Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Daily Maverick and the Dockrats: Where is the al-Qaeda link?

Yael Even Or and Camila Osorio
June 17, 2013.

    One month ago the Daily Maverick published an article by De Wet Potgieter headlined ”Al Qaeda is alive and well in South Africa“. A second part was promised, but has still not been published.

    The article implicated a Muslim family, cousins Farhad and Junaid Dockrat, in the terrorist group’s activities. The article also criticised the South African Government for not properly investigating the Dockrats. Potgieter wrote, “US and British intelligence have warned the South African authorities to stop ‘pussyfooting’ with intelligence regarding international terrorists activities in South Africa.”

    After the article was published, the Democratic Alliance’s Dianne Kohler-Barnard was quoted saying, “South Africans deserve an explanation as to what happened and why the investigation was stopped. If there was no terrorist threat then Crime Intelligence should be able to explain their reasoning for halting their investigation.”

    We do not know if the Dockrats have links to al-Qaeda. But Potgieter’s article presents no convincing evidence that they do. Using, mainly, innuendo Potgieter has made an extremely serious and damaging claim against a family. Perhaps Potgieter’s still-to-be-published follow-up will be a damning indictment of the family and the state’s investigation. But what Potgieter has published so far amounts to untested allegations.

    The article has been widely criticised for its lack of evidence and problematic language. “The piece on al-Qaeda in SA is disappointing, uses antiquated language, shoots in the dark and maligns a community,”tweeted Al Jazeera journalist Azad Essa. Some of the criticism has been published on the Daily Maverick. The Maverick told us that they are still working on the second part of the story. They are concluding an internal process and will respond to criticism of the story this week. There are several questions that need to be addressed.

    Did the article need so many references to ethnicity?

    Potgieter wrote that Farhad Ahmed Dockrat was a cleric at the beginning of 2000 at the Darus Salaam Muslim Centre in the former Indian township of Laudium outside Pretoria. “This mosque is said to be popular among Pakistani and Malawian Muslims,” wrote Potgieter.

    “What has Pakistanis and Malawians frequenting a certain mosque have to do with al-Qaeda or terrorism?”asked a Gauteng Imam, in his response on Daily Maverick.

    “De Wet Potgieter’s article speaks of the Malawis and Pakistanis frequenting the mentioned mosque. Err… So what? They are carrying out their religious obligations i.e. praying, then go home to their families,” wrote Ejaz Khan, producer of Radio Islam in an opinion article also published in the Daily Maverick.

    The article also mentions the “anxiety” that “stems from the fact that thousands of illegal immigrants from Pakistan manage to cross into South Africa, while the government appears to turn a blind eye.”

    When asked who was anxious by journalist Zahid Asmal, Potgieter mumbled, “local people, the people of South Africa.”

    Potgieter also mentions a farm built by the Dockrats, and explained, “14 units were constructed by Malawians. Nobody from the local coloured community in Haarlem was hired for the construction work.”

    Na’eem Jeenah, director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, wrote: “When you say things like ‘they employed Malawians instead of local coloureds’, as South Africans we should really be sensitive about that when a few years ago that was the kind of statement that got foreigners killed, and even now [in South Africa] Somalians are frequently killed.”

    Is having an obstacle course on your property evidence of links to terrorism?

    One day after Potgieter’s article was published, Faranaaz Parker from the Mail & Guardian called several people in the Laudium Muslim community. In this community (according to the Daily Maverick) many people frequently visited a farm owned by the Dockrat family, where there was a “military style obstacle course.” Moreover, “agents say they saw people take part in military-style training.”

    However, none of the people Parker contacted considered the Dockrats linked to these activities. As Parker quotes, “The Dockrats are known to be a charitable family and the idea that Farhad and Junaid Dockrat may be running an al-Qaeda-linked military camp has been largely dismissed as outrageous.” One of the people in Laudium interviewed by Parker said, “the only thing I know to come out of Drockrat’s farm is organic chickens.”

    The Dockrat family published a letter stating:
    There was no “military style” obstacle course. Farhad put into place obstacle courses, including rope climbing, tree climbing, crawling through drums and other fitness obstacle courses. These were installed openly and not covertly. The Zoo Lake in Johannesburg has a jungle gym with similar obstacle courses. How does that become illegal and how is that linked to al-Qaeda? 
    Did the Dockats (sic) lose a court case?

