Dr Motshekga vs Cape Times – Dismissed

Complainant: Dr Motshekga

Article: Black rulers’ whitewash of coloureds

Date:

Respondent: Cape Times

Dear Dr Motshekga

Your complaint about the column headlined Black rulers’ whitewash of coloureds (published on March 1, 2011) in the Cape Times newspaper refers.
You complain that the writer (Max Du Preez) made “racially disparaging claims on the coloured community” by claiming that, unlike other South Africans, coloured people have no roots and belonging.
You say that you find the following sentences particularly offensive: “This rootlessness of most coloured people, this sense they got over centuries of not belonging, is the only reason why gangsterism is so rife in that community. Gangsterism is almost always yearning for a tribe, an attempt to belong.”
From this, you deduce Du Preez suggested that:
·         most coloured people are criminals; and
·         because of their alleged “lack of belonging” or “roots” they turn to a life of crime for solace or for a sense of belonging.
This, you say, is “highly offensive” and portrays “the worst form of racial stereotype”. You add that no evidence can be produced “to support these derogatory and preposterous claims”.
You conclude that the column violates Art. 2.1 and 2.2 of the South African Press Code.
Firstly, I am going to take a look at the offensive sentences in isolation, after which I shall put them into context.
The sentences
You say Du Preez:
·         claimed that the coloureds “have” no roots and belonging. This is not correct – Du Preez never stated that as a fact; he rather pointed to the perception that coloureds have a sense of not belonging;
·         suggested that most coloureds are criminals. Again, this is not correct. Du Preez talks about the (sense of) “rootlessness (not the criminality) of most coloured people” (own emphasis). Also: As far as I know the statement that gangsterism is rife in the coloured community is factually correct. The reference to “rife”, however, does not necessarily suggest “majority”. I therefore do not believe that these two statements logically add up to your conclusion that the column portrays most coloured people to be criminals; and
·         incorrectly suggested that the coloureds’ “lack of belonging” or “roots” lead to a life of crime, adding that there is no evidence to support this claim. I have no research at my disposal that either supports or contradicts the writer’s statement. Neither did you supply me with evidence to support your argument. I must say I have found the writer’s statement that gangsterism is almost always a yearning to belong rather interesting and refreshing. In any event, it should be remembered that this is an opinion piece – the South African Constitution gives Du Preez a right to voice his opinion (as long as he is not propagating war, incites imminent violence or advocates hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion that constitutes incitement to cause harm). There is also nothing to suggest that Du Preez has breached the Press Code on this point.
In context
The column makes the point that, while the coloured community once was subjugated by white settlers, they are now, in the new dispensation, only half-liberated. Again, this is an opinion – which, to my knowledge, is shared by many people. In the whole, Du Preez is voicing his sympathy for the coloured community, which is a far cry from putting them in a bad light and racially stereotyping them.
Decision
In light of the above argumentation, I have decided to dismiss your complaint; I do not believe that it has reasonable grounds to succeed.
Appeal
You may apply for leave to appeal against this decision. Write to Judge Ralph Zulman, fully setting out the reasons for your application. He can be reached at khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.
Kind regards
Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman