The end of last week brought with it the kind of newsroom confusion I’ve rarely had to deal with as an editor. Since then, we’ve all had a chance to reflect on it, and the truth seems a lot clearer now.
One of our journalists noticed the clip of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela discussing the apartheid-era propaganda campaign by Stratcom against her; Winnie dropped the names of Weekly Mail journalist Thandeka Gqubule and its editor Anton Harber.
The next thing, one of our journalists had an article up about how the clip was from Pascale Lamche’s award-winning Winnie documentary with a headline that echoed a flawed EFF press release declaring: “Gqubule and Mathiane were Stratcom reporters at the Weekly Mail”.
Of course, if you look at the actual clip of Winnie speaking, at no point did she ever allege that anyone at the Weekly Mail was working for Stratcom. She merely implied that they may have been used by Stratcom, and she also made it clear it was her opinion on the matter after there were several unflattering headlines about her and the Mandela United Football Club on that paper’s front page in the 1980s or early 1990s.
Obviously, the Weekly Mail in the late 1980s was actually working tirelessly to expose the abuses of the apartheid state, including various Stratcom plots.
By now we know the clip in question came from an interview HuffPost SA did with Madikizela-Mandela on the sidelines of the 2017 screening of the Winnie documentary in South Africa. The confusion about the source was not helped by the fact that Lamche could be seen in the clip, according to Gcubule.
Gqubule had a rough time last week. The abuse and insults she received were apparently so bad that Anton Harber said the situation was becoming so dangerous he had concerns for her life.
She handled it better than most, staying calm and declaring she’d work to clear her name after Mama Winnie’s funeral. She has asked for all the Stratcom files to be made public, so that we can see for ourselves whether she or any of her colleagues were ever on the state’s payroll.
Obviously, I doubt they were.
Speaking to Eusebius McKaiser on 702 this morning, Gqubule maintained her sources had never been anyone in the state (as far as she knew) and she instead relied on people in the community of Soweto and others who were well placed to know what might have been going on with the infamous football club.
As Gqubule pointed out, it has since emerged that almost everyone in the football club was possibly an apartheid informer in one way or the other, so if she was reporting on the club, then she was nevertheless still exposing Stratcom.
“The police would run into our [Weekly Mail] offices whenever we found anything new. They wanted to know what we’d found,” she told McKaiser. She maintained, though, that they had never worked with the state or knowingly furthered its aims.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the evil geniuses in charge of the campaign to discredit Winnie Mandela weren’t using the Weekly Mail to further their own aims. By now we know the old regime loved to use the resources of its “enemies” against it, as we saw with Craig Williamson and many other cases. “Using” the Weekly Mail would have been a monumental coup that any ironic propagandist would have toasted.
We don’t know these facts though, and it’s unfortunate that Gqubule has been treated with suspicion after all her recent troubles as part of the “SABC 8” that stood up against Hlaudi Motsoeneng and fought for freedom of expression at the public broadcaster.