Whatever the reasons, South Africa increasingly requires a new foreign policy category: the rogue democracy. Along with China and Russia, South Africa makes the United Nations impotent. Along with Saudi Arabia and Sudan, it undermines the global human rights movement. South Africa remains an example of freedom — while devaluing and undermining the freedom of others. It is the product of a conscience it does not display.

Michael GersonThe Despot’s Democracy 28/5/2008

Delivering the judgment for the SCA, Judge Malcolm Wallis said the government’s claim that it did not know al-Bashir was on Sudan’s presidential aircraft when it flew out of Waterkloof Airforce Base on 15 June last year was ‘risible’. Either the government itself or its lawyers had deliberately misled the High Court several times that day by telling it that al-Bashir was still in the country when it knew he had already left nearly four hours earlier, Wallis said. The government’s conduct was ‘disgraceful’ he added.

Peter FabriciusBreaking the law for Bashir 17/3/2016

Michael Gerson’s Washington Post column, ‘The Despot’s Democracy’, 14 years ago was prescient.

Since then, the ANC government has denied the Dalai Lama a visa to attend a Nobel peace conference in Cape Town in 2014 and, a year later, the Zuma government facilitated the escape from arrest of Omar al-Bashir. It was left to the Sudanese people to oust him in 2019 and, at the moment, he is incarcerated pending his trial for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

This came to mind on 2 March this year when the Despot’s Democracy, abstained from voting  in the United Nations General Assembly on a resolution condemning Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine.  Is it not unconscionable that, in a country where children are dying of malnutrition, a governing party which risibly promised ‘a better for life for all’, should not intervene in a situation which will massively increase the price of staple foods?

Yogas Nair, Independent Media’s Internal Ombud, claims that ‘accountability is sacrosanct’ at the company – but is that true?

The editor of the once-respected Pretoria News, Piet Rampedi (@mahasharampedi) apparently so admires one of the world’s most evil tyrants, that he uses the Twitter Handle ‘Mr Putin’ and the difference in the way that the newspaper company he works for covered one of the most significant events in Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the sinking of Russia’s Black Sea warship, the Moskova on 14 April, compared to the reporting of other newspaper companies is telling.

Type the word Moskva into the search bar of Iqbal Survé’s IOL online news portal (‘News that connects South Africans’) and what do you find?

Just two peripheral sentences but no photos of the stricken vessel nor a specific headline in a Reuters report highlighting claimed Russian successes in its attempts to reduce Kyiv to rubble.

One sentence in an article by a locally based Turkish journalist.

Ethical South African news companies such as News 24 and Times Live and Daily Maverick gave far greater and headlined coverage to the sinking of the Moskva, an event which was a major setback for Vladimir Putin whose unconscionable butchery of Ukraine has sparked global condemnation, invoked unprecedented sanctions, strengthened NATO and turned Russia into an international pariah to the increasing detriment of his country’s citizens, to Africa and to us.

Hundreds of Russian diplomats have been expelled from European cities, with the Russian ambassador to Poland experiencing a demonstration of the free world’s revulsion at Vladimir Putin’s warmongering.

What has been particularly striking is the way in which countries like Germany have abandoned a policy of neutrality and the way in which Sweden and Finland are applying for NATO membership as a consequence of Putin driving more than six million Ukrainian citizens into exile by deliberately targeting the civilian population with relentless air and ground attacks.

As the atrocities pile up, the horrifying impact of the Putin’s’ hegemonic war of aggression  on Ukrainian civilians is well documented in videos – see here  and here and here and here and here  and here and here and here  and in photographs, all part of more than 10 000 war crimes which include laying thousands of landmines to kill  and maim those citizens of Ukraine who might want to return to the wasteland that Vladimir Putin has bequeathed to them.

Abduction and murder

What is one to make of the abduction and murder of the mayor of Motyzhyn, Olga Sukhenko, and her husband and son whose tortured bodies were found, hands bound, in a shallow grave near their home which Russian soldiers had used as a temporary barracks?

For the Russian invaders of Ukraine, rape has become as routine as cold-blooded murder.

Nothing defines the pure, unalloyed evil of Vladimir Putin more than his decision to place the ‘Butcher of Syria’, Captain General Aleksandr Dvornikov, in charge of his unconscionable oppression of the Donbas region in Ukraine. Dvornikov’s specialty is the mass murder of civilians through the use of cluster bombs and phosphorus a war crime for which he was notorious in the Russian carpet bombing attacks on Allepo and Homs in Syria.

It took decades to rebuild the cities bombed to rubble in the Second World War and the citizens of a once-prospering Ukraine –  man, woman and child – will bear the scars of Vladimir Putin’s delusional megalomania until their last breath.

