Editor of Limpopo Mirror Anton van Zyl received an unsigned letter via email on Friday morning from a person or group purporting to be the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) Beneficiary Forum.
The letter claims the NLC Beneficiary Forum was formed at the beginning of this year.
The forum accused van Zyl of unethical, misleading, and biased reporting that should be "likened to high treason".
Van Zyl has been co-publishing articles with GroundUp on misuse of lottery funding.
The letter was sent a few days after van Zyl published an editorial in the Limpopo Mirror. The editorial outlines and traces back the NLC's involvement in the Waterval High toilet scandal, previous controversies, and interactions with the media
The letter urges van Zyl to refrain from further publication against the NLC, threatening to "expose" him if he does not comply.
GroundUp sent questions to the NLC asking if it had any knowledge of the NLC Beneficiary Forum. The NLC wrote back saying that it did not have any such knowledge. It also said that the NLC itself had received several complaints from beneficiaries regarding privacy concerns such as having their private details disclosed.
Editorial by Anton van Zyl published in Limpopo Mirror
What dignity is there in lying?
The Limpopo Mirror is not known for its editorial comments. It is not something that we often do. We believe the journalist is not the story; the journalist's opinion is worth as much as that of the average reader. We are not specialists, we are messengers.
Every now and then, however, we also need to speak out. To say that we do not agree. To say that our silence should not be attributed to condoning certain actions. To say that we are pissed off.
The reason for our being upset is the behaviour of the National Lotteries Commission (NLC). This is almost a case of "you cannot make up this stuff", it is simply so unbelievable.
Two weeks ago, the Limpopo Mirror carried the story of a toilet scandal where the NLC is involved. The NLC gave a controversial non-profit company R10 million to build a few toilets in Limpopo. At Waterval High it was discovered that no new toilets were built, and the plan had seemingly been to just slap a bit of paint onto the existing infrastructure and replace a few broken doors and cisterns.
The first part of our investigative report was done in conjunction with the online publication, Groundup, and published two Fridays ago. The same day the NLC released a statement slamming the Groundup(and Limpopo Mirror) report, describing it as "inaccurate information ... (which) casts aspersions on the work of the organisation."
Well, the NLC provided no detail to help us determine what part of the report is supposed to be inaccurate. The NLC's statement also gives no explanation and makes no apology for the main focus of the article - the fact that the NLC released a fraudulent document to try and prove the legitimacy of a project.
But let us go back a bit further to try and explain the absurdity of what has happened.
Earlier this year, some investigative journalists picked up that the NLC had awarded grants in excess of R30 million to three NPCs linked to a controversial Pretoria-based lawyer. The story was picked up by several news outlets and even received airtime on Carte Blanche. In response to the negative publicity, the NLC issued a press release assuring the public that "the NLC remains committed to clean governance and all allegations of misuse of funds by the beneficiaries are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly."
The project under scrutiny was the building of toilets in rural areas. The NLC described it as a project with "the intention of ensuring safety and restoring the dignity of the black children in post democratic South Africa".
To emphasize how transparent and accountable the NLC is, a statement was released on 22 March wherein mention is made of a publicly available progress report "depicting work done to date in all schools".
When Limpopo Mirror heard that some of these schools are from the Vhembe area, we were obviously quite excited. Unfortunately, the press release sent to us did not have the report, so we requested it. At first, we were ignored, so we asked again. We then received a rather generic press release, so we asked again. At last, on April 2, we received the report and had a quick glance. Four schools were listed from within the Mirror's distribution area.
As fate would have it, protest action erupted at one of these schools listed, Waterval High.
"So, what about the new toilets?" the reporters were asked when they returned from covering the event. "Toilets?" It turned out that no new ones had been built, and no-one knew about any new ones.
We followed up a few days later and, much to our surprise, the very next week the NLC sent us an invitation to attend the "handing over" of the new toilets. Well, this may be interesting, we thought.
By that time, we had obviously had a long and decent look at the "progress report". This document contained a description of the work to be done, starting clearly with the words: "require construction of sanitation facilities." After detailing the extent of the work, it then lists the first three schools where construction work had started. Waterval High was granted two separate slides, with photos depicting the "before" situation and the photos showing how well construction work was progressing.
The only problem was that this document is false and was something carefully constructed to try and deceive. It made no mention of "refurbishments" but stated that the NPC was in the process of building new toilets at Waterval. The photos used for Waterval were mere duplicates (at different angles) of the photos used at the other schools.
