19 Jun 2013
De Wet Potgieter was trending on Twitter again on Wednesday – this time for an opinion piece he wrote on the repercussions of his controversial expose of terrorist activity in South Africa. The investigative journalist has reportedly resigned from the Daily Maverick amid heavy criticism over his article, which many media commentators have described as lacking in substance and irrelevant.
Potgieter’s apparent year long investigation centres around the prominent Dockrat cousins and their alleged links with Al Qaeda. His much talked about report explains in detail how businessmen Junaid and Farhad Dockrat were allegedly using their farms for terror training activities. The Daily Maverick on Wednesday retracted the article titled “Al-Qaeda: Alive and well in South Africa” and also issued a public apology for running the story.
In his editorial opinion on the publication’s website, Daily Maverick editor Branco Brkic admitted that he was “personally responsible for this failure”.”Going through an internal investigation and the realisation that one was wrong is an experience I don’t particularly wish to repeat in this life,” he said. “But as humbling as this process is, it has reaffirmed to me what is most important: our readers and the truth.” VOC’s calls to both the Daily Maverick and Potgieter went unanswered on Wednesday, while media pundits lashed out on social media about Potgieter’s style of reporting and his claims of death threats.
“After an exhaustive internal process, we now can acknowledge that there were inaccuracies in relation to Farhad and Junaid Dockrat in the article and we wish to set the record straight,” it said in an apology posted on its website. “We acknowledge that we are not in possession of evidence to show that Farhad Dockrat or Junaid Dockrat are linked to Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organisation.”
The website also had no evidence that Farhad was hiding on the farm Greylock, in the Klein Karoo, or in Tsitsikamma, for the purposes of establishing terrorist training camps, or that they were conducting any illegal activities. The Daily Maverick said its article had suggested these links, and that there was a strong Al-Qaeda presence in South Africa.
“We unequivocally and unconditionally apologise to Farhad and Junaid Dockrat and the Muslim community of South Africa and retract this allegation,” it said. “We regret the inconvenience and distress it has caused to Farhad, Junaid and the Dockrat family.” It said that in the interests of “good and ethical investigative journalism” it had agreed to remove the article from its website.
The Daily Maverick reported in May that the police’s crimes against the state unit and the State Security Agency (SSA) had monitored the training of Al-Qaeda “terrorists” in South Africa without taking action. The Daily Maverick reported in the initial article that, “at the centre of this alleged terrorist network are several members of the well-known and influential Dockrat family”.
It reported that Farhad and Junaid Dockrat’s names had been forwarded to the United Nations’ Security Council’s Al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctions committee for designation, but that South Africa put an indefinite hold on the designation process. According to the online publication, three months after they were put on a US “terrorist list” in 2007, the Dockrats moved their operation from Pretoria to Greylock.
There was a court dispute about a communal water line, and the Dockrats later bought a 70 percent share of the developing Tsitsikamma Golf Estate. The Daily Maverick said in its apology that information that the US Treasury had named Farhad and Junaid Dockrat on its list of people associated with terrorism, and that they were placed on the US sanctions list were correct. However, it had been wrong to report that Farhad had lost a court case regarding water rights on his Greylock farm. “Although some farmers in the area told us that the dispute was resolved in their favour, we accept that this was not the case and that the opposite was true.”
The Media Review Network (MRN) for one welcomed the apology made by the editorial team of the Daily Maverick, to Junaid and Farhad Dockrat and extended to South African Muslim community. MRN executive member Iqbal Jassat said they were pleased with the explanation provided by Brkic that Potgieter’s analysis was “baseless and false”. “The errors contained in it ought to have alerted Branko’s editorial team about the huge gaping holes in Potgieter’s story,” said Jassat.
Potgieter provides an explanation in his article, admitting to being caught up in “a twilight realm of power play in the intelligence world”. He further acknowledges that he has paid a bitter price for being setup, but fails to name any of the sources that misled him. He acknowledged that he could have been “manipulated” by his sources. “As an investigative journalist I have a duty to inform the public and believe the truth needs to be told,” he said. “I had no ulterior motives and am convinced that once the whole story has been understood, a clearer picture will emerge.”
But Jassat said this explanation was not enough to justify why he continued to pursue the story. “Disappointingly, he has not been magnanimous enough to apologise to the Dockrat family and the Muslim community,” said Jassat. He added that this kind of journalism creates an “incalculable damage that is difficult to undo”. “It is imperative that journalists and editors retain the integrity of objective journalism at all times,” he said. “The Media Review Network commends the Daily Maverick for its ability for having set the record straight and calls on South African media to exercise extreme caution in placing trust in discredited Islamophobic sources that are bent on raising false alarms about so-called terror camps.”
Also commenting on the issue, Imam Dr Rashied Omar of Claremont Main Road Mosque who had analysed the impact of the Daily Maverick article on VOC, said the apology was “wonderful news”. “Our position has been vindicated. The robust manner in which VOC, the Media Review Network and Muslim public figures challenged the spurious allegations of De Wet Potgieter and the Daily Maverick have contributed to this retraction,” the alim said.
He added that the Docrat’s threat of legal action may also have contributed to this “rare” apology. “We should learn from this victory and remain vigilant in monitoring the mass media reports on Islam and Muslims. As committed citizens of South Africa, we once again pledge the Muslim community’s unequivocal support to our government to combat religious and all other forms of extremism,” Omar said. VOC (Tasneem Adams)