Mzilikazi wa Afrika: How I got the scoop

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Mzilikazi wa Afrika: How I got the scoop
INCISIVE: Veteran award winning journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika has detailed how his journalistic prowess coupled with his smoking-gun black-book are the fundamental pillars that allow him to remain consistent in breaking the biggest stories in democratic South Africa. While shedding critical light on the machinations that finally brought the story to light, as well as exactly how long this story was pregnant for, wa Afrika sends out a triumphant love letter to his detractors in a blissful display of skillful Journalese. ILLUSTRATIVE GRAPHIC BY 013NEWS/coolnblack/GCIS

The story about the theft of millions of dollars from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s farm in Limpopo presents another golden opportunity to my detractors to launch another onslaught against my character, because I scooped them and got the story first – a serious crime against professional jealousy. And for the record, I was never fired from the Sunday Times, and an independent panel, chaired by retired judge Kathleen Satchwell, whose other panellists were veteran journalists, Nikiwe Bikitsha and Rich Mkhondo, couldn’t find a single fake news story I have ever written.


MZILIKAZI WA AFRIKA


“Rumours are carried by haters, spread by fools and accepted by idiots” ― Ziad K. Abdelnour.

I am not in the habit of arguing with idiots because I know they will drag me to their level and beat me with experience.

Neither do I have time to entertain sore losers suffering from an overdose of self-entitlement.

I have always maintained that a brave man stands alone and speaks his mind while cowards stand in groups defending someone else’s shenanigans.

The story about the theft of millions of dollars from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s farm in Bela-Bela, Limpopo, has presented another golden opportunity to my detractors to launch another onslaught against my character, because I scooped them and got the story first – a serious crime against professional jealousy.

I wish not to argue with anyone, but help them with facts and useful information. Harlan Ellison once said: “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”

I first heard about the robbery of millions of dollars from Ramaphosa’s “residency” in July 2020, as I was driving with two people to Durban. It was during the hard lockdown and we had official permission for the trip.

A friend of mine from Namibia dropped the bombshell when he called me, out of the blue, and told me about some Namibians who stole “$30-million from Ramaphosa’s residency”.

What happened was, around the end of February 2020, I phoned this friend of mine and asked to rent his beachfront house in Swakopmund for the Easter holidays as I was planning to take my family to Namibia to gaze at the dunes and to appreciate the wonder.

Then, the Covid-19 pandemic happened. A national lockdown was announced on March 23, 2020, to start in four days time, and reasonably, we had to cancel our planned holiday.

My friend then phoned to accuse me of lying, because I was not coming to Namibia on holiday, as I had earlier indicated to him, but to investigate and trace his fellow countrymen who had apparently stolen “$30-million from Ramaphosa”.

He said he was happy that I didn’t come because he didn’t want to get into trouble as “these are dangerous people”.

I was shocked and amazed about the news of the theft, I didn’t believe him and neither did he believe that I knew nothing about such robbery.

My insistence that I had planned to take my family to Namibia on holiday fell on deaf ears.

My friend told me one of the robbers was his neighbour and that the man was flouting the proceeds from their loot, and that pretty soon someone would report him to the police.

Even after the call, as I was narrating the story to my passengers, nobody believed it was true. The president would have told the nation about it. We would have received a press statement about this robbery. The three of us concluded that either my friend was high or it was fake news.

A day later, I got a Signal call from another friend, who works for the government. He wanted to see me urgently, but I was still in Durban and he asked me to call him as soon as I returned to Joburg. When I asked what it was all about, he said he could not say over the phone.

The morning after I had returned from Durban, I sent him a message that I was back in Joburg, and he suggested that we must meet as soon as possible.

I asked him, “Your house or mine” and he said, “Definitely, not your house because you are under surveillance. That’s what I am trying to warn you about.”

I was then wondering why I am under surveillance and what crime I had committed this time around. And we agreed to meet outside Grand Central Airport in Midrand, Joburg.

It was during this meeting that I was made aware that my phone call from my Namibian friend was intercepted.

My friend said he was there to give me a friendly warning and pleaded with me to ignore everything I heard from my Namibian friend, about the robbery, or my life would be in danger, if I decided to investigate the story.

It was on that day that it dawned on me that indeed, there was a lot of money stolen from the president’s property and that there was a serious cover-up and probably, an apparent media blackout.

Even after I had received the friendly warning, I decided to investigate the story, as I am not one of the generation of cowards.

As I was driving back home, I called my Namibian friend via Signal, because I believed it was still a secure line, but I was surprised when he told me to never call him again, hung up on me, and has since changed his number.

I knew he had been spoken to and that he was given “a friendly warning”. I am glad he is still alive.

A few days later, my phone was hacked. Almost all my software and Apps were wiped out clean, without my doing.

As a journalist, I knew, given my many years of experience in the field, that this story was worth investigating.

I started fishing around about this robbery, very discreetly, but I was hitting a brick wall. Those I thought might know a morsel of information about it, told me they had never heard of the sort, while others sent me on a wild goose chase.

At the time, I decided to throw in the towel. Until one day, late last year, a senior politician spilled the beans, because he thought that he was giving me a scoop “about a robbery involving millions of dollars at the president’s farm” in Limpopo.

