John Vuli Gate Bheki Cele

Photo: SAPS / Twitter

Farm murders: Ombudsman rules in favour of Bheki Cele

A newspaper article about farm murders has fallen foul of the Press Code after it erroneously attributed comment to the police minister.

John Vuli Gate Bheki Cele

Photo: SAPS / Twitter

Police Minister, General Bheki Cele said on Wednesday that he feels “vindicated” by the findings of the Press Ombudsman against the Landbouweekblad newspaper who he believed had added fuel to violent protests against farm murders outside the Senekal Magistrates Court.

The Afrikaans newspaper published an article with a headline “Cele: Boere moenie kla as hulle seerkry nie” on September 22, 2020. Translated into English the headline reads, “Farmers must not complain when they get hurt.”                                                                                                           

The article reported on a rural safety meeting hosted by the SAPS in September 2020, involving the farming community of Normandien, which included farmers, farm dwellers and workers. The meeting took place after a series of farm attacks and farm murders in the province, the most recent at the time being a farm murder in which a couple was brutally killed on their farm in the region.

The article claimed that Cele had said,”farmers must not complain when they get hurt” during his address to the farming community that was still reeling from the latest farm murder.

Farm murders and farm attacks tackled by the police

Cele’s spokesperson Lirandzu Themba said in a statement that the minister had always maintained that at no point did he make such a “careless statement when trying to work with the community to find workable solutions to farm attacks”. 

He said Cele had filed a complaint with the Press Ombudsman as he  believed that the publication’s team had been reckless and irresponsible.

‘The journalists who wrote the article were not present at the event in question and relied on ‘hear say’ from their sources. More shocking is the failure by the newspaper to deny the minister a right of reply,” he said.

He said Landbouweekblad Editor Chris Burgess had defended the decision saying, “Taking into account the colourful statements the minister has uttered in the past, we felt it was not unreasonable to assume that he could have said something to the extent that we reported.”

The Press Ombudsman found in his ruling that the newspaper’s headline was “misleading” and breached several sections of the Press Code. 

He said the minister had taken exception to the editorial decision and believed it had further fuelled tensions across South Africa, eroding the relationship between the police and the farming community, regarding farm murders and attacks. Farm murders are an ongoing crime facing the country that the police are attempting to fight with rural communities.

Cele said it was critical that the media recognised its “power of destruction if they don’t do their work properly.” 

“This sort of reporting saw further violence by members of the farming community – who many of them (sic)read the Landbouweekblad newspaper – go on a rampage and storm a court building in Senekal, and torch a police vehicle following the gruesome killing of another farm manager, combined with the anger and resentment they had towards the statement I never said,” Cele said.

Cele said the ruling should serve as an important lesson for the media, highlighting the fact that journalists “cannot act beyond reproach” and that those who are supposed to be the voice of the people “must conduct themselves with due diligence”. 

“Good journalism cannot at any point allow ‘hearsay’ to replace facts. It is a dangerous practice that can cause irreparable damage,”  Cele said.

KwaZulu-Natal was one of the provinces in SA that reported the most farm murders in 2020.