Publication: Noseweek Issued: Date: 2003-11-01 Reporter:

Fatal Attraction




Date November 2003, Issue 51

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Ex-Sunday Times writer Ranjeni Munusamy's claim that she fears for her safety were she to testify before the Hefer Commission and identify her sources for the Ngcuka "spy" story, is patent nonsense.

Many of her former colleagues say they have long known the identity of her sources for the story. And, if she has genuine reason to believe they might cause her physical harm, noseweek reckons she owes it to her colleagues, the public and the police to waste no time in revealing what she knows.

This is only one aspect of the riveting tale of intrigue on mahogany row at the Sunday Times that emerges from a confidential memo drawn up in September and sent by editorial staffers to the paper's senior management.

On 17 September, 45 disgruntled Sunday Times staffers held an extraordinary meeting in their Johannesburg office. On the agenda was the "damage" allegedly done to the paper by their colleague, Munusamy, who had just been suspended from her job for leaking a "hot" story to a rival newspaper.

That week she had confessed to her bosses that she had leaked to City Press the Ngcuka "spy" story, in which it was alleged that ANC intelligence sources suspected Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka of having been an impimpi (a spy for the apartheid government).

The story "leaked" by Munusamy has fed into the growing dispute around the country's multi-billion rand arms deal, dividing the ruling party and triggering the Hefer Commission of Inquiry.

For many Sunday Times staffers, it was the last straw. Dissatisfaction over the behind-the-scenes editorial role Munusamy played at the paper had been mounting for some time, particularly as she appeared to enjoy special immunity to the rules of the newsroom. After months of queening it over her colleagues, she was now the target of their wrath.

Munusamy is extremely well connected in top political circles in Kwazulu-Natal and the presidency, and is close to beleaguered Deputy President Jacob Zuma. She's also said to have a close friendship with Essop Pahad, the minister in the presidency. For some time before her appointment at the Sunday Times, Munusamy was public relations officer for Kwazulu-Natal ANC leader S'bu Ndebele. She got the top political writing job at the Sunday Times partly because she could boast of such great contacts.

At the Sunday Times meeting, outraged staffers called for an independent external inquiry into Munusamy's reporting of the "Jacob Zuma affair", along with an audit of all stories ever written by her [their very own Hefer Commission]. They also wanted the relationship between Munusamy and senior management at the paper to be probed to find out how she had "become a force unto herself". These demands were confirmed in a memo to the human resources department of the paper's parent company, Johnnic. Johnnic's Lesoalo Mhalatse refused to give noseweek a copy and anxiously referred our questions to Sunday Times editor Mathatha Tsedu. We have since independently acquired a copy.

In the memo, the newspaper's staffers listed a number of"immediate" steps they wished Tsedu to take to "restore the credibility" of SA'S largest newspaper - starting with an explanation to the public why the Sunday Times had refused to run Munusamy's "spy" story.

Tsedu obliged by running a front-page piece four days later, detailing how he had rejected Munusamy's story - repeatedly since July - because he felt it lacked evidence and was calculated to serve the exclusive interests of a particular group. [How right he was! - Ed.]

"We respect our readers too much to give you information that we ourselves are not convinced is correct or which is patently designed to serve personal agendas," he told his readers. By the time the edition had hit the streets, Munusamy had quit.

Tsedu failed to reply to any of our repeated requests for an interview, so we are unable to say whether he has responded to the other important demand made by his staff : to set up an independent inquiry into the rise and fall of Munusamy.

The report forwarded to Johnnic human resources reveals some tantalising details of how she appears to have had free rein in the newsroom. And exactly why her colleagues were upset with her.

In a section titled "Damage to the integrity of the Sunday Times", staffers bemoan the "superficiality" of the paper's political coverage while she held sway, saying they felt "compromised" by the whole scandal. A senior journalist is quoted saying that he felt "shamed at the facile, stupid and non-existent political coverage of the paper over the last few months". Others suggested that Munusamy may have fallen under the influence of her political sources.

"Munusamy's insistence that her allegations that Ngcuka was a spy be published brings into question the relationship that reporters have with their contacts and it was felt we need to see a system in place where a contact is a contact and not a minder," a staffer is quoted as saying in the report.

Concern was expressed about her close relationship with "Mandela" attorney Ismail Ayob (who also represented her at her disciplinary enquiry held at the Sunday Times). Ayob had not long before threatened a Sunday Times reporter with criminal prosecution for refusing to divulge his source for a story involving Ayob. (The story did not appear in the Sunday Times. We believe it involved Ayob's role in the great Mandela art scam - see nose48).

Munusamy allegedly told a senior reporter that all questions relating to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) on a particular story were to be dealt with by her alone, as she had been fully briefed by the spooks. And then she ordered the Sunday Times award-winning investigations unit to desist from interviewing Zuma or the Shaik brothers about the arms scandal!