In countries where democracy thrives, it is considered imperative to recover the bodies of fallen soldiers so that they can be given a dignified burial in the company of those that loved them. Such is Vladimir Putin’s psychopathic lack of principle that Russia is refusing Ukraine’s offer to repatriate their thousands of dead soldiers for fear that this will negate the relentless state propaganda mythologising what was claimed would be a short and glorious ‘special military operation’ to ‘denazify’ a country with a democratically elected Jewish president.

The UN human rights office has described the way in which Russia has defiled the sovereignty of Ukraine and murdered its citizens as a ‘horror story of violations against civilians in which respect for international law has been tossed aside’.

Elvira Nabiullina, head of the Central bank of Russia, has told the Russian parliament that sanctions will see the economy stagnating next year.

It is not impossible that this and the negative consequences of the invasion for Russian citizens could see Putin ousted in a coup. What might play a role in this regard is the increasing volume of internet video content showing Russian soldiers being killed in Ukraine – see here and here and here and here.

The suspension of Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council after a General Assembly vote is the beginning of a process of reckoning and I have little doubt that Putin will ultimately be indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

That process has already started and other civilian murderers have already been identified.

Routinely murdered

What, then, makes Piet Rampedi so enamoured of a man who has brought death and destruction to millions of people that he decides to publicly couple his name on social media with that of one of the world’s most bestial and despised tyrants?  What makes  him want to link himself and by implication the newspaper he edits through such a self-created  association to a brutal despot who has caused suffering on a scale not experienced since World War II, a man whose political opponents are routinely murdered or imprisoned?

It is a question which might well arouse the curiosity of the victims of his SARS brothel reporting while at the Sunday Times, reporting which featured so strongly in the  Zondo report and was the subject of Anton Harber’s book So, for the Record – Behind the headlines in an era of State Capture.

Victims of Tom Moyane’s purge  which Rampedi’s reporting facilitated according to the Zondo report and which did such damage at SARS to people like…

  • Johann van Loggerenberg – Group Executive: Enforcement Investigations;
  • Adrian Lackay – Spokesman for SARS;
  • Ivan Pillay  – Acting Commissioner;
  • Peter Richer – Acting Chief Officer – Strategic Planning and Risk;
  • Gene Ravele – Chief Officer – Tax and Customs Enforcement Investigations.

Some might argue, given the seismic harm Piet Rampedi has done to the credibility of South African journalism through his collaboration with Tom Moyane and his ‘Tembisa Ten’ reporting, that the ‘Mr Putin’ Twitter handle is entirely appropriate. I would also argue, however, that Sekunjalo Independent Media’s attempts to downplay events like the sinking of the Moskva are not without precedent, as the company’s record proves.

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia – see here and here and here  – as in China, media freedom and freedom of expression are ruthlessly oppressed.

China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority in the north-western province of Xinjiang has been described as genocide .

The finding of genocide by the Uyghur Tribunal has not been published in the Sekunjalo Independent Media newspapers because Survé’s company is a paid propaganda outlet in South Africa for the government of China, something without precedent in our newspaper history and something that Paul Trewhela expressed concern about several years ago.

Trewhela’s concerns proved to be well-founded. When a freelance columnist for Independent Media, Azad Essa, submitted an article critical of China’s oppression of its Uyghur minority, his contract was terminated. This was seen as an assault on media freedom in Africa and a clear contradiction of Survé’s claim of non-interference in editorial matters, contradictory evidence which was made a matter of record, during the Mpati Commission hearings.

In his sworn testimony before this Commission, Iqbal Survé acknowledged that while he was not repaying the original civil servant pension fund loan which facilitated his purchase of the biggest group of English newspapers in the country – a default debt which has now ballooned to more than a billion rand – he is servicing the loans of his state-funded Chinese business partners.

Here are some of these propaganda articles – called ‘sponsored’ or ‘partnered’ content – which the beleaguered  and technically insolvent Sekunjalo Independent Media is paid to publish –  see here and here and  here and here and here  and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and  here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who watched the televised  ‘Project Wave’ testimony at the Zondo Commission which revealed that ANA (the former SAPA) a company linked to Iqbal Survé, was paid R20 million by Arthur Fraser from an SSA slush fund to provide positive publicity for the Zuma faction of the ANC which he supports.

No other South African media company has behaved, or is behaving in this ‘Project Wave’ way – which is so reminiscent of the ‘Stratcom’ era in our apartheid past.

You can decide for yourself whether all of this meets the definition of ethical journalism, a cornerstone of democracy.

For those seeking further insight and more information on a matter of justifiable public interest, I would recommend Paper Tiger – see  here and here and here – authored by former Sekunjalo Independent Media editors Alide Dasnois and Chris Whitfield.

[Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/13476480@N07/52063196853/]

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Ed Herbst is an author and veteran journalist.