    Potgieter also mentioned that the Dockrats had a legal fight with a second community near the Storms River Mouth on the Garden Route. The legal dispute was over an irrigation channel that crossed property purchased by the Dockrats and that was traditionally used by the local families. According to Potgieter, “the Dockrats eventually lost the case in 2012.”

    Potgieter appears to be wrong. “In fact, Farhad won the application with costs. A court order proves that. A copy of the order is obtainable from the Cape High Court under case number 25325/2010,” explained the Dockrats.

    This was also confirmed by Radio Islam which stated, “The Dockrats did however win the case with costs. Zahid Asmal quoted court records with valid case numbers — (25325/2010 & 21794/2011). Clearly Potgieter failed to check or cross-reference the statement of the farmers after they told him they had won the case before writing the article.”

    When Potgieter was confronted with this fact on Radio Islam, he said that he based this on what the locals said and didn’t check if it was true.

    Was there sufficient evidence tying the Dockrats to an AK-47?

    Once the Dockrats installed themselves in Storms River Mouth on the Garden Route, Potgieter quotes the estate manager of where they lived, Greg Pearson, who mentioned seeing an AK-47 lying on a desk in their office. Pearson was involved in a legal dispute with the Dockrats. Members of the Pearson family are the only sources quoted in this region where the Dockrats lived.

    According to Pearson, “Farhad and his sons were all carrying side arms”, wrote Potgieter. Pearson’s wife mentioned hearing shoutings and his mother-in-law claimed being harassed by them. Carrying side arms is common in South Africa and is not evidence of a link to terrorism. However, having an AK-47 is suspicious because it is illegal to own an automatic or semi-automatic firearm in South Africa without a special endorsement. But given that they were in dispute with the Dockrats, are the Pearson family’s claims sufficient to make the allegation?

    Why did the investigation stop?

    Potgieter doesn’t present any source to answer the most crucial question he raises: why did the investigation stop in 2010? The most obvious answer, which the family also gave in their response, would be that there was nothing more to investigate. Potgieter, however, hints in his article that the halt wasn’t driven by professional considerations. “The teams of intelligence operatives were recalled from the operation sites, all visual material seized and laptops with the surveillance data and situation reports of deep-cover agents taken away from them. The men were told by their superiors that the orders for the cessation of the surveillance operation had come ‘from the top’. No other explanations were given and they were re-deployed to other assignments.”

    Potgieter does not describe his source for this. Investigations almost always end at the instigation of higher-ranked officers; it’s their job to decide if an investigation is worth continuing. And presumably all the materials that were obtained are locked up in evidence rooms and the people involved are redeployed.

    Potgieter quotes an intelligence source saying, “We’ve dealt with the Boeremag, why are we not dealing with al-Qaeda?” The implication of this is that the government is biased and unconcerned by terrorism associated with Islamic fundamentalism. But the public record does not support this because the South African government did shut down terror by an Islamic fundamentalist organisation called PAGAD. In the late 90s a spate of bombs by PAGAD killed several people in Cape Town. PAGAD members were prosecuted and imprisoned for public violence and similar crimes. So where is the evidence that the SA government does not care about terror by Islamic fundamentalists?

    Is Professor Hussein Solomon a reliable source?

    Potgieter quotes Professor Hussein Solomon extensively. He is a questionable source. Solomon’s quotes were taken directly from the website of RIMA (Reaserch on Islam and Muslims in Africa), which is a newly established Israeli think tank. Ejaz Khan wrote after the publication of Potgieter’s piece, “They do so every few years – Hoosen (sic) Solomons and Co attempt to disrupt the equilibrium, fail dismally … They are not easily deterred and seem almost galvanised by failure. They are driven by trial and error, hoping that one day it would stick.”

    Solomon’s warnings of terrorists attacks before the Soccer World Cup in 2010 were widely criticized. In the article by Solomon that Potgieter quoted, Solomon also wrote ”when South Africa hosted the 2010 Fifa World Cup Soccer tournament, these cells would move en masse to South Africa to strike at various US-linked interests.”