I told the politician how I tried to investigate the story with no luck, and he replied that his source also gave him “sketchy information” before she disappeared into thin air.

I was back to square one, with no further leads or sources to garner detail.

My understanding is that last Tuesday, former state security directors-general, Arthur Fraser, took some politicians into his confidence by informing them that he was planning to lay a criminal charge against Ramaphosa at Rosebank police station the following day.

One of the politicians that Fraser consulted with was the same one who thought he was giving me “a scoop” about the robbery.

After his meeting with Fraser, he called me and told me about it. He also informed me that Fraser had promised him that Fraser would send him his brief statement after opening his case.

And I asked him to send it to me as soon as he received it.

I informed the editor, for the first time about this robbery, as now the wheels were set in motion.

A photographer was assigned to be on a stake out at the Rosebank police station the following day, as we did not know the exact time when Fraser would show up to open the case.

Mzilikazi wa Afrika: How I got the scoop
Arthur Fraser leaving the Rosebank Police Station after opening a case against President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso

Later that afternoon, true to his word, the politician forwarded the statement from Fraser shortly after our photographer confirmed that the former spy boss had left the Rosebank police station.

But it looks like I committed a serious crime by posting that statement on my Twitter account, which went viral, shortly after I received it. My crime was to scoop “the captains of the industry” and apparently made them look bad, as they were unable to spin it.

Some started throwing their toys around and concocting conspiracy theories – nothing unusual from that lot anyway – and came to some conclusion that I was either working hand in hand with Fraser to bring down Ramaphosa or that I have direct access to the former intelligence boss.

Some people burn their bridges, for personal glory and validations, and then get jealous when some of us use ours to cross to the other side of the river.

I speak to everyone, from the president himself and to all politicians across the political spectrum – all political parties – because I don’t belong to any faction or cabal, and neither do I support any political faction or journalism cabal.

Some journalists believe that scoops are reserved only for them, a self-entitlement of the greatest proportion.

I have never had any interest whatsoever on who is leaking information to them or sharing documents with them, but always whenever I write a story, they go all out to try and find out who my sources are, if they can’t find one, they will definitely create them for me.

Their famous line is that I get fed information by crime intelligence.

If I can get some information before, a scoop, get over it and get a life instead of calling me names. Are you guys not getting tired of this nonsense?

You seem to have taken a leaf from Nazi Joseph Goebbels, who once wrote: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

For years, you have been repeating the same lie about me, spreading malicious rumours about me, writing books about me and character assassinating me, but all in vain.

Some of you have repeatedly claimed I was fired from The Sunday Times for writing fake news.

For the record I was never fired from the Sunday Times, and an independent panel, chaired by retired judge Kathleen Satchwell, whose other panellists were veteran journalists, Nikiwe Bikitsha and Rich Mkhondo, couldn’t find a single fake news story I have ever written.

In their report titled “Inquiry into Media Ethics and Credibility,” which was commissioned by South African National Editors Forum (Sanef), released in January 2021, stated: “This Panel was tasked with investigating allegations of ‘ethical’ malfeasance in the media industry. It must be categorically stated that no ethical malpractice on the part of (Stephan) Hofstatter, (Malcolm) Rees, (Rob) Rose or Wa Afrika has been suggested to the Panel.”

The report also added: “No bribery or malevolent intent has been shown. The Sunday Times apologies spoke of journalists in pursuit of the truth who had a ”constitutional obligation“ to ”inform“ the public.

The newspaper explicitly stated that the journalists were not complicit in the agenda of unnamed shady individuals. No one has suggested that the journalists should have ignored these stories, which were very much matters of public interest.”

The repeat, which is available online for everyone to read, also added: “The Sunday Times has conceded headline errors, which are not the task or responsibility of reporters but of sub-editors, errors of emphasis, and a failure to see the wider political picture. But the Sunday Times has made no allegation of ethical failures, personally or professionally, on the part of Hofstatter, Rees, Rose or Wa Afrika. Other media practitioners have identified and acknowledged the structural reasons for media and journalistic failures.”

The maniac who has been claiming over the years that we were paid by faceless crime intelligence officials to write “fake stories” failed to produce a single piece of evidence before the panel “that any journalist in the employ of The Sunday Times received any funds or other financial inducement to write or slant any story or cover up any story”.

Closing the chapter on the Sunday Times investigation, the panel concluded: “Journalism and the media industry themselves are the poorer for the process adopted by the Sunday Times.

Commercial, political and other considerations may have prompted the ‘retractions’ and ‘apologies’ but they also prompted the shaming of journalists and the termination of contracts.

“Only time will show if journalists feel free and supported by their employers to embark on complicated, difficult, challenging or questionable investigations, which may offend powerful people. Only time will show if journalists feel that the publications for which they work and write have their backs when the going gets tough.”

The next time you call me names, it must be for a good reason and not to spread fake news again. There is an African proverb which says: “Even if you dance for your enemy on a rock, he will accuse you of splashing water on him.”

Frantz Fanon made a profound statement, when he said: “Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted.

It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalise, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”

Don’t stir other people’ soup while yours is burning.

-First published Sunday Independent