Open Letter to Bokang Ramatšella
Your death wish on me . . .
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