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Love, Lies, and Lebo Mathosa

2007-02-14 17:29
"Lebo Had My Twins" claimed Jo'burg tabloid Sunday World's website's headline on an article dated Sunday 12th February, which was also published in the print tabloid on Sunday.

Freelance photographer Chris De Beer (25) denies the self-generated rumour that he was the father of twins - babies he claimed Lebo Mathosa was carrying when she died in a car accident late last year. He says he was trying to show that tabloid media don't check their facts.

"I thought they wouldn't take me seriously, because I was joking to see what the Jo'burg media would do," Chris tells, sounding bleary and upset. He insists he couldn't believe anyone would buy such a ridiculous story.

"Ja, and I just want to apologise to her parents. I want to say it was just a joke … and I want to apologise."

De Beer claims the elaborate "joke" was actually an attempt to expose the low standards of journalism of the Jo'burg tabloid media. "They didn't check if it was true. The journalist just wrote it down."

"I'm a freelance photographer. I shot photos of her at an event in Durban." De Beer added that he didn't really even know Lebo.

"She would do anything to sell her paper," he says of the Sunday World writer.

Journalist Tshidi Mametsa, who wrote the story, told us that Sunday World originally contacted De Beer after he emailed them offering to talk. "I was not the only journalist who talked to him but Kuli Roberts and Ngwako Malatji also communicated with him both by e-mail and telephone," She said. "After receiving the letter that states that the things he said was not true and he likes us to help him find Lebo's parents numbers, Kuli called him. He claimed of not sending any letter [by fax] to anyone."

So, how do we know Chris de Beer's communication isn't just another trick - another attempt to manipulate the media? After all, he claims that he freelances for his grandmother's company, which is called "Multimedia", doesn't have a website yet, and is not in the phone book. Are we next? De Beer assures me he's sincere, saying: "I stay with my gran, and my gran is the one who said I should apologise to Lebo".

In a fax he assures us he did send to Sunday World (Read the full text of the fax here) De Beer claims that they knew he had denied the story, and also requests Lebo's parents' contact details, in order that he might apologise in person.

Lebo, who died in a car accident on October 23rd, 2006, has remained in the news over the past few months. Her family was recently offended when road safety organisation Arrive Alive used her picture on a poster for their "Always Remember" campaign without permission and speculation about the reasons for her death continues, making her a popular subject for the local gossip press.

- Jean Barker

Your say: The story, the retractions and denials raise issues about where the South African press is headed. Is it okay to publish claims about dead celebrities without cross-checking and researching them? Or should the feelings of families be considered before the sales of papers are prioritised? What's odder: A paper (even a tabloid) printing the story, or De Beer thinking it could be passed off as a joke? Should the paper be obliged to publish his denial now? Post your opinions below.
What happens when someone makes a false claim about a dead music star to a Jo'burg tabloid - as a "joke"? Here's what.
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