Open Let­ter to Bokang Ra­matšella

Your death wish on me . . .

Lesotho Times - - Opinion -

Ntate Ra­matšella

I HAVE fol­lowed your hate-filled vit­riol against my­self with a deep sense of re­vul­sion. Or­di­nar­ily, ev­ery man is en­ti­tled to his own views. If your views were an or­di­nary cri­tique of the work of my busi­nesses in Le­sotho, I would not have penned this open let­ter; suf­fice to ac­knowl­edge that you are per­fectly en­ti­tled to your views.

As a pub­lisher, I am keenly aware that I can­not please every­body. It’s an in­evitable and un­en­vi­able con­se­quence of our work that ev­ery ar­ti­cle pub­lished in a news­pa­pers is bound to please one while of­fend­ing another. So ro­bust crit­i­cism is al­ways part of the game.

But yours is not or­di­nary crit­i­cism. You have been spew­ing hate filled drivel not grounded in facts but pure ha­tred and xeno­pho­bia.

Not only have you called for my killing once us­ing the Tsenolo FM ra­dio sta­tion. You have done it sev­eral times. You have gone as far as call­ing for the killing of Mathew Har­ring­ton, the rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Le­sotho of the most pow­er­ful na­tion on earth, de­scrib­ing him as a “ter­ror­ist”. I am ob­vi­ously not seek­ing to speak or re­spond on Mr Har­ring­ton’s be­half. I am merely il­lus­trat­ing that you are a very pow­er­ful man who can say or do any­thing and get away with it.

I there­fore can­not af­ford not to take your calls to get me killed se­ri­ously. After all, while you were mak­ing a sim­i­lar call last week, my edi­tor was be­ing tar­geted. We wait to see if this will get the nec­es­sary at­ten­tion from au­thor­i­ties.

You are a spokesman of one of the par­ties in the coali­tion gov­ern­ment. You also seem to speak for the en­tire gov­ern­ment. I thus can­not ig­nore you any­more.

I will not re­spond to you in sim­i­larly acer­bic lan­guage. I shall not re­spond to you in anger. But I write you this open let­ter to help you, hope­fully, see the wrong­ful­ness of your ways. I shall also not seek to re­spond to all the un­truths you have said about me. You have said so many things. I will deal with a few.

The Le­sotho Times, along­side its sis­ter news­pa­per, the Sun­day Ex­press, has been in busi­ness for al­most 10 years now. It has grown in leaps and bounds over the years into be­com­ing a mar­ket leader. It is the only news­pa­per in Le­sotho with ABC ac­cred­i­ta­tion. Please don’t con­fuse this to the All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion. Def­i­nitely not.

ABC in pub­lish­ing terms means the Au­dit Bureau of Cir­cu­la­tion of South­ern Africa (ABC) based in Jo­han­nes­burg. News­pa­pers with cred­i­ble, con­sis­tent cir­cu­la­tion fig­ures reg­is­ter with the ABC to en­sure that their cir­cu­la­tion and read­er­ship are sub­jected to con­stant au­dits and are not ex­ag­ger­ated.

We reg­is­tered with the ABC as our cir­cu­la­tion fig­ures grew over the years. I am sure these fig­ures would not have grown if as you put it – we are all wrong and gut­ter.

Thou­sands of Ba­sotho wake up to buy us ev­ery Thurs­day be­cause we are surely do­ing some­thing right. In our work, we strive to be per­fec­tion­ists. But no one is a per­fec­tion­ist. We some­times get things wrong. When we do, we are the first to ac­knowl­edge and apol­o­gise in bold prom­i­nent let­ters.

To say I must be killed be­cause my news­pa­pers have pub­lished some­thing you don’t like is not only rep­re­hen­si­ble, it’s crim­i­nal in­cite­ment.

Please note that when I say “we” in this let­ter, I am not re­fer­ring to my­self. I am re­fer­ring to the 44 Ba­sotho who have full­time jobs in this com­pany. I am cog­nisant of your ex­pressed ha­tred of me as a Zim­bab­wean. But please be rest as­sured that the peo­ple who pro­duce the pa­per that you see and of­ten don’t like are not my­self nor the three Zim­bab­weans on the project. It is the ma­jor­ity Ba­sotho em­ployed in the com­pany.

