The press release was issued after amaBhungane published an investigation into Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and the growing influence of her advisor, Mphumzi Mdekazi.
The article was thoroughly researched and included extensive comment from the Minister and Mr. Mdekazi’s representative. Despite this, Minister Sisulu saw fit to use the public office she holds to launch an attack on the two journalists who wrote the article and the media house they represent.
The press release was issued by the minister’s spokespeople, on an official government letterhead, and quotes the Minister extensively. Amongst other things, Minister Sisulu and her representatives falsely claimed that the article amounted to “sponsored propaganda written by an apartheid agent”, that the article was part of “an orchestrated, staged and scripted plan” to eliminate her from the ANC leadership race, that the article was “sourced from apartheid intelligence operatives”, and that amaBhungane is “captured by right-wing, neo-liberal forces”.
For the record, all of these statements are untrue.
While vitriolic fake news has become par for course on Twitter, it has no place in government. The minister’s use of public officials and public resources to launch an attack on the media crosses the line and amounts to an abuse of public office, and an unacceptable blurring of the lines between party, state and personal political ambitions.
Public officials vilifying media organisations and journalists is a growing trend across the world and is a sign of a government that perceives requests for public accountability as an attack. The fact that this press release was issued is concerning enough. The refusal to retract it would be a worrying indication of how deeply rooted the dysfunction within government structures is that official department communication can be used as a mouth piece to amplify malicious and unsubstantiated accusations by political principals.
As the longest-serving minister in Cabinet, Minister Sisulu should know the rules of public office by now. We are therefore calling on government to retract the official press release issued by the Minister of Tourism.