Pastor Alph Lukau and Alleluia Ministries International vs City Press

Finding Complaint 4333

Date of article: 2 March 2019

Headline: Lukau’s allies turn against him

Page: 3

Online: yes

Author: Ntombizodwa Makhoba

Particulars

This ruling is based on a written complaint by Mr Sean Sim of Sim Attorneys representing Mr Alph Lukau, the pastor and leader of the Alleluia Ministries International (AMI) church, a written response from City Press’s executive editor, Mr Dumisane Lubisi, and Mr Sim’s response to that, as well as additional documentation, interviews with the reporter, Ms Ntombizodwa Makhoba and her editor Mr Lubisi, Mr Sean Sim, and with various confidential sources cited in the newspaper article.

  1. Complaint

1.1 Mr Sim, representing Mr Lukau, complains about a story published in City Press on 3 March 2019 (and the online version published on the evening of the 2 March), headlined “Lukau’s allies turn against him.”

1.2 In summary, he complains that City Press published “serious and malicious” allegations, largely based on anonymous sources. These included that Mr Lukau faced a charge of “sexual assault”, that former church members claimed they were involved in “staging miracles”; that former church leaders complained they were “forced to buy a white face cloth from the church for R3 000”, that luxury cars were hired for the pastor; and that in church he was accompanied by armed guards.

1.3 He complains on several grounds that City Press transgressed the Press Code.

He says many of the allegations in the article were “malicious and damaging”, especially one claiming there was a “sexual assault” charge against Mr Lukau that police were investigating: that there were “sensationalised and untrue statements” in the online version of the article, including that “bodyguards” were “armed” in the church, and that he was the man “whose fake resurrection of a congregant went viral this week.”

1.4 He also complains that the article was one-sided, biased and “promoted xenophobia”, as the article claims that he’d facilitated “marriage” between South African women and Congolese men “so as to give them South African citizenship”.

1.5 The headline, “Lukau’s allies turn against him”, was misleading, as was the sub-head: “More allegations of fake miracles levelled at ‘resurrection’ pastor as police probe sexual assault claims”.  Also, the photograph of Mr Lukau was accompanied by a caption which read: “SNAKE OIL SALESMAN religious entrepreneur Alph Lukau.”

1.6 A major part of the complaint is that neither the lawyer, Mr Sim, nor Mr Lukau were given an adequate chance to respond to the allegations; furthermore, not all the allegations were put to them in the conversation that did take place just before the City Press deadline.

1.7 He also complains that City Press plagiarised a sentence from an eNCA broadcast from 21 September 2016.

1.8 The relevant clauses of the Press Code that they complain have been transgressed are:

1.1 take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly;

1.2 present news in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarisation;

1.3 present only what may reasonably be true as fact; opinions, allegations, rumours or suppositions shall be presented clearly as such;

1.4 obtain news legally, honestly and fairly, unless public interest dictates otherwise;

1.5 use personal information for the journalistic purposes only;

1.7 verify the accuracy of doubtful information, if practicable; if not, this shall be stated;

1.8 seek, if practicable, the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication, except when they might be prevented from reporting, or evidence destroyed, or sources intimidated. Such a subject should be afforded reasonable time to respond; if unable to obtain comment, this shall be stated;

1.9 state where a report is based on limited information, and supplement it once new information becomes available

1.13 Journalists shall not plagiarise

5.1. Except where strictly relevant…and ..in the public interest…the media shall avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people’s race, gender…ethic or social origin, colour…religion, conscience, belief, culture, language, birth or other status..

10.1 Headlines and captions to pictures shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report or picture in question.

  1. The text

2.1 Under the headline, “Lukau’s allies turn against him”, City Press published an article on 3rd March, 2019. The sub-head or “blurb” was “More allegations of fake miracles levelled at ‘resurrection’ pastor as police probe sexual assault claims.”

2.2 The article was published online on the evening of Saturday 2nd March, 2019

2.3 The introduction reads: “Angry former members of the Alleluia Ministries International Church are determined to expose controversial pastor Alph Lukau, whose fake resurrection of a congregant went viral this week.

“Enough is enough. I have been quiet for seven years and it’s about time the truth comes out,” one former church leader told City Press.

The article goes on to say that three former church members “who now fear for their safety” claimed they were involved in staging miracles”.

2.4 The article recounts how “controversial” fellow pastor Paseka Motsoeneng laid a fraud charge against Mr Lukau. It also adds that the paper has “reliably learnt that police are also investigating allegations of sexual assault against Lukau.”

It says a police officer at a “station in northern Johannesburg confirmed to City Press that Lukau was a possible suspect in the investigation, but the officer could not provide further details.”

It also quotes police spokesperson Mavela Masondo confirming that “cases of fraud” had been opened against Lukau at three police stations: Bramley, Jeppe and Sandton. However, he could neither confirm nor deny sexual assault charges.

2.5 It then quotes Lukau denying all the allegations. “My heart is bleeding right now. I am shocked and sad. And I am very disappointed. This is ridiculous….I am happily married. I have been married for 17 years. I am not aware of these allegations or any investigations against me. Honestly everyone is trying to ruin my image.”

It then quotes his lawyer “Sean Deans” (sic), saying he is not aware of any sexual harassment or other pending charges against Mr Lukau.

2.6 It quotes a “former church leader”, who had been with the church for seven years saying he left after he was exposed to  “ungodly” and “fraudulent” behaviour.

He says he was “scared for [his] family and life,” and that Mr Lukau “and his people are very powerful and dangerous”.

He cites an incident where leaders were “forced to buy a white face cloth from the church for protection. It cost R3000.”

He describes a “covenant” that involved a “commitment to secrecy”, and reiterates how scared the leaders are of him, describing him as “very controlling”.