We founded the Le­sotho Times on a sim­ple edi­to­rial prin­ci­ple. To give the peo­ple of this coun­try a plat­form for de­bate and vig­or­ous ex­change of views. We are not pro-this party, pro-this per­son or pro-what­ever.

Any­one is free to use this plat­form to ex­press their views. News sto­ries are some­times by their very na­ture, neg­a­tive. So when neg­a­tives hap­pen and they are mir­rored in a news­pa­per which is in­de­pen­dent, it cre­ates an in­ad­ver­tent im­pres­sion that per­haps we have an agenda.

We don’t. To give you an ex­am­ple, you will never read a story in any news­pa­per say­ing that South African Ex­press aero­planes have been land­ing safely at Moshoeshoe 1 Air­port for many years. But should there be a plane crash, it will be front page news for some­time. That’s just the na­ture of news. Of course we make a de­lib­er­ate ef­fort to bal­ance news with de­vel­op­men­tal sto­ries.

You may not be­lieve this but please be­lieve it. I did not per­pe­trate any of the events that caused SADC to in­ter­vene and es­tab­lish a com­mis­sion of in­quiry into Le­sotho. I was not re­spon­si­ble for any of those in­ci­dents. What my news­pa­pers have sim­ply done have been to re­port on these events as they have hap­pened and to re­port on the rec­om­men­da­tions of the SADC com­mis­sion thereof.

I once had a very con­struc­tive dis­cus­sion with Dr Fako Likoti, the Prime Min­is­ter’s po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sor. Dr Likoti took um­brage with the fact that at the time we met, ev­ery poster that the Le­sotho Times pub­lishes ev­ery Thurs­day had some­thing to say about Ma­hao (Maa­paarankoe) as if there was noth­ing else hap­pen­ing in Le­sotho.

I ex­plained to Dr Likoti that when a story is top­i­cal, it re­mains so and it may war­rant re­port­ing sev­eral times over. This fo­cus on a top­i­cal is­sue may in­ad­ver­tently create an im­pres­sion that a medium has an agenda. That is not the case. We don’t have an agenda.

I could see that I did not con­vince Dr Likoti, but I was pleased with the deco­rum he showed in voic­ing his dis­plea­sure. He, un­like you Ntate Ra­matšella, did not go to a ra­dio sta­tion to call for my killing.

The Le­sotho Times once quoted the Prime Min­is­ter wrongly. One of his aides and a for­mer jour­nal­ist her­self, Mme Mamello Mor­ri­son, phoned me to voice her dis­plea­sure. I brought her con­cerns to the at­ten­tion of the edi­tor who took im­me­di­ate ac­tion to cor­rect the er­ror and pub­lished the req­ui­site re­trac­tion. Mme Mor­ri­son never went to a ra­dio sta­tion to say I must be killed. It is these voices of rea­son that some­times give me hope.

But the re­al­ity Ntate Ra­matšella is that these voices of rea­son have now been drowned by your own hate filled xeno­pho­bic vit­riol which openly in­cites mur­der. How un­for­tu­nate. At the Le­sotho Times, we want to give a say to all voices that want to be heard. We vig­or­ously in­ter­view min­is­ters and of­fi­cials to give them an op­por­tu­nity to ex­plain their pro­grammes of ac­tion to the peo­ple. But if a min­is­ter or se­nior of­fi­cial re­fuses to talk to us, we can­not kill our­selves. If an op­po­si­tion of­fi­cial takes that space to ex­plain them­selves, we surely can­not be blamed for it.

You are free to come to the Le­sotho Times to be in­ter­viewed about the pro­grammes of your party and be heard by the vot­ing pub­lic if you so wish. How­ever, un­like Tsenolo FM, we will not pub­lish xeno­pho­bic, hate filled vit­riol. We will not allow you to use the plat­form of our pages to call for the mur­der of any­one you dis­agree with. At Tsenolo, you are given a plat­form to spew your vit­riol against me. I am never given a chance to re­spond. That’s not the jour­nal­ism we en­cour­age. We in­sist on bal­ance, ac­cu­racy, fair­ness and truth­ful­ness.

