David Africa
David Africa

Special Assignment drops journalistic integrity, embraces Pagad

On Wednesday September 28 the SABC’s Special Assignment programme aired a documentary on the re-emergence of the organisation People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad). South Africans will remember Pagad as a Cape Town-based vigilante movement established in the mid-1990s that, after a seemingly peaceful start to its activities, turned to violence against drug dealers, gang leaders and their families, government officials and critical members of the Muslim clergy. Several of its members were convicted of violent crimes and sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. Before commenting on the content of the programme I wish to disclose that Special Assignment requested an interview with me, which I declined for reasons that will become clear imminently.

What could have been an informative programme critically investigating both government’s lack of delivery on the crime front, and community responses thereto, turned into a propaganda piece of the worst order, whitewashing Pagad’s offences and creating the impression of a government that not only does nothing about the serious levels of crime to which we South Africans are subjected, but that was actively complicit in demonising and destroying what appears to have been a genuine, sincere community movement against crime. Simply put — a demonic government against an angelic Pagad.

Let us critically appraise some of the key claims made in the programme. Pagad leader Abdus Salaam Ebrahim, for example, claims that former president Thabo Mbeki instructed judges to load cases against Pagad members and convict them of crimes of which they were innocent. The documentary’s narrators do nothing to critically interrogate this hugely significant claim, one that if true, brings the independence and integrity of our judiciary into serious question. Not to speak of that of the former president. Is it really conceivable that in contemporary South Africa a large number of individuals can be prosecuted, tried and convicted in separate courts on separate charges, and all be convicted because of an instruction given to judges by the president? Do our sleuths at Special Assignment really believe that Pagad members, who have exploited all the constitutional means of appeal at their disposal, are victims of a grand conspiracy? How odd that the conspiracy included the (intentional?) acquittal of many Pagad members, either in the original cases or through appeal processes. I assume those judges were not in on the Mbeki plot to imprison innocent and peaceful Pagad members!

A second, equally ludicrous, claim is one that the producers of the “documentary” set up by linking a string of events surrounding former SAPS commissioner Jackie Selebi. According to our sleuths the story goes that Selebi, now convicted of corruption, was in charge of the investigations into Pagad and dissolved the SAPS special detective units such as the South African Narcotics Bureau (Sanab), all part of a plot to protect the drug trade in South Africa and destroy a movement whose sole focus was to combat this trade. The narrative is then supported by a statement from Pagad’s Ebrahim, himself obviously as objective as they come, who claims that Selebi instructed the SAPS to crack down on Pagad.

In the first instance, it seems obvious to me that a police commissioner should instruct his officers to crack down on an organisation involved in widespread violence and intimidation. Nothing less could be expected of him. The suggestion that the disbanding of the specialised units is somehow related to Selebi protecting the drug trade is unrelated to Pagad in any case. By the time Sanab was disbanded in 2004 Pagad was largely made ineffective by the government’s successful prosecution of many of its members. By mid-2001 Pagad had, for all intents and purposes, cease to exist as an organisational entity capable of carrying out violence in any sustained manner.

The weaving of a narrative that makes the claims that it did against the government serves no purpose save for the whitewashing of an organisation widely held to have been involved in terrorism during the late 1990s and into the early 2000s. It would be interesting to see whether the Special Assignment producers bothered to research the court records of cases involving Pagad members who were convicted of the murders of numerous men, women and children, including judicial officers. A cursory study of these materials would have alerted them to the obvious fallacy of Pagad’s claim of innocence.

While aiming the most severe allegations against the government, there is no critical interrogation of Pagad at all. Special Assignment refuses to interrogate the question of Pagad convictions or the organisation’s commitment to non-violence. At no point is there any acknowledgement from Pagad that its members were involved in violence in the past and that the organisation is now committed to a peaceful path. The only reform we hear about is the organisation’s insistence that its members do not cover their faces during public events such as protest marches. This ignores the fact that only a miniscule number of violent incidents attributed to Pagad during the past occurred during public events, but were carried out by covert cells of its paramilitary wing the G-Force. The exposure of faces, much emphasised during the documentary, is an empty act of absolutely no significance.

For those of us who lived through the violence and terror inflicted upon citizens of the Western Cape during the heyday of Pagad it is hard to believe the narrative presented last Wednesday. It is hard to believe that all the shootings resulting in the deaths of mostly innocent people, the bombings of private homes and tourist venues, and the intimidation of the Muslim clergy were either figments of our imaginations, or concoctions of the Mbeki government, aimed at protecting the thriving drug trade in South Africa. It seems that our Special Assignment sleuths have uncovered a conspiracy of the worst order involving the president, police commissioner, the media and the entire judiciary, that resulted in the vilification and imprisonment of many Pagad members.

