By: Kenny Kunene
I’ve observed with keen interest the reaction to the story published by my online platform, Africa News 24-7 on alleged extramarital romantic relationship between former Cabinet Minister Jeff Radebe and a staffer in The Presidency with whom Radebe allegedly has a 10-year-old daughter.
The story further reveals how Radebe abused his power and influence to secure the woman a job in government to avoid paying child maintenance to his baby mama who was allegedly demanding R50 000 per month or alternatively an ambassadorial post. I’ve watched the reaction from South Africans on various social media platforms to the story.
What I found baffling was how many people chose to ignore this alleged abuse of power and public resources by a high-profile individual, who they tried to portray as a victim of unethical and bad publicity. I must state that the attacks on Africa News 24-7 were mostly based on ignorance, blind loyalty and total lack of facts by Radebe’s sympathisers.
Here are the facts. Because I do not at all interfere with the editorial independence of the editor and his team, the first time I became aware that my publication was planning to publish an expose on Radebe was when I checked my WhatsApp and found a message from Radebe on Saturday (9 May), a day before the story was published. There were also missed voice calls from Radebe. I got the first missed call at 15h16 and another one at 16h32. I then returned Radebe’s call at 16h40 which Radebe picked up.
In our conversation Radebe told me he had received questions from one of our journalists who was asking for his response on something he had been asked by journalists for the past ten years. Radebe claimed the questions were on information not based on facts. I told Radebe that I was not aware of the story but would find out from the editor. While I do not interfere with editorial independence of my team, I have an understanding with the editor to brief me on high profile stories in case there are legal consequences.
I made another call to Radebe in which I informed him that the editor had told me that the journalist who was writing the story was convinced the story was factual and accurate. I then requested Radebe, not once but twice to answer questions that had been sent to him by the journalist. He agreed and further denied playing any role in securing a job in government for the woman in question.
While Radebe was battling to convince me to instruct the editor to drop the story, he had at the same time sent businessman Malcolm X to the journalist to ask the reporter not to go on with the story. When this did not work, Radebe was busy running around looking for my mobile numbers. Former PRASA chief executive office Lucky Montana called our political analyst, Clyde Ramalaine who gave Montana my number to pass to Radebe.
While Radebe had in our conversation agreed to respond to the journalist’s questions, he and his alleged baby mama failed to respond to the questions by 5pm Saturday (9 May). The following day (Sunday 10 May) the journalist sent a reminder to Radebe and his alleged baby Mama to respond to the questions. They were even given a two and a half hours deadline extension.
In his reminder, the journalist made it clear to the couple that Africa News 24-7 would publish the story without their responses if they failed to respond to the questions. Radebe and the woman still failed to respond, leaving Africa News 24-7 with no option but to run the story without their responses. It is a strange coincidence that both Radebe and the woman both failed to respond to the questions. One can only assume that there was an agreement between the couple to ignore the questions from our journalist.
Contrary to perceptions that there was an agenda on the part of my publication to tarnish Radebe’s reputation, facts tell a different story. If there’s anyone to blame, it is Radebe himself and his alleged baby mama, who were under the false impression that ignoring questions from a journalist would kill the story. Nothing demonstrates Radebe’s arrogance than his decision to send Africa News 24-7 a letter via his attorneys in which he demands the story be pulled down. He further demands that Africa News 24-7 issue an unconditional apology and give a written undertaking “that you will desist from publishing any further defamatory articles and media statements regarding our client and his family”. I do from time to time take calls from politicians who my publication intends writing stories about. I always tell them the same story – that I do not interfere with my team’s editorial independence. However, out of respect, I do take their calls. This is the same respect I accorded Radebe, who sadly mistook my listening to him as a sign of weakness.
What’s strange about the letter from Radebe’s lawyers is how most of it is dedicated to answering questions from our journalist, something they failed to advise their client to do before the story was published. Nowhere in their letter do Radebe’s lawyer touch on whether their client is the father of the woman’s daughter. This is also something deliberately ignored by Radebe and his sympathisers. Of all his demands, the most bizarre is the demand to “give a written undertaking that you will desist from publishing any further defamatory articles” about Radebe.
The lawyers also accused us of breaking the law by publishing names of a couple going through a divorce. They conveniently forgot the matter of a divorce between Radebe and his estranged wife was already in the public domain after Radebe himself told a Botswana-based publication that he was going through a divorce for which he blamed former Botswana former president Ian Khama who he claimed in a newspaper article that he was suing. This story went viral in SA.
I have bad news for Radebe and his lawyers whose attempt to gag us will not succeed. This is nothing but a shameless attempt by a desperate politician to deny us the right to gather and disseminate news without fear or favour. We will never be intimidated and neither will we succumb to the pressure of a politician intoxicated with power who thinks he’s untouchable.
The story we’ve published will under no circumstances be removed from our website because Radebe and his baby mama were given ample time to respond to the questions but deliberately chose to ignore stating their side of their story. I want to make it clear to Radebe, his sympathisers and his lawyers that my platform, which is an alternative voice, has never, and will never publish defamatory articles on anyone.
We will spend every resource available to vigorously defend our right to inform the public objectively and truthfully. I want to make it categorically clear that we shall never be intimidated by lawyers. As a demonstration to our commitment to practise ethical journalism, we will, even at this late stage still publish responses from Radebe and his baby mama, should the couple so wish.