"In practice, Munusamy was allowed to manipulate coverage relating to specific powerful people, even if the story was not initiated by her," it is claimed in the memo.

Now Munusamy faces the Hefer Commission to account for the information she leaked to the City Press. She is refusing to name her sources, arguing that doing so is contrary to journalistic ethics and might put her life in danger. (Perhaps she owes it to us - her colleagues - to tell us who in the Shaik-Maharaj-Zuma circle she has reason to suspect is prone to violence. -Ed.)

In South Africa journalists have over the years resisted taking the stand to give evidence during judicial proceedings for ethical reasons. First and foremost among these is their own safety and that of their colleagues.

Cape Town photographer Benny Gool refused to testify about the gruesome pictures he took of the murder of druglord Rashied Staggie at the hands of anti-drug vigilantes. He argued that if he did testify, the vigilantes would in future regard the media as informers and press photographers and reporters may be in danger should they be sent to cover other such events.

There was a groundswell of support for Gool from the media. But there is less enthusiasm for Munusamy in her campaign not to take the stand, least of all from some of her former colleagues.

Munusamy told noseweek she would not take the stand at the Hefer Commission as doing so "may tend to reveal who my sources were".

But evidence leader at the Hefer Commission, Advocate Kessie Naidu SC, believes Munusamy is hiding behind journalistic conventions. His argument is that Munusamy stopped being a journalist and became a source when she handed over the document detailing allegations that Ngcuka may be a spy to City Press. (Naidu himself is doing a little fancy footwork. He was Jacob Zuma's legal representative earlier this year, advising him how to answer questions from Ngcuka over the arms deal; now he's leading evidence which may embarrass his former client.)

Anton Herber, Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits University, says a distinction must be made between naming sources and giving testimony. In one of his regular columns, he says that by giving evidence, Munusamy would "hardly" be endangering the lives of other journalists, and by refusing to testify, she was simply putting herself "above the law".

"It leads to the suspicion that they (journalists) are scared of cross-examination because they have other things to hide," he writes.

In the Sunday Times newsroom it was felt that Munusamy had undermined her position by promoting one particular political group through her reports. Her sources aren't a secret there. Said one senior staffer to noseweek: "It was obvious who her source was: the very camp that was being investigated by Ngcuka for corruption. In the weeks before the City Press, whenever anyone spoke to one of the Shaik brothers they would be asked why we were not running the Ngcuka spy story that Ranjeni had. They were plainly the source - even if their friend, ex-security branch man Brand Visagie, was the messenger. How else could they have known about the story?"

Mo Shaik (advisor to Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) and his three bothers, Yunis, Schabir and Chippy are close to the deputy president and deeply embroiled in the arms deal saga. Schabir faces charges, brought by Ngcuka's Scorpions, of facilitating or securing a bribe for Jacob Zuma from a French arms company to stifle the arms deal inquiry. Mo Shaik has subsequently appeared on television claiming that Ngcuka was investigated as a spy by the ANC in the 1980s, calling the top prosecutor's reputation into question. Ngcuka has denied the allegation vehemently and the evidence Mo Schaik produced in support of his charge has meanwhile been entirely discredited.

Munusamy, who styled herself a "senior investigative reporter", was employed as a political writer but ‘apparently longed to be part of the Sunday Times' investigative team of Andre Jurgens, Jessica Bezuidenhout and Mzilikazi Wa Afrika.

However, she was regarded with suspicion because of her political connections. Munusamy frequently had front-page scoops, based on exclusive leaks from the government that bolstered the ANC's position.

A case that particularly upset her colleagues is that of Bheki Jacobs, a former ANC intelligence operative [see nose32 : The Spy Who's Out in the Cold, Bheki Jacob's Real Name]. Jacobs came to the Sunday Times with early allegations of corruption in the arms deal. Munusamy rubbished him, quoting presidential spin-doctors who derided Jacobs as a Walter Mitty character, posing as an intelligence operative. Then Munusamy had no hesitation in naming Jacobs as the source of many of the arms deal corruption stories the Sunday Times had carried.

"That alone should be used against her. If she could name someone else's source, why can't she name her own? I can only assume she is too embarrassed to admit her only sources were the Shaik brothers and Mac Maharaj," said one Sunday Times staffer.

Munusamy has been less than complimentary about her former colleagues, suggesting that some of them had inappropriate relations with Ngcuka's crime-fighters, the Scorpions. She also claims that Tsedu had discouraged other newspaper editors from running her story on the spy allegations.

"I found it astounding that my editor would breach my confidence, and that of his newspaper," she said. It's not quite over yet. The Sunday Times staff have one more shock to bear. Contacted by noseweek, Munusamy admitted that her former employer, the Sunday Times, was paying her legal fees at the Hefer Commission. This despite the fact that she embarrassed the newspaper, leaked a story to the competition, was destined for a disciplinary hearing and issued a scathing press statement about the newspaper when she finally flounced out.

With acknowledgement to Noseweek.