2.7 It cites another source, saying he is “surrounded by armed bodyguards even during church services.”

2.8 The “former church leader” and a “former congregant” who used to work at the church’s Adonai TV station claim church leaders kept a list of single men and women in the church and says many single South African women were “paired with Congolese men so as to give them South African citizenship”.

This leader also claimed luxury cars were hired to give the impression that they were a “surprise gift” for Mr Lukau.

2.9 The former TV crew member also alleged Mr Lukau would ask them to “stage ‘miracles’…and make them appear believable.”

2.10 The article references a 2016 incident when Mr Lukau allegedly promised single women a “marriage miracle” by “anointing” their ring fingers, and claims attendees paid between R450 to R50000 for a ticket to the event.

2.11 It then goes on to sketch some of Mr Lukau’s background: he had come to Johannesburg from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2007, and worked at an investment firm before starting the church.

2.12 It then quotes Mr Lukau again saying he was “blindsided” by the allegations and refuted “each and every one of the questions” that City Press had sent him, including that he faked miracles.

He said an outside TV company was contracted to film the services and there was no “faking of miracles”

He also said that “as a church we don’t own guns”.

  1. The arguments

The complainant

3.1 One of the major contentions of Mr Sim, who represents Mr Lukau, is the inadequate time given for a response to what were serious allegations.

He says at 16h26 on Saturday 2nd March he received an SMS from the City Press reporter, Ms Ntombizodwa Makhoba, which read: “Hi, its Ntombi from City press newspaper. I am following up on an email I sent you.”

The email in question had originally been sent to an address: info@simattorneys.co.za at 12h26. It was then re-sent to Mr Sim’s personal address at 16h00

The “info” address could only be accessed during office hours and this was a Saturday afternoon.

3.2 Mr Sim opened the 16h00 email just after 17h00, read the list of questions and allegations, called Ms Makhoba and said it was unacceptable to expect a response from Mr Lukau at such short notice.

Her email had asked him to respond before 5pm, saying the paper “was only made aware of these allegations last night.

3.3 Allegations in the email included:

  • Three former AMI members alleging the church was a “cult” and they spent three days in the bush where they claim they were brainwashed.
  • The allegation that church leaders had to buy a R3000 white cloth for protection
  • That bodyguards were armed during services
  • That two church members had claimed that “Lukau consults wizards for powers, they make sure they have sex daily up to 5 or 7 times to feed the demons of lust that operates within them. Is this true?
  • That Mr Lukau had “slept with a very young girl, 16 or so..” and in the end a “settlement” was reached with her mother. Also, that his wife had tried to leave him
  • That Mr Lukau has a list of single women he “keeps for himself” and that “most single South African women were paired with Congolese”
  • A sexual harassment charge (sic) had been opened at the Bramley police station
  • The church hired luxury cars for the pastor, and claimed they were gifts.
  • Miracles were “staged” as claimed by the woman who used to work at Adonai TV

3.4 Mr Sim had two telephone conversations with the reporter. In the second he indicated that the time given to them was not sufficient to respond to such an array of allegations.

He was joined by Mr Lukau in one call. Mr Lukau denied the allegations saying they were made with “malicious intent”.

He said the church had been in existence for 17 years and that the allegations were “farfetched and bizarre”.

According to Mr Sim, Ms Makhoba indicated that some allegations made by her sources were “simply too bizarre” to be included for comment

Mr Lukau urged her to ask his congregants about any of the allegations and “offered factual reasons to demonstrate as to why the allegations relating to, for example, Adonai (TV station) were not true.”

3.5 At 18h11, Ms Makhoba sent Mr Sim an SMS saying: “I have included the pastor’s comments in the story.”

Mr Sim responded by ”demanding” that you do not publish these “malicious and baseless allegations. You have been advised that they are false.”

He threatened to “prosecute…to the full extent of the law” all those complicit in spreading these allegations

3.6 He urged her to “reconsider” and offered her an interview with Mr Lukau on the Monday “so that these baseless allegations can be demonstrated for what they are, nothing but malicious.”

Ms Makhoba responded thus: “Thanks for the offer, we are going ahead with story and we can do a follow-up story Tuesday with Mr Lukau. We don’t work on Mondays….I got my instructions from my seniors.”

3.7 Mr Sim says given the damaging nature of the allegations, and the inaccuracies, as well as the significant damage they would cause plus the lack of time afforded to Mr Lukau to respond, he was instructed to approach the Court on an urgent basis to interdict publication of the article.

He then tried to contact Ms Makhoba several times but her phone was diverted to voicemail; he also sent three SMSs

He also tried to call the numbers on City Press’ website and the numbers on the email. But the phones went unanswered except for one that was answered by a security guard.

He also sent an email to the editor of City Press, Mr Mondli Makhanya, informing him of their intent to interdict the publication.

3.8 At 20h12, Mr Sim received an SMS from Ms Makhoba asking him to call her editor “Nicki” with a phone number and added “My batter(sic) died.”

On being unable to reach Nicki, Ms Makhoba provided him with the number of the executive editor, Mr Dumisane Lubisi. He informed Mr Lubisi at about 20h16 of the intention to interdict publication, but Mr Lubisi told him the story had already been printed. He also confirmed with an SMS that the newspaper was printed at 7pm and published on its online platform. “It’s too late”.

3.9 Mr Sim argues there can be “no doubt” that Mr Lukau was not afforded a proper opportunity to respond to “serious and malicious” allegations.

There was no reason why City Press could not hold over publication until an interview with Mr Lukau had been conducted.

 

3.10 Ms Makhoba had misled them when she stated the article was due for publication on Sunday 3rd March when in fact it was published online that evening, the 2nd March.

