Minister of Environmental Affairs Nomvula Mokonyane, has sent a lawyers’ letter to the commission of inquiry into state capture alleging that commission officials are undermining the commission’s integrity through leaks to the media.
The letter, which claims Mokonyane’s rights have been breached as she received no notice that she would be implicated in former Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi’s testimony, also includes a paragraph suggesting that the minister and the lawyer have fallen for a WhatsApp post that has since been widely discredited as having been fabricated.
The letter’s claims that the Zondo commission’s secretary has been feeding the media documents appear to derive from this fake post.
The WhatsApp message “made allegations that the secretary of the commission has been feeding commission documents to one journalist and Sunday Times [sic]”, the letter says.
It goes on to say that while these allegations “may be unfounded”, this conclusion “should be preceded by a proper investigation to eliminate any suspicion of collusion by the officials of the commission and the media”.
The Citizen reported on Monday that a WhatsApp message aiming to discredit a front-page story in the Sunday Times was widely shared over the weekend. The message claimed that a journalist was in the process of being fired for refusing to falsely link former Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi to former president Jacob Zuma, as well as businesswoman Dudu Myeni, former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng, and Mokonyane herself.
The message has been dismissed as fake by the newspaper, as well as by Farida Joyce, the journalist the letter claims to be written by, who in an interview with The Citizen confirmed the newspaper’s assertion in a statement on Twitter that she has never worked there and that she had no involvement in the writing of the post. Qaanitah Hunter, the journalist who actually wrote the Sunday Times front page story referenced, has taken to Twitter to slam the authors of the message – who at this stage are unknown – for bringing Joyce’s name into “a cheap attempt to discredit the Sunday Times”.
But while the message is now widely understood as having been faked, Mokonyane’s lawyers reference it in her letter in at length. They either appear to have fallen for it, or are, like its creators, purposefully advancing the notion that the information contained in it is genuine.
The letter mentions the WhatsApp message as an example of the “undesired consequences” of “media collusion” with sources within the commission.
“It appears the Sunday Times has denied that this aforesaid journalist is in their employ. However, this alleged journalist has again posted to gainsay the fact that she is not in the employ of the Sunday Times,” the letter says.
The post the letter is referring to was a Facebook post that was in Farida Joyce’s name and with her profile picture. In the letter, the author claims to have payslips proving she worked at The Sunday Times and claims she worked with Qaanitah Hunter at defunct newspaper The New Age. This post has also been discredited as fake. The post has since been removed from Facebook but has been shared as a screenshot.