Over a couple of days, I’ve rethought my views on the saga between Max Du Preez and Independent Newspaper over his column and the latter’s apology to the President.
When this issue was first reported in the media, especially that the columnist and author had resigned (or chose to stop writing for the Independent Newspaper Group) – many of us seemed to have taken sides already.
Almost everyone was criticising Independent Newspaper for apologising to the President over the “corrupt relationship” comments which Du Preez wrote in his now controversial column on 30 Dec 2014 had attributed to a Judge. By the way, no Court of Law nor is there a Judge of a Court of Law in South African who has ever found any “corrupt relationship” between President Jacob Zuma and his former financial adviser, Shabir Shaik.
In his column at the time, Du Preez wrote that: “… the after-effects of [Zuma’s] corrupt relationship (in the words of a judge) with his financial adviser, the debt he owed to those who put him in power and his obvious view that he was more of an African chief than the president of a modern democracy led him on a different path.”
The President, through his office complained to Independent Newspaper group that the column was a “personal attack” on him, did not allow him an opportunity to respond to the “serious allegations”, failed to “observe such a basic tenet of the journalism trade”, was inaccurate and a “lie” that Judge Hilary Squires had found a corrupt relationship existed between him and Shaik when he in fact did not, and that it was prejudicial and racist (emphasis). It is important to indicate that the said column was not racist as the President claimed it was, and neither did the columnist have to seek his permission before publication.
This is because the South African Press Codes of Conduct requires that in as far as reporting news in concerned, among others, which Du Preez was not doing but that he was only stating his opinion – the publication should seek the views of the subject (which in this case is the President) of critical reportage in advance of publication. But because this was an opinion piece, this therefore falls outside of the Press Codes completely.
Maybe Du Preez could have been courteous and sought the President’s comment prior to publication but he chose not to, and no law requires that of him. So this claim by the President is plain wrong.
Enter corrupt relationship
It is important to state from the outset that no court of law in South African has to date made any ruling that there existed a “corrupt relationship” between Zuma and Shaik. Neither did the Supreme Court of Appeal or the court of trial – which in this case refers to the Durban High Court judgement by Judge Hilary Squires in 2005. There are, however, two Supreme Court of Appeal judgements that mention the “corruption relation” between Zuma and Shaik.
The first SCA judgement – Shaik v The State (1)  SCA 134 (RSA) delivered on 6 Nov 2006, noted in paragraph 219 that:
“In our view, the sustained corrupt relationship over the years had the effect that Shaik could use one of the most powerful politicians in the country when it suited him. In our view this is an aggravating factor. As stated earlier in this judgment it is clear that very soon after the advent of our democracy Shaik saw economic opportunities beckon and realised early on that he could use political influence to his financial advantage”.
It is therefore very clear that this is/was the Court’s view of that relationship and it was not a view of or finding against Zuma by a trial court headed by Judge Squires.
The second SCA judgement – Shaik v The State (2)  SCA 134 (RSA) – also delivered on 6 Nov 2006 noted in paragraph 8 that:
“Between 1996 and 2002 Shaik and Mr Jacob Zuma engaged in what the trial court appropriately called ‘a generally corrupt relationship’ which involved frequent payments by Shaik to or on behalf of Zuma and a reciprocation by Zuma in the form of the bringing to bear of political influence on behalf of Shaik’s business interests when requested to do so”.
It is important to indicate from the outset that the second SCA judgement mentioned above made an error in citing “corrupt relationship” as the findings by or attributing the remarks to Judge Squire which is not true.
It was then following this error that the Registrar of the SCA reportedly corrected the error, adding the “SCA erred in ascribing the words ‘a generally corrupt relationship’ to the trial court” and that these quoted words had “incorrectly and regrettably” been ascribed to the trial judge (Squires) when in fact this should not have been the case.
Additionally, even Judge Hilary Squires, too, reportedly disputed these quoted words as apparently part of his judgement. He said “I can find no such mention of my having made any such comment. If you have already read the judgement , and in it this phrase – ” a generally corrupt relationship” – occurs I would be grateful if you would advise me of the page and line number in which the statement appears. The only question in that trial was Shaik’s own state of mind when he made the admitted payments to, or on behalf of, Jacob Zuma, namely, whether by doing so, he intended to influence the recipient in the exercise of his official duties. Jacob Zuma’s state of mind when he received these benefits was never an issue, nor was any finding made about it. There was no need for any conclusion regarding the state of affairs between them, nor was there one made”.
The clarity by Judge Squires at the time followed media reports, including by IN Group Editor Karima Brown and IN Group Opinion and Analysis Editor Vukani Mde who were at the time working for Business Day. The two had written about 10 news report that claimed the Judge had referred to the relationship between Zuma and Shaik as a “corrupt relationship” (see this here).