City Press was completely uncontactable from 18h42 to 20h12 on that evening.

Further it did not even “attempt” to do the “follow up” article, which Ms Makhoba had promised.

3.11 He claims City Press’ conduct “makes a mockery of the Press Code.”

3.12 He says not all the allegations printed in the article had been put to him or Mr Lukau for comment (as stated by Ms Makhoba) as they were “just too bizarre and farfetched”. Although this spoke to the credibility of its anonymous sources, City Press nonetheless went ahead and published some of the “fabricated” allegations

Mr Sim says City Press should have sought confirmation that the individuals who claimed to be or had been members of the AMI were in fact members.

Mr Lukau would have been able to show that each allegation was false and malicious had he been given an opportunity to do so

3.13 The allegation printed in the article that police were investigating a charge of “sexual assault” against Mr Lukau was never put to him; instead the email sent to him by the reporter used the term “sexual harassment”. Further, there was no evidence of such a case being opened at Bramley police station and the police spokesperson did not confirm this. “The questions posed by Ms Makhoba to our clients now appear to have contained an untrue statement”, and this showed that news was not collected “legally and honestly.”

3.14 City Press disregarded a media statement published on AMI’s social media platforms denying that he had ever claimed to have resurrected a man “and in particular not a congregant”. On the contrary, the online article refers to Mr Lukau as the man “whose fake resurrection of a congregant went viral this week.”

3.15 The allegation that there are “guns in the house of the Lord” was hearsay and not verified.

3.16 The article also contained “xenophobic” undertones with its reference to South African women “paired with Congolese men to give them South African citizenship.”

The article’s reference to “lies”, “staged miracles” and a statement that Mr Lukau “wants to be God” demonstrate a disregard for his “dignity, reputation and religious beliefs.”

3.17 It was written in a “biased manner”.

3.18 Mr Sim also says the statement in the article, “he said all he needed to do was to anoint their ring finger and Mr Right would appear within 90 days,” was not only factually incorrect but was plagiarised from an eNCA article published online on 21st September, 2019, which reads: “He said all he needed to do was to anoint their ring fingers and Mr Right would appear. In 90 days.”

3.19 The sub-head:  “More allegations of fake miracles levelled at ‘resurrection’ pastor as police probe sexual assault claims” breached the code as it was misleading.

The caption to the photograph reads: “SNAKE OIL SALESMAN religious entrepreneur Alph Lukau.”

3.20 The effects of the publication have been “devastating”, causing Mr Lukau to suffer “reputational damage and harm” and being subjected to “ridicule, scorn, threats of violence and xenophobic comments.”

His wife and family have also been “severely traumatised” by the allegations particularly the one referring to “sexual assault”.

And the “AMI spiritual family” has been subjected to ‘ridicule and scorn.”

3.21 Mr Lukau asks for a written retraction of the article and an apology to be published on the front page of City Press.

City Press

3.22 City Press’ executive editor, in reply, sketched the context of the story: it was published on the Sunday after “most media outlets” had reported about the resurrection of a “dead” person allegedly by Mr Lukau at his church. There had been a criminal case lodged against him. The story was topical and City Press tried to dig deeper.

3.23 The reporter traced four people who spoke to City Press on condition of anonymity because they said they feared for their lives. Three were former members of the AMI church, and two had worked for the church. Two were spoken to in person, the other two “through social media platforms” and calls.

He says the article “sought to present the side of the church which was unknown to the public”. There had been little media coverage of the church until the “resurrection” went viral. The sources told them how leaders had to pay for a “white face cloth” for “protection”, how they were “made to stage miracles” for the TV cameras, and how they hired luxury vehicles for the pastor.

3.24 The allegations were put to Mr Lukau in writing and he answered these during the interview with the reporter. The offer of an “exclusive interview” came when he realised City Press was going ahead with the story in an attempt to persuade it to hold the article. Only after that did he seek to interdict the publication.

3.25 The paper conceded that it was only on Friday March 1st, after having done four interviews, that it made attempts to contact the church. The contact details found online was of a “single number”. The woman who answered claimed not to be associated with the church.

It was only on Saturday, 2nd March that City Press managed to track down the church spokesperson, “Busi” (believed to be Busi Gaca) who asked for questions to be sent. She indicated that Mr Lukau’s lawyers would respond but refused to provide the contact details. She said the paper should check the church’s Facebook page, and it was there that the paper got the contact details: info@simattorneys.co.za” “This was clearly a general office email.

3.26 Several more calls to Busi were not answered and the paper “eventually” found the numbers of Mr Sim. Messages and calls were at first not answered, and then the paper found a contact number for Mr Lukau “and informed him of our frustrations to get responses to the questions we had sent”

Only after speaking to Mr Lukau did Mr Sim return phone calls. My Lukau “did not indicate his frustration about being contacted late for a response but told City Press not to worry that Mr Sim was going to respond.”

When Mr Sim called he had Mr Lukau on the line and he “gave his response to the questions that were posed.”

3.27 Later, after 6pm, Mr Sim sent a message requesting the paper hold the story as it was “’baseless and malicious’ but the request was turned down…Our reporter’s phone battery died on her way home and  [she] was unreachable until later.”

Subjects of critical reportage often try to dissuade media from publishing. “When the offer for an interview was turned down, Mr Lukau realised that the publication was imminent and then tried to interdict which attempt he failed to carry out on his own accord. Mr Sim declined an offer to make contact with our lawyers when he called Mr Lubisi about the interdict.”

3.28 It is true that Mr Lukau denied all the allegations and his comment – “I am happily married, I have been married for 17 years. I am not aware of these allegation or any investigations against me. Honestly, everyone is trying to ruin my image”  – was included in the story.

