A pending legal wrangle between the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and journalists Thandeka Gqubule and Anton Harber could go as far as the Constitutional Court.
The two senior scribes are intent on clearing their names of the EFF’s allegations they were apartheid-era Stratcom spies.
The Citizen has reliably learned that Gqubule and Harber have approached the police and defence departments with a Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) application.
This is to compel the departments to reveal or declassify any information at their disposal pertaining to whether the journalists, then employees of the former Weekly Mail newspaper, worked for them during the apartheid era.
They want the departments to give clarity on whether they ever had any links with Stratcom or spied for the apartheid security forces, and what their spy names or codes were.
Stratcom was a group within the apartheid government tasked with creating and carrying out disinformation campaigns. It is understood Gqubule required the departments to reveal any information, if it existed, so they could clear their names of the damaging allegations.
Gqubule was concerned the EFF’s allegations would damage her reputation, were defamatory and implied she had betrayed the struggle against apartheid.
The PAIA legislation gives effect to the constitutional right of access to any information held by the state or a person that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.
The two journalists have filed court papers demanding an apology and damages from the EFF. Reports stated on Sunday the party faced imminent legal action from Gqubule and Harber, former co-editor of the Weekly Mail, over a statement it issued to media and on its website.
The statement was based on an interview with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who was discussing the apartheid-era Stratcom propaganda campaign against her.
In the interview, Madikizela-Mandela mentioned the names of Gqubule, who was a reporter at Weekly Mail, and Harber, its then co-editor. The Weekly Mail was a prominent part of the alternative media which opposed apartheid and its policies.
In the wake of the interview’s release and the comments from the EFF, Gqubule and Harber became targets of abuse. Harber said the situation became so dangerous he feared for Gqubule’s life.
Gqubule, who is economics editor of the SABC, was part of the so-called SABC 8, who successfully challenged the corporation’s former chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, after he dismissed them for speaking out against censorship practised on his instructions.
A source close to the pending lawsuit against the EFF said the matter could be taken all the way to the highest court in the land.
“They have written to the department of police and the department of defence to produce reports or information in terms of PAIA to say that they never worked for them [the departments] and never spied for them against the struggle,” the source said.
The Sunday World newspaper reported that the EFF and its spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, had been given notice of a motion filed in the High Court in Johannesburg. They have been asked to retract their statements and apologise to the journalists. Damages of R500 000 has been demanded from the party.
However, the EFF issued a response letter, stating that it simply forwarded allegations made by Madikizela-Mandela in an interview with a media house, and that Gqubule and Harber should take up a case against that third party.
But the journalists believe the EFF has a case to answer.
The matter is apparently being handled by media lawyer Dario Milo, with advocate Wim Trengove likely to represent the journalists in court.