    Did the Dockrats donate money to al-Qaeda?

    Potgieter’s most damaging point is that Farah Dockrat in 2001 made a donation of “more than R400,000 to the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan to be forwarded to Al-Akhtar Trust, an Afghanistan-based entity that the treasury previously designated as an al-Qaeda fund-raising arm.” 

    But the Dockrats point out in their letter that the trust was only designated a terrorist entity by the US in October 2003, i.e. long after their donation was made, not previous to it as claimed by Potgieter. “Prior to that it ostensibly operated as a charitable organization and orphanage, it was permissible to donate funds to it. The United States in a historic retrospective application of sanction, decided to propose a listing of Farhad and Junaid Dockrat as international terrorists on the United Nation’s listing for an alleged donation two years before Al-Akhtar was listed,” wrote the Dockrats.

    Where is the exposé?

    The only source Potgieter cites who actually claims to have witnessed suspicious actions by the Dockrats is Pearson. Perhaps Pearson’s allegation that the Dockrats had AK47s is worth looking into, but alone it does not make a story.

    Beyond the Pearson family and Solomon, Potgieter’s sources are “Top-level” intelligence sources from the U.S. and Britain, a series of articles on the Dockrats by Reuters reporter Michael Georgy in 2007, a press release from the US Treasury in 2007 and a South African intelligence source who supplied the Boeremag quote.

    This raises a few questions. Most of the reports Potgieter cites are old. Little information that he presents in his article is based on new reports or conversations. That’s why he has been accused of writing a cut and paste piece. Potgetier was previously criticised in 2011 for writing about the presence of al-Qaeda in South Africa in a piece for The New Age, without providing sufficient evidence. Apparently Potgieter worked for a year on this investigation, but there is definitely not a year’s worth of information-gathering presented in part one. Potgieter’s article should not have met the Daily Maverick‘s standard for publication.

    You can follow the authors on Twitter at @yaelevenor and @Camimi68.

    This article also appears at Africa Check.
    Comment: Since GroundUp published this article on June 17, the Daily Maverick has come to its senses and retracted the story in question, removed it from their website, and offered an apology to the Dockrat family as well as the Muslim community in South Africa.

    You can see the June 19 apology here.

    De Wet Potgieter, the author of this despicable piece of racist garbage has also offered what he thinks amounts to an apology couched in a feel-sorry-for-myself piece.  I do, however, not see the apology or a real recognition of the damage he has caused.

    You can read Potgieter's half-assed confession entitled "My world turned upside down" here.

    Finally, and probably most significant, the editor of the Daily Maverick has published a retraction notice and an apology in which he takes full blame for not being able to see through the racist witch hunt nonsense he peddled for journalism.

    You can see Branko Brkic's statement here.

    More than a month has passed to reach this point of retraction and apology.  In that the usual racists have been able to climb on the Islamophobe bandwagon and offer their deluded comments on forums.

    I am left wondering just what it would have taken for the editor to see through the crap that Potgieter put in front of him.

    Was the decision to print this witch-hunt drawn from an over eager need to climb onto the Islamophobia bandwagon and point fingers at 'suspect' Muslims?

    Did it help the publishing case that a Muslim professor of political science at Free State University, Hussein Solomon, has mouthed off about an Al Qaeda threat in South Africa since before the World Cup in 2010?

    Most of all, where was the fact checking process in the decision to publish this inflammatory and sensation seeking drivel?

    I don't read the Daily Maverick too often.  But when I do it always comes up lacking.

    That said, it is a good thing that they retracted the story and offered an apology.  More good for them than the Dockrats or Muslims on the whole since I bet there are more than just one or two lawyers in Mayfair and Fordsburg preparing a lawsuit about now.

    And I think the Dockrat family should sue the Daily Maverick, the editor and Potgieter.

    It is not enough to issue a half-assed apology when so much damage is on the ground already.  Suing them and gaining a substantial judgment will set a needed precedent for other publications that rush out to get sensational stories in print before applying journalism 101 ethics.

    I wonder if Free State University is asking Professor Hussein Solomon to explain his links to Israeli propaganda sites?  They should be.


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