It is also true that Mr Lukau indicated the allegations were “farfetched and bizarre” but City Press denies they were. “Only allegations that City Press had independently verified were put through to Mr Lukau for his response….Mr Lukau indeed gave us his response and denied the allegations.”

City Press also acknowledges that church members, according to its sources, would deny “that anything wrong was happening in the church because they are afraid to expose the man of God whom they refer to as ‘daddy’.”

The claims that miracles were staged was made by a “whistle-blower” who had worked at Adonai TV (the church TV service).

Mr Lukau’s denial did not mean the allegations had no “truthfulness”: they were made by four independent sources who had worked at the church.

3.29 If Mr Sim had wanted to serve an application for an urgent interdict he could have served them on the Editor’s email address (and the physical address which he had been advised of).

3.30 City Press disputes that inadequate time was given to Mr Lukau to respond. It did so at the earliest possible time after speaking to four sources and “verifying” the information. Busi, the spokesperson, despite several calls, refused to give the reporter Mr Sim’s contact details. Initial calls to him, once they had traced the cellphone number, were not returned. It was only when they managed to contact Mr Lukau that he returned calls, and then a conference call was arranged between the paper, Mr Lukau and Mr Sim.

3.31 The story was in the public interest following the “resurrection”. The offer of an interview was not “good enough reason” to hold off publication and in any event, he had already responded to the allegations and his comments included in the paper.

City Press routinely publishes articles on its online platform the night before the paper comes out.

3.32 The offer to do a “follow-up” article was in response to the offer of an interview on condition the paper did not publish its story that week. “When his request was rejected, Mr Sim sought to interdict the paper but failed to do so.” In addition to having Mr Makhanya’s email address, Mr Lubisi offered Mr Sim direct contact with City Press’ attorneys but the offer was refused.

3.33 City Press took care to report the story as “truthfully, accurately and fairly as possible”; those tasked with responding to media queries “took their time and failed to answer repeated calls from City Press.”

The reporter behaved professionally when she did not “just sit down and wait for a response to come when Busi failed to respond as promised.” Busi also refused to direct City Press on how to reach Mr Sim.

City Press corroborated the information received with other sources. The sources were interviewed separately

3.34 However, City Press admits that it put an allegation of “sexual harassment” to Mr Lukau, while the article actually mentioned “sexual assault.” The charge reported to the police was also apparently of “sexual harassment”. The paper admits this was an error “which can easily be fixed.”

A former church leader confirmed what the police spokesperson had said that a charge of ‘sexual harassment” was being investigated. However he also said “some of the young women allegedly harassed by Mr Lukau had since dropped the charges because they were threatened.”

3.35 The newspaper did not use the church’s media statement about the alleged resurrection because the story was not about that.

However, the paper cited “video evidence” of the “alleged miracle” querying Mr Lukau’s denial that he (and not a higher power) “resurrected” the man.

3.36 Two former “protocols” (bodyguards) had told City Press they carried guns in church, and a third source and his wife “were threatened by Mr Lukau’s main protocol with a gun.” (note Mr Lukau through his lawyer has denied that such a term “protocol” exists in the church)

Two former leaders confirmed the pairing of South African women with Congolese men – although many of the marriages did not last.

The allegation that “Mr Lukau wanted to be God”, which Mr Sim argues is false and shows disregard for his “dignity, reputation and religious beliefs”, was made by a former church leader who said: “Lukau is very controlling. He is very hands-on in church – he wants to be a pastor, accountant and God at the same time. The leaders are scared of him. They worship him.”

The article was “balanced and fair and written in context”

 

3.37 On the plagiarism charge, City Press says it was repeated by “many other people”, and it was an “unintentional copying”.

3.38 The headline: “Lukau’s allies turn against him” is the “clearest description of what the body of the article contains.” The subhead or blurb: “More allegations of fake miracles levelled at ‘resurrection’ pastor as police probe sexual assault claims’ are ‘statements…truly reflected in the body of the article” Likewise, the caption captures what the story contains.

3.39 However, Mr Lubisi admits that Mr Lukau was asked about “sexual harassment” but the “article made mention of sexual assault – something which is completely different.” He says it was an error “which can be… easily fixed.”

3.30 The paper believes that it took “reasonable steps to ensure that what is reported is true or reasonably true.” The paper did not simply publish allegations but sought corroboration. “Information which we could not independently verify was left out for further investigation.” It also did not simply wait for a response from Busi (which did not come) but “went further and made other means to ensure that comment was received from Mr Lukau because we were mindful that the story would have an impact on his reputation”. All reasonable steps were taken to ensure comment.

Further arguments

3.31 In a lengthy response to City Press’s response, Mr Sim for Mr Lukau disputes the paper’s version of the events leading up to being contacted for a response. “The first formal contact that was made by City Press was in terms of the email addressed to busi@alleluiaministries.com and to info@simattorneys.co.za on Saturday 2nd March, 2019 at 12.26

 

3.32 Mr Sim says it is clearly not true, as City Press claimed, that when Busi (Gaca) was contacted she “took time” to respond to questions and indicated that Mr Lukau’s lawyer would but refused to provide the lawyer’s contact details. This is because the email of the 2nd March was sent to Ms Gaca and the attorneys at the same time. (the 12h16 email)

Furthermore, it is false that Mr Sim’s personal email address was not on the media statement.(This is true; it is at the end of the statement although there is also an “info” address for the church). It should not have been difficult to “track down” contact details

3.33 City Press’ claim that Mr Sim only returned calls after it had spoken to Mr Lukau is “false”; the “reality” was that an SMS was sent through to Mr Sim at 16h26 on 2nd  March from the reporter asking if he had received their email. After reading it at 17h00 he immediately called the reporter .