You have said so many things that are un­true Ntate. For in­stance, you said on Tsenolo that I spon­sored Mme Li­a­biloe Tha­bane’s birth­day. You said I am work­ing with Mr Har­ring­ton to desta­bilise Le­sotho be­cause I have known him from his days as a di­plo­mat in Zim­babwe? Where do you get all this crap Ntate. May you please re­tract these un­true state­ments? My in­volve­ment with Ntate Tha­bane was only be­cause it was his per­sonal style to vig­or­ously en­gage with the me­dia to air his views and mo­bilise sup­port for his party. He in­vited me a few times to ei­ther protest sto­ries he did not like or to ask for cov­er­age of cer­tain im­por­tant is­sues he felt ne­glected by the me­dia. It was his party’s de­ci­sion to use our plat­forms to ad­ver­tise its pro­grammes prior to the Fe­bru­ary 2015 elec­tions. His party paid for all their ad­verts. If it did well as a re­sult, how is that my prob­lem?

Ntate Ra­matšella, I never spon­sored a birth­day for Li­a­bil­loe as you claim. Equally, I am not a spy. Do you think Mr Har­ring­ton is so blind to fail to make his de­ci­sions with­out my “spy­ing”. Be se­ri­ous Ntate.

You boast that you are cur­tail­ing state ad­ver­tise­ment in our pa­pers. Again, that is plain wrong to pro­mote abuse of pub­lic mon- ey to favour in­sti­tu­tions that you deem pli­able. We are not hys­ter­i­cal about it when we are pun­ished by cer­tain min­istries. We seek to en­gage. But al­ways re­mem­ber the var­ied con­se­quences of your ac­tions. Se­ri­ous in­vestors and donors want to see a vi­brant cul­ture of press free­dom with­out state ha­rass­ment.

Your most galling and ap­palling ac­tions re­mains your call for me to be shot dead. Ntate, there is no busi­ness, no project worth dy­ing for. I love this coun­try and want to see it pros­per. Only a fool will wish bad for a coun­try in which he is in­vested. I am no such fool.

But if the con­sen­sus in your cir­cles is that I must live Le­sotho and never sat foot here, I am pre­pared to do just that. After all, I don’t live and work here. I visit to in­ter­act with the busi­nesses I own. I visit to en­joy the splen­dour of the moun­tains. If you are not fine with this, the civilised thing is to visit my of­fice, tell me that you don’t want me here and I will hap­pily go. Why want to kill me? Have I re­fused to leave?

Surely Ntate, why do you pro­mote a cul­ture in which dif­fer­ences must be set­tled through mur­der? Have you ever imag­ined your­self in op­po­si­tion one day? What if those you want dead now make the same calls against you if one day they as­sume the reigns of power? Will you be happy about that? Why not cel­e­brate your dif­fer­ences with oth­ers in­stead of pro­mot­ing ha­tred against per­ceived en­e­mies?

Why not raise your crit­i­cisms di­rectly with our pub­li­ca­tions if they of­fend you? Why re­sort to other plat­forms to pro­mote ha­tred? Has is ever oc­curred to you that you may need the very plat­forms you are de­mon­is­ing to­day if you get out of power? Is it a crime to be a Zim­bab­wean in­vested in Le­sotho? Is it wrong for a Zim­bab­wean to create qual­ity jobs for Ba­sotho? If so, why not ask the Zim­bab­wean to leave your coun­try in an or­derly fashion with­out in­cit­ing mur­der? Do you ever think about the con­se­quences of your words and ac­tions? Par­tic­u­larly if they are spread around the world?

How do you ex­pect us to feel when our se­nior staffer is shot in the very same week you are call­ing for my mur­der. Isn’t there a causal con­nec­tion be­tween your call and the hit on our se­nior staffer? Will the au­thor­i­ties in­ves­ti­gate you over this? Will they ever rein you-in. We anx­iously wait to see.

Is mur­der some­thing that should be cel­e­brated? Is mur­der some­thing you should be proud of?

I urge you to ex­pend your en­er­gies in pro­mot­ing our com­mon hu­man­ity in­stead of spew­ing ha­tred. I as­sure you that I re­spect the fact that I am a for­eigner who has tried to es­tab­lish an in­sti­tu­tion that has proved durable and that has given many Ba­sotho pro­fes­sional op­tions. If no longer needed, I am happy to exit. Noth­ing jus­ti­fies your crav­ing for my mur­der. You are wrong to say I must be shot dead. You are wrong to plan it. You are wrong to want blood in your hands.

Basil Peta, Pub­lisher

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