Remember, these are now the very same journalists whose now newspaper group repeated the same claim as written by Du Preez in his Dec 2014 column for which they later apologised.
Enter Du Preez’s clarity
Clarifying his remarks before and after the rejected apology, including which “Judge” was referred to in the column, Du Preez stood by every word in his now controversial column, rejecting the newspaper’s apology to the President which said the attribute of a “Judge” could only have been to Judge Hilary Squires and no-one else.
The newspaper group admitted its “internal fact-checking process should have picked up this inaccuracy” but failed to, and therefore regret the error (that Zuma had a “corrupt relationship” with Shaik). It further went on to say the error in the column was “perpetuating a factual inaccuracy”.
Du Preez said the inaccuracy as identified by the newspaper group in his column was “offensive” and that there was nothing to apologise for. He disagreed with the publication’s conclusion that the “Judge” in his column referred to Judge Squires.
The columnist said the attribution, including the disputed remarks, was to Judge CT Howie of the SCA who noted in his judgement the “sustained corrupt relationship” and another instance where he referred to “an overriding corrupt relationship that existed between Zuma and Shaik”. Remember, this is one of the two judgements mentioned earlier.
Du Preez wouldn’t badge, saying: “In other words, my statement that Zuma and Shaik had a “corrupt relationship (in the words of a judge)” was factually 100 percent correct. I supplied this information and link to the drafters of the Independent Media statement before it was published. I was stunned that they nevertheless went ahead and apologised to the president.”
Overriding corrupt relationship
This “overriding corrupt relationship” that Du Preez claims the SCA found existed is on paragraph 16 of the longer version judgement (122 page-long –Shaik v The State (1)  SCA 134 (RSA)), and falls under the SCA’s summary of the trial Court headlined “The Trial Court’s Judgment” which, in this case, is Judge Squires’ High Court judgement which, as mentioned earlier, he has since clarified. The full sentence which Du Preez referred to reads thus: “The court upheld the State’s contention that Shaik and Nkobi benefitted from the intervention and that it was improper and part of an overriding corrupt relationship that existed between Zuma and Shaik”.
With Du Preez maintaining accuracy of his column in 2015 – about 9 years after the trial court Judge disputed the remarks attributed to him previously – it is therefore very clear, in my view, hat the “overriding corrupt relationship” in the judgement referred to was in fact attributed to Judge Squires and not the SCA Judge(s) as columnist claimed it was the case. This is because these remarks, as can be clearly seen, were a summary of Judge Squire’s trial judgment in 2005 and there is therefore no way Du Preez could have attributed these remarks to Judge Howie.
In his apparent resignation letter as Independent Newspaper group columnist to Brown on 14 Jan, Du Preez said alleged “factual inaccuracies in my column on President Jacob Zuma and to apologise to him came as a shock – especially since I gave you a full explanation of what I was referring to beforehand.” “I thought my explanation would have convinced you that an apology in this matter would have been a travesty,” complained Du Preez.
Du Preez claims readers of his column “now know that there was no inaccuracy in my column”, adding: “The question is: did a judge call the relationship between Zuma a corrupt one? The answer is: yes. In fact, that judge was backed by four others on the bench of the SCA using their own words, not those of Judge Squires.” He claims the apology to the President, known very well that he did not deserve it as there was nothing inaccurate in his column, was a way to “please” the President and the ruling African National Congress.
A bitter Du Preez went further – although I will not get into other politics that may have led to his relinquishing his writing a column for the Independent Newspaper group – to accuse Brown of having “pledged allegiance to [Zuma and the ANC] on the basis of that falsehood [that his column was inaccurate]”. He further accused Brown of allowing her ANC’s interests to “now weigh more heavily… than ethical journalism”.
Du Preez added one of the reasons he stopped writing for the newspaper group was because it had “tainted” his image and that he has since stopped respecting the publication’s leadership.
Now given the analysis above – especially where Du Preez got the “overriding corrupt relationship” from (on the SCA judgement) and of course his attack on Brown particularly the apology he clearly disagreed with because he believed his “explanation would have convinced” Brown and Mde not to apologise to the President – is it therefore correct for readers of this blog and Independent Newspaper in particular (including his supporters) where the column was published to conclude that indeed Du Preez was being disingenuous, was a coward to admit that this interpretation of the SCA judgement that Zuma indeed had an “overriding corrupt relationship” with Shaik was in fact inaccurate and therefore this warranted an apology to the President by the newspaper and his as the writer thereof because the “overriding corrupt relationship” was the SCA’s summary of the trial court judgement (whose now controversial remarks have since been disputed by the trial judge himself, Judge Squires, and the same remarks for which Registrar of the SCA later apologised for for having “incorrectly and regrettably” attributing to Judge Squires)?
If the answer to the above question is yes, now whose image is really tainted and by whom?
And if the answer is no, then, well… you still have the answer.