He then contacted Mr Lukau who joined in a call to City Press. It is false that the paper had first spoken to Mr Lukau.

This fabricated version is so bizarre that the City Press would have the Ombudsman believe that once the reporter had managed to contact Pastor Lukau (the very person who could answer the questions) that…[it] elected not to put the questions to Pastor Lukau but rather complained about the unavailability of Pastor Lukau’s representatives.”

3.34 If the paper only became aware of the allegations on the evening of Friday 1st March, it is “hardly indicative of the extensive and diligent evidence gathering exercise that City Press seeks to convey in its response.”

Furthermore, Ms (Busi) Gaca did not “act in an obstructive manner”, as evidenced by the fact that the 2nd March email was sent simultaneously to both her and the attorneys.

3.35 On the sources: Mr Sim contends that their number and who they were “remains an absolute and complete mystery.” Its response “only serves to heap further confusion and mystery onto what should have been capable of being crisply explained”

The sources quoted are: a former church leader, three other church members, a police officer in northern Johannesburg, another source, a former congregant, a TV crew member, an insider, a former colleague, and police spokesperson’ Mavela Masondo

In its response, City Press refers to four sources including three former members of the church”

They also refer to a “whistle-blower” who was part of the Adonai TV crew.

The sources are differently names as “former leaders”, “two former protocols”, “other sources” etc

3.36 However, the paper does not offer any “factual, substantiating or corroborating evidence in respect of the allegations from the alleged sources” indicating that it accepted their versions on face value and failed to verify the allegations. It fails to show they were credible. There is also no evidence (such as a pay slip) that two of the sources were former employees of the church.”

There is also no proof of interviews conducted over social media, as City Press claims.

Mr Sim claims that one of the sources must have been one, Mr Solomon Ashoms, as evidenced by: “A third source and his wife were threatened by Mr Lukau’s main protocol with a gun.”

If City Press had tried to verify the credibility of sources, it would have discovered that the AMI church has obtained a court order interdicting Mr Ashoms from making statements about the church, that he has issued an apology for “making baseless, false and malicious allegations” about it.

Mr Ashoms was in fact sentenced to 20-days imprisonment suspended for contempt of court in transgressing this interdict.

 

3.37 Mr Sim maintains that his client did not get a proper right of reply; their offer of an interview was “outright rejected”; it “deliberately deprived” them of their right to approach a Court for relief; the “limited reply” by Mr Lukau was “not recorded accurately” in the article,; and that the question posed was different from that reported in the article, specifically he was asked about an allegation of “sexual harassment”, not “sexual assault”.

 

3.38 Mr Sim suspects that the “late timing” in getting a response and City Press’ “subsequent unavailability” was to prevent them from bringing a Court application “a right protected in the Constitution.”.

By the time City Press was contactable again, the article had already been published online.

3.39 Mr Sim denies that City Press was offered an exclusive interview to dissuade it from publishing the article – it was not an exclusive offer and was intended, as the SMS said “so that these baseless allegations can be demonstrated for what they are nothing but malicious.”

City Press did not contact Mr Lukau nor Mr Sim on the Tuesday (when it was back at work) to arrange for a “follow-up” interview.

The next contact was only made on 22nd March in connection with another story about Mr Lukau which is the subject of a separate complaint to the Ombudsman. This could not be regarded as a “follow-up” article, as its purpose should have been to allow Mr Lukau a chance to comment on the allegations.

3.40 City Press had no intention of “digging deeper” or finding truth, as it claimed. “It’s true concern, as our client sees it, was the selling of newspapers not the pursuit of truth.”

Mr Sim denies that any allegations were “put to Pastor Lukau in writing”.

Even if the reporter’s battery had died, it did not explain the unavailability of “the entire City Press for almost two hours.”  “There is… a professional responsibility on newspaper and reporters who are working on a serious and urgent matter to ensure they are available…”

It is not acceptable that the paper’s fear of being “dissuaded” from using the article can be used as a justification for not speaking to Mr Sim.

City Press sent allegations without any evidence that they were verified, such as “Lukau consults wizards for powers and makes sure they have sex daily up to 5 or 7 times.” But the paper denied that the allegations put to Mr Lukau were “farfetched and bizarre”.

 

3.41 City Press published an article based on “hearsay” with a simple denial from Mr Lukau despite him having offered them an interview. Moreover, the paper afforded him “mere hours on a Saturday to respond to questions.”

The article was not time sensitive from a content perspective and reasonable time for reply could have been afforded. Also the offer of an interview could have been taken up. The offer was not made in bad faith to stymie publication

City Press made the decision to pass up the opportunity to write an article which included proper responses from our clients, in order to write a one-sided, uninformed and biased article”.

3.42 Mr Sim also denies that he refused to contact the paper’s attorneys.

 

3.43 The “mere mention of ethnicity” of Mr Lukau shows its “disregard for responsible reporting”.

 

3.44 Although the paper has acknowledged its mistake in using the term ‘sexual assault”: in the report when it had put the allegation of ‘sexual harassment” to Mr Lukau, its “flippant remark…that this is something that can be easily fixed..[shows]..it has no comprehension of the damage caused by irresponsible reporting.”

 

3.45 There is also no evidence the paper has provided to prove that such a case has indeed been  opened, such as a case number.

There is no evidence provided to show that bodyguards carried guns in the church.

3.46 The headline is not reflective of the truth as it relies on “two alleged, unconfirmed former employees of AMI who have made unfounded and baseless defamatory remarks”; it does not reflect Mr Lukau’s “allies” turning against him.

