Record of information provided to a journalist taking discredited fraud and slander seriously        

Record of information provided to a journalist taking discredited fraud and slander seriously                                                                                                   

In November 2023 the movement held three long meetings to discuss a podcast by a journalist who took seriously the completely discredited fraud that emanated from within and around the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), an academic NGO previously headed by Patrick Bond, after our movement was formed almost twenty years ago. The bulk of the fabricated slander against our movement was produced by Heinrich Bohmke.

 Our process for preparing a letter to the journalist was to establish a committee to deal with the matter. That committee listened to the podcast together, taking notes and pausing the audio to discuss issues as they arose. We then produced a number of drafts of the letter, reading each draft out aloud line by line, discussing anything that anyone wished to raise and making any changes that were collectively agreed on. 

 This document includes excerpts from that letter in which direct references to the journalist and his very many errors of fact have been removed but important information about that history of fraud from within and around CCS is retained as it may be useful to other journalists in the future.

 It would be useful to read these excerpts together with the statements previously issued on these matters in February and July 2015. Please note that the second statement should be read together with the drafts of our unpublished replies to a fraudulent article published (with the support of Patrick Bond) in Politikon, an academic journal, which are attached below the statement in pdf files.

The basic facts of the context of Heinrich Bohmke’s slander against our movements are as follows:

  1. Before the formation of our movement the left in Durban, and its academic, donor and international connections, was controlled by Patrick Bond, Ashwin Desai and Bohmke, who were all at or linked to Bond’s Centre for Civil Society (CCS) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
  2. After our movement was formed Bohmke came to the petrol station where S’bu Zikode was working and offered him R7 000 a month to ‘bring the movement to us’. Of course S’bu declined this offer to sell the movement.
  3. When it became clear that the movement would take direction from its members and not from CCS they launched an all-out attack on us, an attack that included public and private slander, presenting us criminal, corrupt, unable to think and speak for ourselves and ‘under the control of white intellectuals’. This attack was supported by a number of academics and NGO people elsewhere in the country, not one of whom had direct knowledge of our movement or approached us to get our view on these matters. One well known NGO person in Johannesburg who is now an academic called us criminals in writing
  4. Bohmke led this attack but various other people at or linked to CCS participated in this attack. We were seriously defamed in writing by at least four people employed by Patrick Bond. At one point Bond even hired a journalist to attack us. Most of this defamation was self-published but it did included an article published in a university publication in the United States. That article was withdrawn almost immediately after publication as the editors agreed that it was fraudulent. There was also an academic article published in which the author falsely claimed to have been an ‘insider’ to our movement. Not one of these four people had participated in our movement, witnessed our day to day organising, had any credible claim to knowledge about our movement or had done credible research on it. Bohmke’s attacks – full of wild fabrication and a disturbing level of hatred – were widely circulated to academics all over the world by Bond.
  5. Some academics and other people initially believed Bohmke’s attacks on our movement because they accorded with their prejudices about poor black people. However, without exception every one of the many academics from around the world who had done credible and serious research on our movement, the journalists and film makers who had worked on our movement, the people from churches and the church organisations that we worked with and the lawyers that we worked with rejected his writings as fraud. The main lawyer that we worked with at the time, a highly respected person, described Bohmke as a ‘crank’ in writing.
  6. Bohmke fully supported the ANC line on the attack on our movement in Kennedy Road in 2009 and his piece supporting this line was taken as credible by some academics and NGO people not one of whom had any personal knowledge of the events in question. However the ANC line, and Bohmke’s support for it, was entirely discredited when the case against our members who had been charged with murder was thrown out of court in 2011 after the prosecution completed its case. The magistrate found that there was no case for us to answer and described the ANC witnesses as ‘dishonest’ and ‘belligerent’ and noted that they contradicted each other and that the police had instructed witnesses to point out certain people in an identification parade. Our highly respected advocate described the case as a ‘frame up’ and all the legal work done in preparation for the case showed the allegations by the ANC and Bohmke to be bogus. Also Kerry Chance, a Harvard academic, undertook a very detailed study of the attacks that included more than a hundred interviews. She wrote this up in various places beginning in 2010 and including a book published by the University of Chicago Press in 2018. Her work completely discredited Bohmke leaving him and CCS with a major crisis of credibility.
  7. At the same time despite active and sometimes successful attempts (often in writing) to suppress independent academic work on our movement more and more serious academic work on the movement, sometimes following years of research, was coming out. Also, more and more activists from other organisations had spent time with our movement, as had church leaders who publicly supported us and in 2012 a multiple award winning film on our movement was released. All this escalated the crisis of credibility for Bohmke and CCS.
  8. At this point CCS had lost its ability to claim to represent the left in Durban and to mediate national and international networks. Our movement and other popular organisations were representing themselves and building their own national and international networks and alliances. This was exactly the reason why our movement was hated and continually slandered.
  9. It is important to note that despite all the slander (and in some cases harassment) we never issued a press statement publicly attacking CCS and tried to ignore the slander and focus on our work and let that speak for itself. For almost ten years this was a one way attack.
  10. In 2014 Bandile Mdlalose, our then Secretary General, was expelled from our movement after a delegation of residents of a block of flats came to our office, many in tears, saying that they had been facing an eviction and had approached Bandile for help after which she had taken a lot of money from them saying that she needed it to arrange lawyers for them via the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI). When the court date came Bandile was nowhere to be found and there were no lawyers. She never told us that she had been approached by the residents of these flats and she never contacted SERI about the coming eviction. SERI offers pro-bono legal services so she had collected this money on a fraudulent basis. She also collected membership fees for our movement from the residents but she inflated the membership fee and did not bring the money to the movement’s treasurer or in any way alert him that she had collected this money. After a delegation of residents approached us we went to the block of flats with a lawyer from SERI and met the residents where they told us their story. SERI tried to help them but it was too late and, as well as being defrauded by Bandile, they were evicted.
  11. Following all this we set up a disciplinary hearing to investigate the allegations and offer Bandile a right to respond to them. She failed to attend the hearing and we therefore had no option but to continue it without her. At that hearing it was very clear that the residents of the block of flats had been defrauded by Bandile and so we had no option but to expel her. No movement can tolerate corruption within its own ranks. If we did so we would be no better than the ANC.
  12. Following her expulsion Bandile joined Black First Land First (BLF), the pro-Zuma and pro-Gupta organisation notorious for its dishonesty and for taking direction from the equally notorious British public relations firm Bell Pottinger. At the same time she also took a job at CCS. They clearly saw her expulsion as opportunity to regain their credibility and power by destroying the reputation of the movement. Of course they had never cared about Bandile while she was in the movement and they don’t care about her now.
  13. After joining CCS Bandile announced that she was forming a new movement. A number of people reported to us that she had approached them to join her new movement and that she had told them that Bond was her funder and that Desai was writing her public statements. Bond contacted many people around the world to support this new movement. However it failed to attract enough members to begin to build a viable organisation and so there never was a new movement.
  14. Emails viciously slandering our movement then began to be sent to our entire mailing list of over 4 000 people as well as a long list of academics in the United States, some of whom we knew were connected to Bond. These emails, sent from Bandile’s email address, were full of the words and phrases used by Bohmke, as well as his obsessions and hatreds, and repeated all the false allegations that he had been making about our movement over the years. In fact the first email stated that Bohmke had been unfairly marginalised from the struggle making Bohmke’s desire for power and control, rather than the oppression faced by impoverished black people, the important issue! Many extreme and entirely bogus allegations were made. For instance in one of the emails it was even implied that our movement was responsible for the murder of a man named Dutch Faku. Faku was a security guard who was killed at work by criminals. One was arrested after the murder and the other was shot dead by the police. These criminals had no connection of any sort to our movement. These facts were reported in the media. This is exactly what the ANC does. They find a body of a person killed in a criminal matter and then use that to falsely accuse us of murder, arrest our members, deny them bail and then keep them in prison for as long as they can before the charges are dropped. Both CCS and the ANC wanted us to be seen as criminals.
  15. It was clear that as well as now being employed by CCS and being a member of BLF Bandile had chosen to align herself with Bohmke’s slander and the broader project of CCS.
  16. We did not issue any public statement in response to this slander and continued with our work.
  17. At the end of 2014 an article was published in Politikon, an academic journal, in Bandile’s name. It made all kinds of untrue and defamatory claims for which no evidence was provided. It used exactly the same language as Bohmke and repeated his obsessions and hatreds and his bogus allegations against our movement – the main one being that poor black people cannot think and speak for themselves and that there must always be a white person remoting them.
  18. Patrick Bond called a press conference at CCS to present the article to the media.
  19. A number of academics, black and white, expressed concern that an article slandering and defaming a movement and some individuals while providing no evidence for its claims had been published in an academic journal. They then came under public attack and their expression of concern for academic ethics was grossly misrepresented. This worsened the existing climate of fear among many academics some of whom told us how scared they were to risk being attacked by Bond, Bomhke, etc.
  20. Politikon explicitly denied one person defamed in the article the right to reply saying that their legal advice was that the article was defamatory and that if they gave that person a right to reply they would open themselves up to being sued for defamation.
  21. Politikon gave us a right to reply in principle but made it impossible for us to reply in practice by, for instance, insisting that our reply be done too quickly for our collective processes, that it take the form of a standard academic article whereas none of the committee tasked to respond had a university degree and not allowing us to state plain facts unless we could give an academic citation to support the statement of those facts. We were not even allowed to say that our members had been assassinated or that Bandile had been expelled from our movement. The double standards were gross as the article that slandered us was not academic and provided no evidence at all for its bogus claims. We were, therefore, denied the right to respond in practice. This is an injustice that the journal has not fixed. We will be writing to the new editor asking that we finally be given a full and fair right to reply.
  22. Once it was clear that we would not be given a right to reply in practice we, for the first and only time, issued a public statement noting the history with Bond, Bohmke and CCS and noting that Bandile was now employed at CCS. We also shared our various drafts of the reply to the article in Politikon, all of which had been suppressed by the journal, on our website. In that statement we said that:

Many people have noted how racist this campaign against our movement has been. It shows us to the world as criminals, people who are like children and can’t think for ourselves and as people who are just hunting for money. Yet our members have been committed enough to our struggle to have been arrested, assaulted, tortured and murdered. Many of our members have lost their jobs due to their political commitments.

  1. Following the issuing of this statement in February 2015 the slander from within and around CCS, which went back to 2006, and had been relentless since then, suddenly stopped. It has now returned via your podcast series.

In your podcast you note your long conversation with Bohmke, repeat some of his claims and begin to echo his general views and obsessions, and even to use some of the words and phrases he uses. You make no effort to place his attacks on our movement in the context of his early attempt to buy control of our movement, or the actions of CCS. You make no attempt to enquire into his motivations for his attacks on our movement, or to speak to the many credible people around the world with real knowledge of our movement who can confirm that his attacks are not credible. You ignore the contempt for poor black people that is so obviously present in his writings.

You mention the piece that Bohmke wrote after the attacks on our movement in Kennedy Road in 2009 in which he supported the position of the ANC. You treat the piece as if it is credible and repeat some of his allegations. You do not acknowledge that the position he took in this piece has been completely discredited by legal processes and academic work. You mention Kerry Chance but you do not mention her academic work which wholly discredits Bohmke’s article and position in relation to the attacks. To take Bohmke’s slander seriously while ignoring Chance’s rigorous and respected academic work is not credible journalism on your part.

Another way in which you follow Bohmke is when you assume that there is something strange or dubious about a poor people’s movement having connections to professionals and experts of various kinds, as well as international connections. It seems that, like Bohmke, you assume that to be ‘authentic’ poor black people must remain in the dark confined corners where oppression has placed us. Like Bohmke you assume that it is illegitimate and suspicious for us to move out of these dark confined corners. For instance you say that our movement has a “strange international influence”. This is a very disturbing statement. Why is the fact that we have built solidarity in other countries ‘strange’? What is disturbing about this? All social movements all over the world work to build international connections and solidarity. We have strong connections in many countries including Ghana, Swaziland and Brazil, among others, and are often in solidarity with movements and struggles elsewhere in the world. Building and sustaining these connections is part of our political work and we often visit social movements elsewhere in the world, and host visitors from other movements in South Africa. Activists from many countries have attended classes at the Frantz Fanon Political School in eKhenana, and people from many countries have taught there, including radical academics from Jamaica, the United States and elsewhere. We consider this to be a beautiful thing but you take something good and make it seem suspicious. Would you be more comfortable if we remained alone and isolated? We find it astounding that you did a whole podcast series on eKhenana and did not at any point seem to be aware of the strong links between our movement and the MST in Brazil. Are you not aware that the seeds with which the garden was started were a gift from the MST? Is your failure to see this because you can’t imagine a progressive grassroots internationalism because it does not fit with your assumptions about poor black people?

Perhaps the most offensive way in which you follow Bohmke is his delusional obsession with ‘white academics’. The first point to make here is that like movements around the world we have worked to build productive and mutually respectful relationships with various kinds of professionals who are willing to work under or with the democratic structures of our movement. This includes lawyers, policy experts, researchers, historians, political theorists, people with design, photographic and filmmaking skills, experts in areas like environmental issues, gender, trauma, LGBTI+ rights and medicine. Like movements around the world we would like to extend these kinds of relationships. We would be pleased, for instance, to have relationships with more radical doctors, with radical psychologists, radical architects, and so on.

