Sonono Khoza vs Sunday World

Complainant: Sonono Khoza

Lodged by: C. Shapiro

Date: 11 November 2010

Respondent: Sunday World

Complaint
Ms Sonono Khoza complains about two stories in the Sunday World, published on September 5, 2010, and headlined:
  • Say ‘yes, yes’ says Sonono – Khoza’s daughter wants to wed Zuma first (page 2); and
  • Merry wives of Nkhandla (page 3).
With regards to the first story Khoza complains that:
  • the allegations made about her are untrue and defamatory; and
  • she was not contacted for comment prior to publication.
The second story: Although Khoza does not mention it in her initial complaint, she later says that she objects to being included “in general terms relating to the President’s wives”.
Analysis
The  first story (written by Theo Nyhaba) says that Khoza, who has a child with Pres Jacob Zuma, wants to be his fourth wife “as early as January next year”. Khoza reportedly wants to marry Zuma before his fiancée Bongiwe Ngema does. The latter “is supposed to walk down the aisle” in January next year. A “close source” (to Khoza) is reported as saying that Khoza believes she should get preference because she was romantically involved with Zuma before Ngema came into the picture. The story says Khoza gave Zuma an ultimatum to marry her “if he knows what is good for him” and that Khoza would like to see herself as Zuma’s main wife, if not the only one. Khoza is also reportedly unhappy with Zuma’s decision to marry Ngema.
The second story (written by Mzwandile Kabizokwakhe) is about Zuma’s “own castle” in Nkandla (northern KwaZulu-Natal) and his wives. The only reference to Khoza is: “But Zuma still has Bongiwe Gloria Ngema and Sonono Khoza to walk down the aisle with.”
We shall now consider the merits of the complaint.
The first story
Untrue, defamatory allegations
Khoza complains that the allegations in the story are untrue and defamatory in that they were published intentionally to lower her esteem in society and to injure her reputation.
The allegations made in the story are as follows:
  • Khoza “…wants to be first lady No 4 as early as January next year. Sonono wants to be married before Bongiwe Gloria Ngema (does).”
  • “Sonono’s argument, says a close source, is that she was romantically involved with Zuma before Ngema came into the picture. Sunday World has learnt that she has also given Zuma an ultimatum to marry her ‘if he knows what’s good for him’. The source says Sonono is unhappy with Zuma’s decision to marry Ngema. Another source who is privy to the goings on in the Zuma household says close family members are trying to intervene to bring peace between Ngema and Sonono. ‘Sonono feels she is not getting enough attention from Zuma compared to Ngema. She has made it known to Zuma that she wants to get married before Bongiwe is married to the President.’ The source adds that Sonono would like to see herself as Zuma’s main wife if not his only wife.
Clearly the veracity of these statements can only be determined by the credibility and reliability of the newspaper’s sources. Although Khoza does not mention sources in her complaint, this is exactly where we should start our investigation.
The Sunday World says that Nyhaba was asked by his news editor (Zakhele Shiba) to do the story after the latter had “overheard certain individuals” in the ANC discussing the allegation that Khoza was insisting that Zuma must marry her before he marries Ngema. The newspaper adds that the allegations listed above were based on information that Nyhaba obtained from two sources.
The newspaper refuses to name its first source, but says that this source was close to Zuma and that s/he was also privy to the President’s private affairs. The newspaper says that this source is trustworthy and the reporter had no reason to believe that allegations made by this source were not true.
The Sunday World says this source informed the newspaper that:
  • Khoza wants to be married to Zuma before Ngema does because she had been romantically involved with him before Ngema came into the picture – she informed Zuma accordingly;
  • Khoza is unhappy with Zuma’s decision to marry Ngema;
  • Family members are trying to make peace between Khoza and Ngema; and
  • Khoza feels that she is not getting enough attention from Zuma compared to Ngema.
The Sunday World discloses that the second source was Moipone Malefane, a political reporter at the Sunday Times and an Avusa-colleague of Nyhaba. The newspaper says Malefane informed Nyhaba that she had been independently informed of the same allegations by a source “…who is very close to the complainant’s father, Mr Irvin Khoza, and to the Khoza family.”
The Sunday World adds that Malefane also informed Nyhaba that Khoza:
  • would like to see herself as Zuma’s main wife, “if not his only wife”; and
  • had informed Zuma that he must marry her “if he knows what is good for him”.
The newspaper further argues that Malefane is a senior and well-respected journalist and that Nyhaba therefore had reason to believe that her information was accurate.
Khoza replies that the information that news editor Shiba gave to Nyhaba is clearly hearsay. Besides, she says, there is no mention of who made these allegations, what their relationship with Zuma or Khoza was, and what the context of that conversation was. She says: “The overhearing of individuals speaking is not any formal verification…”
Khoza adds that Malefane has never spoken to her or had any contact with her. Accordingly, “…any information she obtained must be hearsay and would have to be verified”. She adds that nobody can verify this information as she never made the statements in dispute.
Let’s now take a closer look at the following three relevant issues:
  • The conversation that the news editor says he overheard; and
  • The two sources.
Clearly, the people making the conversation cannot serve as sources as there is no indication as to how senior and reliable these people were – it can only serve as an incentive to start investigating a possible story.
This leaves us with the two sources.
Let’s start with Malefane, the second source. It appears that the journalist merely took over what this source had told him, without verifying for himself that Malefane’s sources were credible. Nyhaba was happy taking to “A” who told him that she had talked to “B”.