 

3.47 The article had “traumatised” Mr Lukau’s wife and children.

The paper’s conduct “and its dismal endeavours to justify its behaviour” are “extremely concerning and disappointing when measured by what is required by the Code.”

 

  1. Analysis

 

The complaint about this story was filed shortly before City Press ran another story about Mr Lukau and the AMI church, which contained more serious allegations. Thus much of the investigative work on both complaints was done simultaneously, although the findings are separate.

 

Sources

4.1 To ascertain what facts I could in both complaints, I asked the City Press reporter for a list of the sources (none of whom are named in the stories with the exception of the police spokesperson). She gave me a list of nine names, four of whom I managed to speak to and one whom I communicated with on WhatsApp. Two numbers did not work, and in two cases SMSs were returned undelivered.

It should be noted that all of those I spoke to were extremely fearful about the consequences of speaking about Mr Lukau. This already poses a difficulty, both for the newspaper in its story and for the Ombudsman. “If someone is murdered, it’s not going to look like he was murdered,” said one who was particularly fearful.

However, I did manage to check some of the quotes in the City Press story and those I spoke to confirmed the quotes in the story were a true reflection of what they had said.

One woman, who said she had worked in the church for 12 years, said she had seen many things which were not “godly”.

She also insisted that the “bodyguards” whom one of the City Press sources claimed were armed, were called “protocols”, although Mr Sim and Mr Lukau denied this.

 

4.2 On the alleged “resurrection”, which turned the public spotlight onto the church, she asked what had happened to the man who was allegedly “dead” then resurrected. Other newspapers reported the man had gone back to Zimbabwe and “disappeared”. The fact that she said to me “Something is not right” shows the level of fear among the sources that were contacted by the City Press and myself.

 

4.3 There is one possible source about whom the legal representatives of Mr Lukau were particularly concerned and that is a former editor of a Christian magazine, the Parable, one Solomon Izang Ashoms. Mr Ashoms, who is from Nigeria, has been a vocal critic of Mr Lukau and other so-called “charismatic church leaders. His vocal criticism resulted in Mr Lukau’s attorneys securing an interdict against him in February 2017 in the Gauteng High Court. [1]

Later that year, in November, Mr Solomon responded to a critical comment about Mr Lukau on Facebook, about people who gave money to rich pastors by referring to a verse in the Bible which states; “One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty.” [2]

For this, he was found to be in contempt of the court interdict and sentenced to a 20-day suspended sentence.[3]

Before this, Mr Solomon had been a vocal critic of Mr Lukau, among others, criticizing him not only on theological grounds but also because of alleged sexual misdemeanours, among other things.

In spite of the interdict, Mr Solomon gave an interview to Power FM in November 2017. He was originally scheduled to be on Metro FM but the interdict against him was delivered to the radio station, which then cancelled the interview.

In that interview he accuses the AMI of being a “cult” not a church, and also accuses AMI officials of intimidation, saying 12 members of the church had come to his house and threatened him, his wife and baby.

He also mentioned the service intended to “anoint the ring fingers” of women seeking marriage, a complaint reported in City Press and other platforms such as eNCA.

I mention Mr Solomon because Mr Sim expressed grave concern that City Press had relied heavily on him, and perhaps only on him, as its source.

 

4.4 However, I spoke to other sources who confirmed they had spoken to City Press and that what was reported was a true reflection of what they had conveyed. All of them told me they were former members of the church.

 

4.5 There are also numerous videos of church services, which the church itself produces, which show numerous incidents of people being “cured” by miracles – people in wheelchairs, on crutches, and in one instance, a woman who literally crawls to the alter as she claimed she could not walk and was jobless because her hairdresser had “bewitched” her (the Pastor “divines” the name of the hairdresser and says “she used witchcraft against you”). She is prostrate and helpless on the floor before being “made” to rise up. She ends up dancing.

In this century, it is hard to accept such events are not staged, as alleged by some of the sources. Moreover, a belief in witchcraft is not normally associated with modern-day Christianity.

Mr Sim proposed, in a meeting with me that the “cures” can be attributed to “belief.” “They believe that people are healed; they prayed for people and this is what has happened.”

 

Public interest

4.6 The story was published a week after the so-called “resurrection” of the Zimbabwean man in the AMI church service of February 24th 2019.08.22

The “resurrection” had gone viral on social media and was widely reported on in the days following.

This is relevant because City Press says the reason it was eager to get its story about the church into print that week was because of the newsworthiness of this event; in other words, they argue that they could not have held the story for another week because of the immediacy of the news about the church.

The event was filmed by the church’s own TV crew and put on its social media platforms.

4.7 It is also relevant because Mr Sim and the church hold a different view which they argue has not been given credence by the media.

Mr Sim at first argued that he believed Mr Lukau had been ‘set up” by the arrival of the coffin at the church. This is evidenced by the fact that the woman who appears to be the main prayer leader at the church, after calling the pastor to ‘come outside”, says “there is movement in the coffin.”.

Mr Sim also says the two “relatives” of the “dead” man had been in custody for alleged fraud charges for some months before this but the charges were withdrawn.

 

4.8 The church’s own video recording of the event shows a white hearse arriving, the woman prayer leader calling the pastor to come. When the coffin is offloaded from the hearse and opened, Mr Lukau walks around the coffin and says something that sounds like “Come Up Lazarus.”  He touches the man first; then he says, “look he is breathing. The man died since Friday”.

He then says: “Where is the media now?”

Mr Lukau asks for the family; one man identifies himself as the brother and a woman as the “landlord”, who tells him he was coughing, they took him to a doctor but “he did not have papers” so they sent him home and he died in her arms.

Mr Lukau then runs his hands above the body, apparently in prayer, while the woman prayer leader/MC shouts “Jesus”.