When the NLC sent out invitations to the press to attend the "handing over" of the toilets, no mention was made of the fact that anything apart from new toilets should be expected. (After all - this was depicted in the progress report and press releases).
When the NLC's representatives arrived at Waterval, they must surely have realized that something had gone horribly wrong. Any novice could see that no "construction" work had taken place at the school. At best, a contractor had spent a few thousand rands on replacing a door, fixing a few toilets and painting some walls - maybe two days' work by a small team.
In response to the Groundup article, the NLC blamed the Waterval fracas partly on the school. They "expressed dissatisfaction at the fact that the facilities had been in use before completion ... (and had) been subject to vandalism." Really - so the school's learners went to the streets to protest about something they themselves had vandalised?
Maybe we should be quite realistic about the NLC's role in society. The NLC is not a demi-god that needs to be revered for its generosity and altruism. The long and short of the matter is that the NLC uses the spoils of gambling and, by law, must invest these in worthy projects. It needs to account to the public for how it spends the money it receives.
The funds allocated for this project stem from a system of "proactive" funding. This allows the NLC to bypass some of the normal rigorous vetting processes and, on its own, initiate projects. One would assume these projects to be "emergency" projects. A case where an urgent need arises that requires speedy action. A project such as building decent toilets at schools where no such facilities exist will surely qualify.
Suddenly doing a turnaround and handing over a "toilet" that only (partly) received a new coat of paint makes no sense. The duty to see to it that maintenance gets done at schools is that of the Department of Education, not of the NLC.
Before the article was published in the Limpopo Mirror or on Groundup, a letter was sent to the commissioner of the NLC, Ms Thabang Mampane. This letter contains a detailed account of the media enquiries and subsequent false information provided. She was asked to investigate and act.
Last week, the NLC responded to the complaint by once again emphasizing their being "open and transparent". The NLC then offered to submit another report to "deal with any misunderstanding between the official and your newspaper".
Probably around this time we just sat back and smiled despondently. The NLC's spokesperson was called out on a blatant lie. During the visit to Waterval, he tried to talk around this by describing it as a "confusion" with photos. Now, suddenly, everything is a "misunderstanding".
No misunderstanding or confusion exists. The NLC boasts about its stringent checking and control mechanisms. The NLC knew about the controversy surrounding the project. The NLC previously thrashed a journalist and held the "progress report" up as evidence that the publication had lied.
And when it suddenly now transpires that the progress report supplied by the NLC was mostly fabricated, the NLC, by its refusal to act, condones it. No investigation was undertaken, no apology was issued, no retraction of the false report was made.
The NLC is out of control and has become a shame to the country. This is especially sad, considering that dozens of dedicated, honest and hardworking staff members work at the NLC. How dare you, the leaders, play with their integrity by condoning lies!
There is no dignity in lies, and you do not change the lives of the people in our country by encouraging such conduct.
Anonymous letter sent to Van Zyl
LC BENEFICIARY FORUM. concerns against you. ANTON ZOUTNET,
Are you NLC BENEFICIARY?.
We are an established NLC Beneficiary Forum, which was formed in January 2019, and the majority of beneficiaries from the National Lotteries Commission.
The objective of the Forum is to acknowledge the good work that the Commission is rendering and also to address issues and queries presented by the individual beneficiaries.
We are extremely satisfied with the good work that the NLC is rendering to the needy South African citizens irrespective of colour. Our beloved country South Africa is experiencing a high rate of unemployment, and the NLC is playing a crucial role in making a contribution towards job creation. Our wish is to see more institutions and business community doing the same, i.e creating job opportunities.
Concerns against your attacks and unethical reporting against the NLC are as follows:
Whilst the Beneficiary Forum appreciates this noble work by the NLC, we are deeply concerned and regret that in your newspaper/magazine and/or newsletter which is based in the Limpopo Province is continuously generating untested allegations and misleading publicity against the NLC. Such articles are distasteful and misrepresenting the true facts .As a Forum, we condemn your actions, which are viewed in a serious light.
We became aware that you continuously publish and make regrettable story items against the NLC.
Many a time you publish stories which are not balanced and it is expected of you as a journalist to ensure balanced reporting.
Your recycled story items, demands and aggressive conduct clearly indicate that you have a hidden agenda, either against the individuals that you at all time target or the NLC as a whole. It could have been appropriate for you, to visit the NLC and probe the facts, in such organized meetings. Whoever is responsible at the NLC, surely will be available to respond to your questions, which are based on facts.
