Ndebele complained about a story headlined “Zuma’s maNtuli in extortion drama”.
The story revolved around the arrest of a Tanzanian man Steven Ongolo, who claimed to be a long-time friend of one of Zuma’s four wives Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma.
Ongolo had claimed that he was arrested after threatening to reveal the first lady’s secrets.
Ongolo also claimed, among others, that he was introduced to Ntuli-Zuma by Ndebele an allegation denied by the minister.
“[Ndebele’s spokesman Logan] Maistry also says that this ‘casual link’ did not make any sense, except that it was intended to create mischief and cast aspersions on Ndebele’s integrity and reputation [which had the potential to cause him some serious and unnecessary harm],” the ombudsman ruling said.
“He [Maistry] concludes that the newspapers did not exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation, as required by the Press Code.”
The newspapers denied Ndebele’s allegations.
“We have already stated that our reports are a matter of public record as they are based on contentious issues that are currently argued in an open court of law,” Greg Arde, for the three newspapers, argued.
“They were not an invention or fabrication of our reporters. We fail to understand how such reports will impair on his ‘dignity and reputation’.”
The ombudsman found that everything Ongolo told the newspaper was in the public interest.
“Ongolo had a right to his opinion, and Independent Newspapers were justified in publishing that view [as an opinion, balanced out with Ndebele’s denial],” the ruling said.
“Most importantly: It is difficult to conceive how this ‘link’ could have caused Ndebele harm of any kind — the story only alleged that he had introduced Ongolo to MaNtuli, not that he had any hand in what may have happened subsequently.”
The complaint was dismissed and Ndebele now had seven days to appeal the ruling.