Mr Lukau invokes the congregation to make “a holy noise”, just before the man, then identified as Elliot Moyo (later as Brighton Moyo) sits up in the coffin looking startled.

As they walk back into the church, Mr Lukau tells the congregation: “He was in the morgue for two days…he was dead; he was, in the mortuary since Friday…the dead man is alive; the coffin is empty [4]

The empty coffin joins empty wheelchairs on the stage as earlier in the service, Mr Lukau had apparently invoked the power of God to exhort several apparently disabled people to walk and discard their wheelchairs and crutches

 

4.9 Early the next week, after several of the media had reported on this incident and it had gone viral on social media platforms, the AMI released a statement saying “Alleluia Ministries and Pastor Alph want to make it abundantly clear that they remain steadfast in their belief that through the power God people can not only be healed but they also certainly be resurrected from the dead.”

It also said: “At no stage did Pastor Alph claim that he had resurrected the person shown in the video…from the video footage it is clearly stated that when the mortuary vehicle arrived at the Church premises there was already movement in the coffin…prior to even praying over Elliot, Pastor Alph states that Elliot is in fact breathing.” (However, he  is clearly seen touching him before then)

 

4.10 In a church sermon a week later, Mr Lukau spoke about the “resurrection”, saying it was consistent with many Biblical stories: “We tell you nothing is impossible for God”. It was a shame that religious leaders (many of whom had been very critical) “distanced” themselves from a ‘miracle”- “angels are shaking their heads.”

He said he could not claim credit for the “resurrection” – “I had no hand in what happened [but] we were all here…”

He recounted how church leaders had noted the man breathing and then says: “Where is the scandal?…God anointed me for different matters but also anointed me to rectify things in the body of Christ.” (FN)

He also mentions that those who try to discredit him as a conman are doing the devil’s work: “Whoever is claiming that Pastor Alph is manipulating you is not in church, they are in the shebeens, going to slaughter, going to sleep with depression pills…”[5]

 

4.11 But whether it was a “set-up” (he was already breathing in the coffin), or a “miracle” (from God which the Pastor had no hand in), or whether the Pastor, as he told his congregation, is “anointed” by God, two things were clear: that the church had crossed a line for some, and that the “miracle” had evoked scrutiny and criticism, not only of the event but of past practices in the church.[6]

 

4.12 In this sense, news of the church was clearly topical and of significant public interest.

City Press indicated in its response a sense of urgency about the article, given that its reporter had tackled a different angle on the workings of the church.

 

Right of reply

 

4.13 Mr Sim mentioned the lack of adequate time to reply as a central objection.

He disputes City Press’s statement that Ms Gaca “was unhelpful in providing contact details for the lawyers

City Press says it began trying to make contact with the church spokesperson on the Friday 1st March.  The details of their failed and what it says were numerous attempts are above.

 

4.14 On Saturday 2nd March, City Press says it tracked down an email address for the lawyers (but only the “info” address), and only later the address for Mr Sim. It sent a long list of questions to the “info” address and to the church spokesperson Busi Gaca. It is odd that Mr Sim complains he did not get the questions in writing, when he himself has provided the list of questions to me, albeit he accessed the email only at 17h00.

 

4.15 City Press says it was only after they tracked down Mr Lukau’s number and spoke to him that Mr Sim returned the call; and in fact, they had a conference call.

The reporter found a number for Mr Lukau and then Mr Sim returned the calls.

 

4.16 It is surprising that the reporter did not try to make an arrangement for a proper interview with Mr Lukau once she had him on the phone – or done it there and then.

By this time, with the correct address, Ms Makhoba had sent a detailed list of questions to Mr Sim and Mr Lukau.

City Press does not adequately explain why the email was only forwarded three and half hours later as the correct email address is on the media statement.

An SMS was sent through to Mr Sim’s cell number at 16h26 referring to the email. At the time, he told me, he was in a movie with his family. He replied as soon as he could, he says, at 17h00. Mr Sim says it is false that City Press had spoken to Mr Lukau prior to this call and to the subsequent call he organized with Mr Lukau on the line.

It does beg the question of why the reporter did not speak to Mr Lukau as soon as she had gotten hold of him.

 

4.17 The relevant email contained a lengthy list of questions, some of which were indeed “bizarre and far-fetched”, such as the claim about the “wizards” Mr Lukau consults “for powers, that make sure they have sex daily up to 5 or 7 times to feed the demon of lust that operates within them. Is this true?”

There was also a question of whether “he had slept with a very young girls, 16 or so”, and another asking whether he was facing “sexual harassment charges and the case was opened at Bramley police station.”

Other questions concerned the “fake miracles” that were staged for his internal TV crew to film.

May you please respond by 5pm”, she asked in the email.

By the time they actually spoke, the 5pm deadline had passed.

In the conversation with Mr Lukau, Mr Sim and the reporter, Mr Lukau denied all the allegations, stated the AMI had been in existence for 17 years, highlighted “the farfetched and bizarre nature of the allegations which was certainly evidence they were contrived and made with the malicious intent”

At 18h11, Ms Makhoba sent Mr Sim an SMS saying she had included the pastor’s comments in the story.

 

4.18 Mr Sim responded by “demanding”  that the paper “not publish these baseless, malicious and reckless allegations.”: He said they held “instructions to ensure that all those complicit in spreading these baseless, malicious and damaging allegations will be held accountable and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Instead he offered her an interview with Mr Lukau on the Monday, to which Ms Makhoba replied: “Thanks for the offer, we are going ahead with story and we can do a follow up story Tuesday with Mr Lukau. We don’t work on Mondays…I got instructions from my seniors.”