Your actions confirm our suspicion, in that you have your own agenda, is therefor correct and appropriate ie based on your recycled stories. Without a doubt you definitely have an insider who feeds you with the incorrect information. THE PERSON AND/OR PERSONS CAN BE IDENTIFIED. We are deeply worried about your behaviour. Ons is baie bekommerd oor jou verhouding.
We have a strong believe and feeling that you have planted someone to feed you with distorted and malicious information, which your newspaper/magazine appreciates so much to run with. Unbalanced rhetoric stories .Maybe your aim with these unfounded stories, yes, is to boost your magazine sales.
We suspect that you have been assigned by someone to discredit the institution. It will not surprise some of us, if you could have maybe benefitted from this institution, in the past, and if not so get to the cue and submit your application forms.
When we, as members of The NLC beneficiaries Forum have issues of our own, with any officer at the NLC, we do not hesitate to walk in there, and no appointment is needed. We are given a proper hearing. We strongly belief that you are aware about how to access the NLC, rather than to plant someone in order to give you internal information. Their Head Offices are in Hatfield Pretoria.
You are unfair of the person/s who feed you with information.
ALLEGATIONS OF UNETHICAL CONDUCT
Please be aware that we know for a fact that you have a working relationship with one local newspaper/magazine in the CAPE PROVINCE, and the particular newspaper/magazine taps information from you.
Before we generated this memo, we contacted the Press Ombudsman, and your matter was handed over to him to investigate. To demonstrate our seriousness, we have already contacted other relevant authorities about your behaviour and attitude towards the Black Leadership at the NLC. This is viewed in a serious light. Why do we mention "Back Leadership", is precisely because, there are white beneficiaries, and you seem not to be interested in interviewing them and requesting some juicy stories from them. OUR SOURCE, WHO YOU REQUESTED TO GIVE YOU A JUICY STORY IN LIMPOPO PROVINCE, IS KNOWN TO US.
We need to put it to you that your local newspaper/magazine needs to be extensively investigated, because of its biasness. Your behaviour is questionable.
It is with regret and concern to learn that you go around in Limpopo requesting the NLC beneficiaries to give you juicy stories that will discredit and/or be against NLC. This information is coming from Limpopo Province where your operations are based..
We would like to inform you that what you do is unethical, bad reporting and should be likened to high treason.
We are extremely worried that you seem to target the Black Community who benefitted from Lotteries, to help you to discredit the NLC and surprisingly you do not write about the White Community who are also beneficiaries of the NLC.
We want to make it very clear to you and comprehensive in that, we as the Beneficiary Forum are aware of the processes that are followed when applying for funding at the NLC. Applications for funding will be adjudicated by a body, known to us as the Distributing Agency (DA)
It is so regrettable to label people of nepotism and corruption if you do not have facts. You have space, and opportunity to approach the Zondo Commission to make your voice heard there, rather than use your newspaper/magazine for poor reporting. Your reporting is a disgrace.
REQUEST AND CONCLUSION
We urge you to refrain from publishing ill-informed stories against the institution. If not, we as the Beneficiary Forum will be forced to come out strongly and
expose you. It is not that we are not aware of your dirty tactics. Note that we are ready to protect this institution, where possible.
This email was generated by the concerned Members of the Beneficiary Forum:
It will be up to you, to publicise or whatever you would want to do with this memo. Should our member, especially in the Limpopo Province be contacted by you, we shall follow the legal route and not use news letters to end your terror.
You have opened and/or exposed our members to extortion and we are not sure if you work with extortionists. You always display racist and questionable tendencies towards Black funded organizations. Why don't you get juicy stories from all, i.e the White organizations included? That is very inappropriate based on your attitude and recycling your story line.
WE are angry.
For you to think that you can destroy other person's careers, and compromise our safety, and dignity, as beneficiaries, we urge you to refrain from your inappropriate tendencies and tactics, which we could liken to those of an Askari at best.
When wanting to write a story, kindly contact the spokesperson, be it any organ of state/department, an officially appointed spokesperson and not this self appointed person/s.
We once again reiterate that you must refrain from your unfortunate attacks on NLC as an institution, and should you continue to do so, we shall without hesitation expose you.
Surely, well established national newspapers in this country, those known to you and all of us are better positioned to equally generate reports about the NLC and they are precisely doing so. Their stories have been accurate and balanced.
We also urge you and challenge you to inform your source that we are aware of this malicious tactics and also disruptions of relations between him and the employer. The damage you are causing will be irreparable if not stopped immediately. We do not need people who cause hatred.
4.10. "Build the nation and country, and do not destroy.