FPD rejects M&G report, defends Moeletsi Mbeki

Board says Prince Mashele had no right to try and publish distorted findings of an incomplete study

Following erroneous information and potentially damaging allegations contained in recent media reports about a major study of the attitudes of Cosatu shop stewards, a special board meeting of the Forum for Public Dialogue (FPD) was held at the weekend (see Mail & Guardian report).

The meeting noted that none of the board members other than the Chairman, had been contacted by the media for comment about the survey that was commissioned by the board; that claims and allegations contained, especially in a Mail & Guardian report last Friday, appeared based entirely on a letter from the former FPD CEO, Mr Prince Mashele; and that there had been, at best, inadequate attempts to check the veracity of the information published. In the light of this, the FPD board issued the following statement:

1. The shop steward study was commissioned by, but was not being carried out by the FPD. As CEO, Mr. Prince Mashele had no direct role in the study, other than oversight and management. The study is being carried by the Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE), a professional research organisation of unimpeachable integrity. It is being conducted under a commercial outsource arrangement, commissioned by the FPD board.

2. Neither the FPD board nor CASE would tolerate any interference with, or distortion of, the CASE data and analysis and the FPD board reserves the right to discipline any staff or board member who may, in any way, misuse or misconstrue the study, its contents or analysis. However, the study is not yet complete, with expected final analysis of data in or about March 2013.

3. This is an unprecedented longitudinal study commissioned by the FPD and follows a previous similar study also conducted by CASE in 1991. Cosatu was briefed from time to time about the progress of the research because the trade union federation helped to facilitate the study. However, Cosatu had no input into the findings and never expressed an interest in becoming involved in other than in an enabling capacity. The federation was briefed from time to time about the progress of the study.

4. At the last scheduled FPD board meeting on November 21, 2012, it was stressed by Mr Mashele, with the full backing of the board, that Cosatu would have no influence whatsoever on the timing or content of what would eventually be released by FPD/CASE. Given the comprehensive nature of this important piece of social research, the board also agreed that there would be no media statements about the study issued without prior review by the FPD chairman Mr Moeletsi Mbeki. This took the form of a specific instruction to the CEO.

5. At 2pm on December 10, CASE was scheduled to brief Cosatu about the progress of the still incomplete shop steward study, with Mr Mbeki in attendance. However, at 10am Mr Prince, against the specific instructions of the chairman, (and supported by the board), called a Press conference to announce several highlights of the shop steward study. The highlights Mr Mashele quoted in the press conference announcement were at best distorted, and at worst, a complete misrepresentation of the findings to date. The media briefing was, understandably, and with the agreement of the board, cancelled.

6. For more than a month Mr. Mashele refused to explain his actions to the board, and ignored all written requests to do so. On these grounds the board decided to suspend Mr. Mashele on January 14. Two days later, Mr Mashele submitted a letter of resignation in which he included allegations of impropriety directed at Mr Mbeki.

7. While Mr Mbeki's private business transactions are not a concern of the FPD, the board considers his ethics to be above reproach.

NOTE to editors:

The Forum for Public Dialogue (FPD) is an independent, not-for-profit nongovernment organisation without political affiliation. We are not shy to criticise what we deem perilous to South Africa's democracy and development. FPD take such decisions independently. The FPD was formed with the objective of conducting research and contributing to a national dialogue about South Africa's current and future political, economic and social life. Its vision is an informed and engaged South African citizenry, accountable political system and a globally competitive economy.

FPD's work is encapsulated in its six-word mission statement: "Analysis for a better South Africa."

Statement issued by Terry Bell, The Forum for Public Dialogue board member, January 29 2013

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