Mr Sim then tried to get hold of City Press, as detailed above, to bring an interdict against the paper. As it happened the story was already online.

Further, there was no attempt by City press to do a “follow-up” article even on the Tuesday.

 

4.19 The Press Code states that the media shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication, with certain exceptions. One is where the newspaper “has reasonable grounds for believing that by doing so it would be prevented from reporting.”

 

4.20 City Press did not advance this argument. Its argument was rather the newsworthiness and thus urgency of the story in the light of the “resurrection” the week before.

It is now clear that had they waited the paper may have been subject to an interdict. The effective silencing of Mr Solomon for comments that may or may not have been defamatory show the litigiousness of the church towards its critics.

Yet, it showed, in my view, a considerable lack of professionalism to decline an interview based on the fact that “We don’t work on Mondays.”  Most journalists offered a one-on-one interview with a highly newsworthy and controversial subject would have jumped at the chance and re-arranged their schedule accordingly.

It would also have given the reporter a chance to firm up details. Some of the sources were indeed credible, and there is certainly a story about fear and intimidation experienced by former church members; there is also of course the larger story about how these “miracles” actually happen. The SABC did an extensive investigation centered around interviews with people (who are named) who were allegedly paid to feign illness so that Mr Lukau could “heal” them through invoking “miracles.”[7]

 

4.21 In my view, the story although it was newsworthy, would have been enhanced if they had waited and the offer of an interview taken up.

This was especially so in the light of some of the more bizarre allegations that – if true – required a lot more verification before being put to him.

 

4.22 More pertinently, the allegation of “sexual assault” was never put to him.

This City Press admits this and has offered to apologise for this.

 

4.23 It is surprising that the list of questions which ranged from the vague to the specific to the bizarre passed editorial oversight.

 

Headline and caption

 

4.24 The headline, “Lukau’s allies turn against him”, accurately reflects the credible sources in the story – former church members – who have left the church.

The sub-head though is misleading. “More allegations of fake miracles levelled at ‘resurrection ‘pastor as police probe sexual assault claims.”

 

4.25 The allegation of “sexual assault” was never put to him in the list of questions the reporter sent. The police spokesperson confirmed that charges of fraud had been opened against Mr Lukau but he would not confirm or deny charges of sexual assault. The charge of “sexual harassment” was put to him.

The story was clearly written in a hurry – perhaps this is where the mistake came from. This is evidenced in two spelling errors of names (Sean Deans for Sean Sims and Lekau for Lukau).

 

4.26 The caption alongside his picture “Snake Oil Salesman, religious entrepreneur“ is not in the online edition but only in the print edition. This is a value judgment; “snake oil salesman” is a cliché used to denote one who promises fake cures. Had it had a question mark, the caption would have passed muster.

 

Plagiarism

 

4.27 City Press has admitted that its sentence about the marriage controversy was almost the same as eNCA’s. It may have been inadvertent but nonetheless it should apologise for this.

 

 

 

  1. Finding

 

5.1 City Press took care to speak to a number of sources, five of whom I spoke to for this and the story which is the subject of Complaint 4331. These went far beyond Mr Solomon’s well-known criticisms of the church, for which he was interdicted.

I am satisfied that it took care to report the news as truthfully and accurately as possible.

The reporter explains that the sources feared for their lives; those I spoke to confirmed this. Thus it is reasonable that they not be named.

 

5.2 However, in terms of clauses 1.2,1.8,1.13 and 10.1 of the Code, the paper is found wanting.

The sub-head that refers to “sexual assault” and the line in the article that refers to this was not put to Mr Lukau or his lawyer.  This is a “material omission” in terms of 1.2 of the Code. It also transgresses clause 10.1 of the code stating that headlines shall give a “reasonable reflection” of the story.

 

5.3 In terms of clause 1.8, I am not satisfied that even though the reporter says she began trying to make contact with the church on the Friday afternoon and only managed to secure comments late on Saturday that this is adequate. This was an important and newsworthy story and greater effort should have been made to contact the church more timeously. The off-hand “We don’t work on Mondays’” reply to an offer for an interview was unprofessional.

 

5.4 On 1.13, the clause that deals with plagiarism, I accept this may have been inadvertent, but nonetheless, greater care should have been taken to avoid this.

 

5.5 There is no indication that the description of Mr Lukau as being from the DRC is simply a statement of fact. This part of the complaint is dismissed.

 

5.6 On all the other clauses, I am satisfied that the news reported is “reasonably true” given the evidence of the sources and the church’s own video.

These parts of the complaint are dismissed.

 

5.7 Seriousness of breaches: The plagiarism that occurred was minor and may have been inadvertent. This is a Tier 1 offence. The lack of adequate right of reply and the use of the term “sexual assault” in the sub-head and article without these having been put to Mr Lukau is a Tier 2 offence.

 

5.8 City Press is directed to apologize to Lukau for its sub-head and the sentence in the article for using the word “sexual assault”, when this was not put to him.

It should also apologise for not allowing him sufficient time to respond adequately.

The sentence about “marriage miracle” should have been attributed to eNCA but I believe this was an inadvertent slip so no apology is necessary.

 

 

Appeal

 

The Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

 

Pippa Green

Press Ombudsman

August 27, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Mabesele, J: Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg, Case No: 41918/17

[2] From Proverbs 22:16; there are several variations of this depending on what version of the Bible is used.

[3] Victor, J: Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg, Case No: 3478/17

[4] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHx6LCM5h1o between about 2.08 and 2.11

[5] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtMYTsEDnhU

[6] See too an SABC News documentary on “fake miracles” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0lvU7NIhXk&feature=youtu.be . The BCCSA has ruled in favour of the SABC after a complaint by the AMI.

[7] Ibid