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Saddened by Cronje's evidence-free attacks & personal theories

Africa Check is shocked and saddened by an article written by Frans Cronje, head of the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), making a series of evidence-free attacks on Africa Check and setting out a number of his personal political theories.

We have a lot of respect for the legacy of the SAIRR. The SAIRR has rightly been considered for many years to be a reliable source of information and analysis on South Africa and we hope that continues.

For this reason we have sought their cooperation on a number of occasions, seeking evidence for their claims, and would be happy to cooperate with them in future. This is something we do with many other organisations from across the spectrum, both in South Africa and in other countries. This is all part of the non-partisan approach we follow.

Just last month, in fact, we issued a short report correcting a claim made about the SAIRR, after a slide from an SAIRR presentation was misreported in the media.

We did this despite being the target of an earlier attack on us launched by Mr Cronje. Why did we do so? Because the evidence we investigated showed that the SAIRR was correct.

We agree: clear evidence that lives of black S. Africans have improved

Even now, in fact, we would agree with Mr Cronje when he said today that there is clear evidence that the lives of black South Africans have seen significant improvements since 1994. We even quoted him making such a remark in a report on South Africa’s housing programme.

That, however, was not the claim we were fact-checking in the report that he is currently objecting to. Indeed, Mr Cronje’s response to our latest report suggests he fundamentally misunderstands our role. We check factual claims made in arguments, not the argument or point of view itself, and do this based on evidence.

It is worrying that a person such as Mr Cronje running an organisation as important as the SAIRR should argue that public figures and organisations should not be expected to set out the evidence for the claims that they make on important matters.

We believe that all organisations, our own included, should set out the evidence they have for the claims they make so that the public can check the evidence, fairly and openly. And we find Mr Cronje’s call for other organisations to refuse to reveal the sources for their claims to be, frankly, disturbing for democracy.

We note that Mr Cronje fails to provide any actual evidence for any of the claims that he makes against us.

We disagree: reviewing evidence is only way to keep debate honest

All this said, we know that it is possible for all organisations to make errors. And that includes Africa Check, of course. We do make errors and where we find them, we correct them in a transparent manner.

On that basis, we would make this appeal to Mr Cronje: Send us details of the findings we made that you say are false and we will happily review them, doing so openly, publicly, and linking to all the evidence we use. We would be happy to cooperate with the SAIRR in this way as we do with others.

Why? Because we believe that it is the only way to keep debate honest, which is why we were set up.

And the next time we see an interesting claim from the SAIRR pop up, we will review it and if the evidence shows it is correct, we will say so, just as we did last month. We just wish you would allow the SAIRR to extend the same courtesy to us.

Peter Cunliffe-Jones is the executive director of Africa Check.

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