It was late afternoon on the 27th of November 2014 and Tony Weaver paused and looked back at the Cape Times newsroom which he was leaving after having served as one of its most respected reporters and columnists for close on a quarter of century.
The new editor, Gasant Abarder and his deputy, Aneez Salie, who had worked assiduously to drive out Weaver and other long-serving white staff members, had not organised the farewell party which was customary on such occasions and had not acknowledged his departure.
He heard the ping of an incoming email on his computer and hesitated for a moment, then he turned back. Perhaps it was a message from a well-wisher.
He was already late for his farewell party at the hotel on nearby Greenmarket Square. ANC acolytes Karima Brown and Vukani Mde, who had been appointed by the company’s new owner, Iqbal Survé, and had written an article “Takeover is focused on transformation” in which white staff members were overtly and presciently threatened, were not expected to attend.
Age and infirmity prevented me from attending, but I was later told that Weaver arrived at the party pale and shaking with rage.
He quickly realised that the email – which was sent to him in error – had been addressed by Gasant Abarder to the now-retired deputy executive chairman, Tony Howard.
In the email Abarder discussed strategies for getting rid of one of the country’s leading environmental reporters, Melanie Gosling, who had written an accurate summary of Thuli Madonsela’s “Docked Vessels” report on the controversial Sekunjalo tender to maintain our marine patrol and research vessels – which was subsequently withdrawn.
The fact that the Cape Times, on the watch of editor Alide Dasnois had had the temerity to publish an article questioning one of his companies, enraged Survé. Dasnois was dismissed and Gosling received a threatening letter from Survé’s lawyers – something unprecedented in South African media history.
The mood of the party brightened however and morphed into unrestrained schadenfreude when Weaver and the Cape Regional Editor for Independent Newspapers, Chris Whitfield – who, like Gosling, also subsequently left Survé’s employ along with more than a hundred other staffers, thereby ripping the intellectual heart out of the company – recounted the highlight of a disciplinary hearing in which Weaver faced trumped-up charges.
A robbery had occurred at a shopping mall and the photograph showed Pick n Pay in the background. Salie suggested cropping the picture to remove any evidence of Pick n Pay because they were major advertisers with the newspaper. Photo manipulation is, like plagiarism, anathema for newspapers so Weaver asked how this wilful distortion could be reconciled with the ethical code of the Cape Times.
He was immediately charged with gross “disrespect and insolence”.
At his subsequent disciplinary hearing Abarder glared at Weaver and asked: “Is it true that you called Aneez Salie a Charlie Uniform November Tango?” – or words to that effect.
Weaver emphatically denied this, saying that he was an ardent feminist and the word, accordingly, did not feature in his vocabulary.
Abarder then asked Chris Whitfield, who was appearing at the hearing as a character reference for the accused, whether Weaver had called Aneez Salie a Charlie Uniform November Tango – or words to that effect.
It was Whitfield’s prompt riposte which had them rolling in the aisles at the Inn on the Square on 27 November 2014.
“No he didn’t… but I can think of several people in the Cape Times newsroom who did!”
I’m told that Weaver has a digital recording of this appalling kangaroo court – part of a venomous purge of experienced white staff who were not sycophants and would be opposed to the coming gutter press, fake news regime of which the Cape Times would become a particularly odious example. The purge included the termination by Abarder of John Scott’s column in a two-sentence email, not because Scott had done anything wrong or because his writing was not popular – but because he was white.
Weaver left on his own terms shortly thereafter and his Man Friday column is now published weekly in Die Burger – as is Scott’s.
Ironically, Gasant Abarder, Karima Brown and Vukani Mde all subsequently abandoned Iqbal Survé’s disreputable and insolvent media company thereby escaping the taint of what might justifiably be called the “Sekunjalo Stench”.
As I write this, the sordid machinations which saw Survé benefit from more than R5 billion from the Public Investment Corporation, are being exposed before the Lex Mpati Commission.
Survé touts himself as a philanthropist but his philanthropy does not extend to his interns if an un-denied Daily Maverick article written by Dougie Oakes, the recently-retired political editor of the Cape Times, is to be believed.
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