Chief targeted by journos for extortion
An SABC TV host and a journalist from tabloid newspaper Sunday World are facing charges of extortion after allegedly trying to blackmail a chief in Limpopo, demanding money from him in exchange for not publishing a story about an affair he allegedly had.
Venda chief Livhuwani Matsila’s love affair with actress Florence Masebe became public late last year after the couple’s 18-month-old son drowned tragically in a swimming pool. At the time, Sunday World reported that the little boy was the love child of Matsila and Masebe, who had kept their affair a secret.
Matsila told City Press this week that shortly after his son’s funeral, he was approached by the TV host, who told him the Sunday World reporter was working on a followup story and was about to expose another affair he had with another woman, which had also produced a child.
City Press knows the identities of the reporter and the SABC TV host, but is withholding their names because the two have yet to be arrested or formally charged.
“He [the TV host] told me the journalist was prepared to make the story die if I paid the money,” Matsila told City Press this week.
He said the TV host advised him to make a cash offer to the journalist to make the story go away. He offered R4 000, which the host dismissed as too little.
“I then offered to double it to R8 000, but the TV host sent me an SMS, purportedly from the reporter,” the chief said. The SMS, allegedly sent from the reporter’s phone to the TV host and then forwarded to the chief, reads: “Mchana, tell that Morena [chief] to be serious. Maybe this chick [a female journalist who was also reporting on the story] is, but I’m not desperate phela [because] I dropped the story about the minister Ka [on] Tuesday and he called me and gave us R100k Ko [at] Parktown hotel.”
He continued: “Bjale wena o belaka ka R8k tlogela go raloka Sione [now you are talking about R8 000, stop playing]. And wena [you], why do you always fight for Mavenda naa [people from Venda]? The man stands to lose a lot of credibility if this story goes, Mchana.
“His website shows he does a lot of business with government and Lotto. He will be bringing them into disrepute, Mchana, ka story se [over this story].”
After the SMS was sent, Matsila alleges he called the reporter directly and told him he could only afford R60 000. The reporter said he preferred to receive the money via the TV host.
Matsila said he then spoke to friends, who advised him to open an extortion case with police – which he did. Intercepted communications, which City Press has obtained, continued via SMS and phone calls that were recorded between Matsila, the reporter and the TV host.
Matsila said: “On the day of the delivery, the TV host said he would not be available but would send a driver to collect the money. When the driver arrived, he was arrested by the undercover police. The driver made a sworn statement that he was sent to collect the money.”
City Press understands the reporter was questioned by Hawks officers, but not arrested.
“The problem is, there have been senior police officers and government officials who have been coming to me asking me to drop the charges. I told them I would not,” said Matsila.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed they were investigating a case of extortion and statements had been obtained from those implicated.
“We have completed compiling evidence in the form of SMSes and call recordings against those involved. The docket will be sent to the National Prosecuting Authority for a decision on Monday,” he said.
Approached for comment on Friday, the TV host asked that questions be sent via SMS.
Late yesterday, his lawyer, who would only identify herself as Miss Mahapa, said: “All the allegations are denied, and there was never any criminal matter against my client. There is no criminal matter pending against him.”
Yesterday, the Sunday World reporter declined to comment, as the matter was “sub judice”.
Sunday World editor Abdul Milazi said the reporter told him last month a charge had been laid against him.
“He said he did not have details at the time because the police had not contacted him as yet about the matter.
“The journalist has been on leave since December and will be returning to work next week,” said Milazi.
“We will expect him to brief us about the details of the charge or charges against him on his return and we will be guided by our HR policies as to what action to take.”
SA National Editors’ Forum chairperson and Sowetan editor Mpumelelo Mkhabela said the press code advised that “journalists are not allowed to engage in practices that may make their audiences doubt their journalistic independence”.
“Extortion and/or solicitation of bribery of any form is prohibited in journalism,” he said. “I hope the allegations are not true for the sake of ethical and credible journalism.”