High quality investigative journalism is spreading around the world. One country where it has put down strong roots, despite an often hostile environment, is South Africa. The depth of reporting can be seen in the just announced Taco Kuiper Awards, that country’s highest prize for investigative journalism. In the awards announcement speech last weekend, which GIJN is pleased to reprint here, Wits University Journalism Professor Anton Harber salutes the finalists for work on extraordinary stories ranging from police death squads to government waste, fraud, and abuse of the public trust.
Judging the Taco Kuiper Awards is one of the highlights of my year. I get to survey some of the most interesting reporting of the previous 12 months, and it reinvigorates my faith in our journalism.
I am reminded of how good, by any international standards, is the best of our journalism and how misinformed are those who make sweeping generalisations and quick and easy criticisms of the work of our reporters and editors.
This year we had 44 entries from 20 different outlets in all media types: print, radio, television and online. Apart from the regular big-hitters, such as the Sunday Times, City Press, MNet’s Carte Blanche programme and Mail &Guardian, it included small community papers, like The Eye News of the Batlhabine Community of Tzaneen, and the Lowvelder; a freelance photographer; the student team known as Roving Reporters based at the Durban Institute of Technology; and our first ever entry from the SA Medical Journal.
We were presented with a diverse array of stories. Apart from the high-profile ones about corruption – both in the state and private sector – there were investigations into social and educational conditions, health services, the abuse of the drug tik, fights over conservation and the environment, including one over turtles, police death squads, internet scammers; the Boeremag trial, the Marikana massacre, the earnings of municipal managers, farmworker conditions and child prostitution. Our watchdogs have their eye on corruption and abuse of power, for sure, but also on almost every aspect of South African society. The range and depth of stories we looked at was truly inspiring. This is a festival of muckraking.
Today we celebrate the quality of the best of South African journalism. We salute the journalists who show dogged determination and enormous courage to reveal what some try to hide, to unnerve the complacent, to challenge those with impunity, to ensure that those with power and authority are held to public account, often swimming against the public tide. We hail those editors and publishers who invest in, support and protect the reporters on the frontline. And let us not forget the sub-editors, designers and illustrators who bring it to life. We challenge those who have little good to say about our journalism to study our shortlist and tell us this is not up there with the finest in the world.
This is particularly pertinent at a time when there are direct threats to the freedom we enjoy to do this important work. It is true that investigative journalists can be persistent and pesky, and their close scrutiny can sometimes make it uncomfortable for those who have to tackle the difficult tasks of government, but – as you will from the stories we highlight today – the value of this kind of work far outweighs the cost and irritation. And we are here today to celebrate the contribution these journalists make to our society.
We have a two-stage judging process. First, a distinguished panel vets the entries, nominates any obvious candidates who have not come forward, and draws up a shortlist.
This panel consisted of:
Former editor Paula Fray
Sarah Carter of CBS’ renowned 60 Minutes programme
Ed Linington, for many years editor of SAPA
and my colleague Prof Franz Kruger, also an editor and journalist of many year’s experience.
They produced a shortlist of 9, so that the second panel could focus their discussion on the top contenders. These judges were:
Former editor and writer, analyst and commentator Justice Malala
Paul Fray again
Margaret Renn, another international representative and our holder of the Taco Kuiper Chair in Investigative Journalism
Tom Cloete, judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal and representative of our funders, the Valley Trust
and myself, as convenor of the panel.
It is a formidable bunch of people who take their task seriously, leading to hours of intense debate and discussion, and they have our special thanks.
The initial panel shortlisted 9 of the entries, and they are, in the order in which they arrived:
Malcolm Rees of Moneyweb for Garnishee and Unsecured Lending Abuse
A strong and original story that exposed the loan and debt systems which plague workers and contributed to conflicts like the one in Marikana. This work was thoroughly researched and impactful: it led to banks changing their handling of these issues and talk of legislation to outlaw garnishee orders.
Msindisi Fengu of the Daily Dispatch for Hostels of Shame
East London’s newspaper has identified a way of taking one small item – in this case a remark by an MEC that prisons were “far better” than the Eastern Cape’s rural school hostels – and turning it into a major investigation. Msindisi set out to visit 70 school hostels. Forty of them turned out be ghost hostels, and did not even exist, and those they saw over two months allowed them to document horrifying conditions. Powerful, original, relentless slog-work, strongly presented in paper and online.
