Over two weeks the Mail & Guardian in South Africa published two articles making allegations involving Moeletsi Mbeki, as chair of the non-profit think tank, Forum for Pubic Dialogue (FPD) and a survey of the attitudes of shop stewards in the ANC-aligned Congress of SA Trade Unions. For those who have read — and been confused — by the M&G articles and for those who may only have heard of the controversy, I, as a director of the FPD, wrote the following right of reply that was published in the M&G on February 8. I am distributing it in the interests of clarity.
RIGHT of REPLY (addressed to the Mail & Guardian):
Your stories over two weeks concerning the Forum for Public Dialogue (FPD) and its chairman, Moeletsi Mbeki, contain both unfounded allegations and muddled analysis. In the interests of clarity, I have demanded this right of reply.
There are two separate issues here: allegations about a “dirty” BEE deal involving Moeletsi Mbeki, who happens to be the chairman of the Forum for Public Dialogue, and a survey of Cosatu shop steward attitudes that the FPD commissioned the highly reputable Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE) to conduct.
The M&G chose to conflate the two issues on an extraordinarily tenuous basis, relying on the word of former employee who has a record of distorted reporting and a perhaps partial audio record of a single meeting or briefing at the FPD.
As the board noted last week in a statement you chose not to publish, the business dealings of Mr Mbeki or any other members of the FPD board, are their own affairs and, unless they impact on the work or image of the FPD, remain so. So far, there has been no evidence advanced of any impropriety on the part of Mr Mbeki and the board remains supportive of him as chairman.
Given the circumstances and the evident murk surrounding this situation, it called for careful investigation, something the M&G prides itself on. Instead, the M&G rushed into print, without consulting the CASE researchers or any members of the board apart from Mr Mbeki. And you went on to state as fact on a website video that the results of the shop steward survey had been “suppressed for political reasons”. The print edition stated that “Mbeki offered Cosatu a blank cheque to decide if and when the survey results would be made public”.
But it is clear that Cosatu has no say in this matter and Moeletsi Mbeki, although chairman, is only one member of the FPD board that commissioned CASE. Yet your reporter did not bother to contact either CASE or any board member other than Mr Mbeki before rushing into print. In so doing, she impugned the integrity of both the CASE researchers and the FPD board members, none of whom, I am sure, would tolerate any interference with the results or the timing of the release of the survey.
In the process, your initial report further distorted the existing distortions about the preliminary findings of the survey. The initial distortions arose when an unauthorised Press release was issued on December 10 under the name of the former FPD CEO, Prince Mashele. This was just four hours before Cosatu was scheduled to be briefed on the preliminary survey findings by CASE.
Mashele’s release announced a media briefing and stated that Cosatu shop stewards “have no confidence in the SACP and want Cosatu to form a labour party”. Even more critically, given the proximity of the ANC elective conference at Mangaung, the statement maintained that “the majority of shop stewards do not support Jacob Zuma’s re-election for the position of president of the ANC” and “…are divided between Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe”.
Understandably, the announced media conference was cancelled and the board demanded an explanation from Mashele. This was never given and he resigned, including in his resignation letter, passed on to the M&G, allegations about “dirty” deals involving Moeletsi Mbeki and Numsa.
Then, in the M&G, the initial distortion about the ANC presidential contest became: “….shop stewards surveyed did not support Jacob Zuma’s re-election as ANC president, preferring instead his former deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe”. This statement is entirely contrary to the data to date. So becomes imperative to reveal that in the preliminary results of the study, as provided to the board and to Cosatu, the shop stewards, given an open-ended choice of who should lead the ANC, listed a range of preferences, headed by Zuma and followed by Motlanthe.
For the record, the preliminary results show that Jacob Zuma received the highest number of votes for president of the ANC. They also show that the SACP seems to have considerably more potential electoral support than its relatively modest membership among shop stewards might indicate. and that the ANC appears to have held onto its strong support since the last such survey in 1991. The appreciable majority in favour of nationalisation was also exceeded by a somewhat larger majority in favour of state regulation.
But it is not the survey — important and nuanced as it is — that concerned the M&G. It is the allegation, in the absence of any apparent evidence, that Moeletsi Mbeki and/or Cosatu were able somehow to suppress the results of an incomplete study, not only for “political reasons” but to further Mbeki’s business interests.
This allegation, quite apart from anything else, reveals a complete misunderstanding of the relationship between shopfloor workers, shop stewards and union investment companies. That Numsa shop stewards, a minority among more than 2 000 in the CASE Cosatu survey should be singled out, can only be seen as innuendo.
On the basis of the available evidence, so far as it concerns the survey and the FPD, it would appear that the M&G and its reporter have been used to further personal or political agendas. The effect has been to raise doubts about an extremely important piece of social research, to impugn the integrity of CASE researchers and members of the FPD board and to cause funders to retreat, so jeopardising the future existence of the FPD. This is both sad — and worrying.