When we are confronted with a legal issue we value the opinion of a trained and experienced lawyer. When we engage the state on housing policy we value the opinion of a housing policy expert. When we want to develop solar power in a settlement we value the skills of an expert in solar power. Relations with people with these kinds of expertise when they are willing to humble themselves and work with us in a democratic and respectful manner are an asset to our movement. This should be obvious. They do not, as you say, ‘dictate’ to us or ‘control’ us from ‘behind’. They openly share their knowledge which then becomes part of our discussions. The fact that a lawyer gives us an opinion, an opinion that we have requested, does not mean that we then give up our power to discuss things and make decisions to that lawyer. Would you be more comfortable if we had no relations with people with useful forms of specialist knowledge?

You say that we ‘haven’t done a great job of hiding’ the fact that we have worked with ‘white academics’ – who you describe, without any evidence at all, as ‘dictating’, ‘controlling’, etc. Why do you assume that we have tried to ‘hide’ anything? Our meetings are open. Very often pictures from our meetings are on Facebook and WhatsApp groups. Anyone can see who we are engaging. We note that although the vast majority of the professionals that we have engaged over the years are black they are invisible to people like you and Bohmke.

When we first started our movement we worked with three academics at the university. All three soon lost their jobs as a result of their activism. One of these people was white, and the other two were black. We then also began to work with a fourth intellectual, someone who worked in a church organisation. He was also black. But Bohmke would always obsessively go on and on about ‘white academics’ while simply erasing the black academics and intellectuals working with our movement. When a black intellectual working in an NGO wrote a letter to the editor of a university publication in the US to complain about a fraudulent article written by a journalist funded by Bond and the publication withdraw the article after realising that it was fraudulent Bohmke immediately said that ‘white intellectuals’ had tried to suppress the article. This is all just ridiculous.

The same thing happened when a group of academics protested against the publication of fraud in Politikon. They were all attacked as ‘white academics’ even though they were not all white. We have comrades all over the world and will work with any comrade who is politically committed to our goals, brave, honest, humble and willing to work with or under the democratic structures in our movement. Neither Bohmke nor you have any right to tell us that we shouldn’t be working with any comrade that we choose to work with. Neither you nor Bohmke have any first-hand knowledge or experience of how we work with these people, and you have made no attempt to speak to us about this, or to the many people who do have first-hand knowledge.

Decisions in our movement are made in meetings. From the branches to our general assemblies these meetings are open to all. Numerous academics, journalists, filmmakers, activists, etc, etc, from around the world have attended our meetings, listened to the discussions and seen how we make decisions. They all affirm the democratic character of the movement. You give no account of our meetings and decision making practices and simply repeat Bohmke’s delusions about ‘white academics’ controlling the movement. You even use the word ‘dictate’. This is not credible journalism. You have no evidence at all to support what you state and imply.

But the main issue with Bohmke’s obsession with ‘white academics’ – which is often either a complete fabrication or fantasy on his part – is that it is deeply racist. He does not believe that we as poor black people can think for ourselves, speak for ourselves and organise ourselves and so he assumes that we must be being remoted by white people. This is deeply racist and by following Bohmke’s fantasy about white control – a fantasy for which, as we have already noted, you provide zero evidence – you repeat his racism. We do not make this allegation against you and your podcast series lightly but it has to be made, and made clearly, because it is true and because we cannot accept racism from any quarter. You need to do some deep reflection on how and why it has happened that you have produced such a racist podcast.

Not one of the many activists, academics, filmmakers, journalists, photographers, lawyers, church leaders, etc, etc from around the world who have worked with us or done research on the movement over the years – freely attending all meetings and interviewing whoever they want to – accept Bohmke’s writing as credible yet you did not speak to any of these people to get their view on Bohmke’s attacks on our movement. Unlike Bohmke these people have real knowledge of our movement. People who have real knowledge of our movement regularly use words like ‘fraud’ to describe Bohmke’s writings.

You have taken a white person notorious for slander and fraud, a white person who has been discredited by legal processes and serious academic work, a white person who has no first-hand knowledge of our movement, a white person who has done no actual research on our movement, a white person who makes plainly untrue and plainly racist claims about us and our movement very seriously. In fact he clearly shapes your thinking. However you have not taken us, our ideas and our lives seriously.

You also repeat the defamatory allegations made in the fraudulent Politikon article as if they are credible despite the fact that no evidence was given for these allegations and despite the fact that we have refuted them in our replies to that article that, while suppressed by Politikon, are online on our website. Moreover you do not give us the right to reply to those defamatory allegations on your podcast. We were defamed in Politikon and now you have repeated that defamation in your podcast. It seems that to you we are people whose reputations can be casually trashed without evidence, thought or consequence, that for you we are people who do not count as people.