Or maybe we have just been exposed to the shoddiest form of journalism — propaganda and whitewashing posing as investigative journalism. What a special assignment that must have been for our pro-Pagad propagandists at the SABC.

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    • Robard

      I am confused about this claim of intimidation against Muslim clergy. I thought Pagad claimed to be acting on Islamic principles.

    • Joe Pass

      Thanks for the fresh, sense and intelligence around the bullying tactics of the few. One of (probably) their car bombs went off at a CBD bus stop at 5pm one weekday near where I was standing. Nothing discriminate about that totally random act of terror. Sounds like Special Assignment was misguided. Its just this type of extremism that attempts to intimidate the majority, who are law abiding and want a better life for all.

    • Praetor

      Well said!

      Pagad was nothing but a terrorist organisation, whose members planted bombs killing indiscriminately.
      IE, The bombings on the Waterfront, and Green Point. Places which had absolutely no connection with gangsterism or drugs.

      Its extortion of Muslim business people, who were murdered when they refused to pay up. The G-force members used to drive around with boot-loads of money, collected through this scam.

      It is also well known that big drug dealers were safe, as long as they paid protection to Pagad. It was only the small-time dealers who were earmarked for assasinations, in order to falsely portray that they were still true to their claim of being against gangsterism and drugs. Many of the hitmen employed by Pagad, came from the very gangs on the Cape Flats, and were drug users themselves.

      Pagad terrorised the enitre Western Cape, with people being to scared to venture out, lest a bomb would go off somewhere. Were afraid to let their children go anywhere, as they might get caught amidst a gunfight, as was the case with an innocent child in Atlantis, who were killed when Pagad attacked a house.

      The leadership of Pagad should have been charged along with their assasins, as they acted on their instruction, and all the killings and bombings which took place must have been sanctioned by them.

      This organisation should be banned, in the interest of public safety, as it wont be long before they are up to their terror tactics and criminal activities

    • Dan

      Peaceful or not PAGAD is not an organisation I want active in my town.

    • MLH

      Wow! I wouldn’t know what to believe since I don’t live around there, but I would have liked to see what you’d have written had you allowed a Special Assignment interview; perhaps their opinion would have changed and you would have felt differently. one wonders at the loyalties of the production team and how it could have heard no ill against Pagad if objections do exist.
      It remains only to say that too many South Africans suffer due to crime and its related activities; that insufficient is often done by the authorities, which drives laymen to react criminally and that all South Africans temper their fear with empathy for those who suffer most.

    • SafeSide

      Well said, an excellent article. I can only wonder what motivated a formerly reputable investigative journalism team like Special Assignment to concoct propoganda like this.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      As a Cape Townian, living in Cape Town at the time, I supported Paghad and still do.

      They claim false evidence was planted against them by the police, who were accepting bribes from the drug dealers, and the judiciary were gullible enough to believe the police, and I believe them.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Part 2 of the Special Assignment documentary on Paghad is on TV at 9 pm tonight – this is the part which deals with the police being bribed by drug dealers apparently – for those that want to watch.

    • Bell

      I think you are very narrow minded to believe that it is IMPOSSIBLE that Jackie Selebi could not have gotten bribes etc. The fact that he has only recently been charged with corruption does not mean that he was not corrupt then. How does it makes sense to disband a unit like SANAB? That alone makes me think that there is more to this story than meets the eye. Why disband a unit that is very much needed in this country???

      You just have to turn on the radio every day to hear how another SAPS employee or another politician has been charged with corruption or some form of illegal behaviour. To think that a president could not be involved either is just another naive statement. Our own current president has had his own run-in’s with the law. Yes, he was proven not guilty, but with a party like the ANC behind him was there ever a doubt that he would be found… guilty???

      I’m not saying the way PAGAD behaved back in the day was correct either, but i do believe they stepped on a lot of peoples toes and for that they may have been targeted.

      Drugs is a huge problem in our society…the moral vibers of this country is being degraded by it. There is no real consequences for drug lords, drug suppliers or drug users in this country. Our country is rife with Nigerians taking over everywhere selling drugs to our people and making use of our woman and children as prostitutes. They bribe police officers all the time to look the other way.

    • osman

      i was impressed with program. Finally the truth about what really happen in the Western Cape during that period was revealed. when Pagad members were arrested and the movment was slowed down by the state the drug dealers bussiness prospered ten fold. The Western Cape today is in a far worst state than ever before, young girls are been raped and boys been sodimised by people under the influnce of Tik. It begs the question why your write would want to protect the state when PAGAD has proven to slow down drug activity drastically in their Hay days.

