroes.

You, Adri, will end up on the wrong side of history. You may not realise this, but karma is not a brand of margarine.

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