That is not good enough. Malefane’s information may have been correct, but there is no evidence or indication that Nyhaba made any attempt to verify what Malefane had told him – not in the newspaper’s reaction to the complaint and, more importantly, certainly not in the story. It should have been done, even if Malefane was an editor. Because it was not done, Malefane as a source will not do.
This leaves us with only one source, the one that is said to be close to Zuma’s private life and who is unnamed.
The important consideration here is that, even if this source is credible (as the Sunday World claims), the newspaper still should have verified the information – or at least have mentioned the fact that it could not be verified. The Press Code is quite clear about this.
Ours is not a court of law that can establish the veracity of the allegations in the story. These allegations may or may not be true (insufficient verification of allegations does not necessarily mean that they are untrue).
However, it must be concluded that the newspaper did not use sufficient sources and that it did not verify the allegations made about Khoza adequately. This does not meet the minimum requirements for responsible journalism as stipulated in Art. 1.4 of the Press Code – and it may have caused Khoza unnecessary harm.
Not contacted for comment
Khoza complains that Nyhaba did not contact her for comment.
In its reply to the complaint the newspaper says that Nyhaba did (unsuccessfully) try to contact Khoza telephonically.
In response to my question if the Sunday World could provide me with proof that Nyhaba did try to phone Khoza, it admitted that it had made “a bona fide error” (meaning that Nyhaba never tried to contact Khoza).
However, Nyhaba says he asked Kabizokwakhe, the writer of the second story “who had a cordial relationship with Khoza”, to inform her of the pending article to be published and to ask her for comment on his behalf. The newspaper however provided me with documentary proof that Kabizokwakhe did call Khoza on the day prior to publication.
Khoza does not dispute this fact. However, she says that, as a rule, she never discusses her private life with journalists. She denies that she discussed anything of consequence with Kabizokwakhe.
The Sunday World says Khoza’s response to Kabizokwakhe was then included in the story.
This is also not true – there is no response from Khoza in the story at all.
The Sunday World adds that Nyhaba also contacted Zuma’s spokesperson Zizi Kodwa as well as Shirley Ramaphaile of the spousal office – who both refused to comment.
This may or may not be true. Yet, it still does not take away from the fact that Nyhaba never did what he should have done in the first place, namely to (try to) contact Khoza herself directly (or at least her spokesperson, if indeed she has one). Kodwa and Ramaphaile certainly cannot speak on behalf of Khoza.
It was the journalist’s right to write a story about Khoza; it was Khoza’s right to be afforded an opportunity to speak for herself.
The likelihood that a subject of serious reportage is being caused unnecessary harm when not asked for comment is always there.
In general it has to be said that the journalist should be more careful about the way he uses his sources.
The second story
The sentence in dispute reads: “But Zuma still has Bongiwe Gloria Ngema and Sonono Khoza to walk down the aisle with.”
Khoza objects to the fact that she was being included in general terms relating to Zuma’s wives.
The Sunday World says that this sentence is neither untrue nor defamatory. It argues that the comment is based on facts which are substantially true and that there also was no need to approach Khoza for comment on this matter.
The story is about Zuma’s current wives. At the end of the article, mention is made of two possible future wives. The veracity of this sentence is not in dispute. It is difficult to see how this can be in breach of the Press Code.
Finding
The first story
Untrue, defamatory allegations
Our office cannot establish the veracity of the allegations in dispute.
It can be found, though, that the newspaper relied only on one, anonymous source – neither the conversation that the news editor says that he over-heard nor Malefane as sources will do. This is in breach of Art. 1.4 of the Press Code that states: “Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified. Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be mentioned in such report”.
Not contacted for comment
The journalist may have tried to contact other people; he also asked another journalist to speak to Khoza on his behalf. Still, he neglected to try to contact Khoza herself or at least tried to talk to somebody who could speak on her behalf. This is in breach of Art. 1.5 of the Press Code that states: “A publication should usually seek the views of the subject of serious critical reportage in advance of publication…”
As the veracity of the allegations in the first story cannot be established, it can also not be found that these breaches of the Press Code have caused Khoza unnecessary harm. I can only find that it may have caused her unnecessary harm.
The second story
The complaint with regards to this story is dismissed.
Sanction
The Sunday World is reprimanded for not:
  • verifying the information that it says it got from its anonymous source;
  • stating that it could not or did not verify this information; and
  • trying to ask Khoza herself for comment.
The newspaper is directed to apologise to Khoza if the story caused her unnecessary harm.

The newspaper is directed to publish a summary of this finding (not the whole ruling) and sanction on page 2. Our office should be furnished with this text prior to publication. Please add the following sentence at the end of the text: “Visit www.presscouncil.org.za (rulings, 2010) for the full finding.

 

 
Appeal
Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, anyone of the parties may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Ralph Zulman, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be reached at khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.
Johan Retief
Deputy Press Ombudsman