    • donny

      The narrative, “PAGAD as Victim” in the Special Assignment program is highly disingenuous and indicative of poor research. By drawing on selective sampling to substantiate the alleged injustices committed against the organisation, a good research topic has been muddled with inaccuracies (see the Cape Times on what goes on at PAGAD marches (2011/03/10). This is done at the expense of a traumatised community, tired of the tyranny of crime, vigilantes and governmental neglect. As a member of the Manenberg Community, I believe that the use of extra-judicial action by any person or organisation (including the state) should be rejected as a matter of principle. Hence, the program is an aberration, as it articulates the idea that PAGAD had a positive impact in fighting drug dealers and gangsterism in the Western Cape, albeit for a ‘few indiscretions’ (bombings, murder and assassination) by individuals.
      What has successive Western Cape Governments done to deal with the scourge of gangsterism and drugs (if any) and what impact did it have? What has been the impact in Manenberg and other areas because of the disintegration and dislocation of mainstream gangs and leaders because of PAGAD actions? Maybe the liberalisation of the drug trade in the Western Cape? We as the public do not know and certainly here, in Manenberg we would be interested in this, rather than watching the polishing of the image of convicted wrong doers.

    • Hazel Friedman

      Donny, I think you need to do YOUR research more rigorously. The problem with a TV programme is that ALL sources cannot be listed, as is the case with research project. For the record I consulted with reputable academics, scientific experts, politicians, prosecutors and policemen on both sides of the pro/anti PAGAD divide. I also obtained my FACTS – I invite you to list any inaccuracy – from highly respected scholarly journals undertaken by researchers of the ilk of Irvin Kinnes, Bill Dixon and Lisa-Marie John from the Institute of Criminology at UCT. Furthermore, I received access to highly confidential documents pertaining to PAGAD and the State’s response. Either you did not watch Parts 1 & 2 of Hit or Myth or you clearly misunderstood the narrative and the expose of a corrupt criminal investigation into urban terror. If you like I can furnish you with the scripts of both, DVD copies and/or a detailed list of further reading. Incidentally I read the Cape Times article, along with many media reports on PAGAD dating from 1996 – 2011. This, in addition to extensive consultation with stakeholders on both sides. I believe I did my homework. For you to call the Special Assignment programme an “aberration” is downright bizarre. But Donny, you are entitled to your opinion, as misguided as I believe it is.
      Hazel Friedman
      HIT OR MYTH 1 & 2

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/davidafrica David Africa

      @Bell, I never said its impossible for Selebi to have received a bribe..simply that his conviction does not mean there are grounds for a larger allegation that his work around PAGAD was decided by loyalties to drug lords. I will be the last to disagree that drugs are a major problem in our society but find no evidence that PAGAD’s response thereto has either been effective or justified. Donny is right about the use of violence as a means to dealing with such issues. It does not work, and sets things on a slippery slope to chaos.

      Hazel, I am happy to engage with you on matters of fact. I find it strange that a programme based on your comprehensive research did not enlighten the viewers about the court cases in which PAGAD members were convicted or deliver insights from the Muslim clergy and Islamic scholars who were subjected to PAGAD’s intimidation. The issue of extortion, to which Praetor above refers, is well known within the Cape Town community, and it is strange that so many businessmen were killed or attacked shortly after being ‘outed’, threatened and warned by PAGAD.

      Anyway, the effect of PAGAD’s action on gangs in the Western Cape has been negligible. The fact that they received, and still do, more press than other organisations does not mean they have been effective. There are many organisations on the Cape Flats doing educational, rehabilitation and mobilisation work against the scourge of drugs and do not set about threatening and attacking anyone

    • donny

      The problem with 17th and 18th century travel writers visiting the Cape of Good Hope is that they always interpreted reality (of the people and their conditions) to suite their own misguided and pre-conceived idea and notions of the Colony. This is exactly what your documentary is reminiscent of given the empirical evidence of the history of PAGAD (yes, we do have TV’s in Manenberg). As a member of the Manenberg Community, who witnessed and experienced the period your “empirical” research depicts (1996 to 2002); Who is really misguided?

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    • Louise

      I live in CT and wonder who to trust when ti comes to fighting drugs – definately NOT the police, many are in the pockets of drug lords and on their payrolls.

      Pagad leader was arrested this morning and is being questioned at the Guguleto police station. The police are saying nothing and that’s exactly where the problem lies. Is this police intimidation again? They’d better have very good reasons to hold the guy because we are tempted to accept ANY help from any group able to bring down the druglords. The police is simply too corrupt and inefficient to be able to do this.