The judges in this case also wanted to mention the photographer Yandisa Monakali, who took brilliant photographs that brought this story to life.
Joy Summers and Susan Comrie of MNet’s Carte Blanche for Aurora
This was a running story on BEE abuse and exploitation which t4his team took to a new level, putting the Bhana family at the centre of the crookery and using court action to secure exclusive access to liquidation hearings. Everyone got a voice in the piece – from mineworkers to liquidators – and the result was effective storytelling of a well-executed investigation.
Phillip de Wet and Matuma Letsoalo and the Mail & Guardian’s AmaBhungane team for Nkandla
M&G broke the first story of what would evolve into a national scandal around the presidential home. Their focus at this stage was on what they called Zumaville, the development of the surrounding area, but it was the story that launched a thousand stories. A multi-facetted report involving strong on-the-ground reporting, with follow-up on what President Zuma knew and the abuse of the Key Points Act to try and cover it up. It stands alongside the next on the shortlist:
Adriaan Basson and Paddy Harper of City Press for Nkandlagate
City Press is commended for breaking the story of the cost of the presidential home upgrade, a well-researched and strongly presented story with high impact. Certainly, it is the story that hung over the Mangaung conference and seems likely to feature in the coming elections. The City Press team carried the story over five strong front page leads.
Stephan Hofstatter, Rob Rose and Mzilikazi waAfrika of the Sunday Times for Nothing for Mahala
The complex and detailed story of the dubious dealings of the deputy president’s partner was well-researched and well-told, and cast the first doubts on the clean image of the man who was then a presidential candidate.
The same Sunday Times team again – Hofstatter, Rose and waAfrika – for It’s Just Not Ayoba
This story homed in on a sensational misuse of public power and private money by Minister of Communications Dina Pule. They drew on a number of sources to show how her alleged boyfriend had been given free access to money raised for a summit, and used it to her and his benefit, including buying her a pair of red-soled shoes, hilariously highlighted in a front-page picture. Establishing the critical link between Pule and her boyfriend was not easy, but they dealt with it thoroughly and carefully.
And again, this Sunday Times team has another on the shortlist: for Cato Manor Death Squads
This story of a rogue police squad carried over from the previous year but again it mixed well-researched fresh evidence with effective storytelling. This horrifying story is of particular importance because it provides the backdrop to the current concerns over police violence.
The 9th and final story on the shortlist is from Greg Marinovich of Daily Maverick for Marikana.
It is not often that a photographer makes an investigative breakthrough but Marinovich’s determination and passion led him to find evidence that everyone else was missing, and pointing to an entirely new explanation of what happened on that fateful day that claimed the lives of 34 miners. The writing and editing was unconventional, but the strength, originality and importance of the story shone through.
What a range of stories, and what a powerful demonstration of the richness of our investigative reporting. Sunday Times has three stories in the shortlist; Adriaan Basson, who has featured in two previous winners, and one runner-up, is again in the running. And it is notable that print, television and an online story are among the final candidates. There is not one on that list that is not a contender for high recognition and reward.
This is the hardest part. Everyone on this list has done excellent work and all would be worthy prize winners. We want to encourage and recognise them all, and urge them to keep going, but in the end we have to get to just one winner and one runner-up.
After much deliberation, the judges settled on four on the short shortlist, the final finalists. But first, they have asked me to make special mention of some outstanding pieces of work of the sort they wish to encourage:
City Press’ Faces of Marikana, in which they sent a team around the country to find the real faces, families and feelings of all the victims of Marikana . It was a fine example of enterprising and creative work to drive home the brutal human impact of those terrible events.
Neels Jackson of Beeld went undercover to get a first-hand account of shelters set up to exploit the needy and divert assistance for themselves.
So, it is the final four. They are:
Hostels of Shame from the Daily Dispatch’s Msindisi Fengu and photographer Yandisa Monakali
Ndandlagate from City Press’s Adriaan Basson and Paddy Harper
Cato Manor Death Squad from the Sunday Times’s trio Stephan Hofstatter, Rob Rose and Mzilikazi waAfrika
Marikana, from Greg Marinovitch, published on Daily Maverick
So, 44 entries, 10 shortlisted, four finalists – and we have to settle on a winner and runner up.
In fact, we could not choose between two runners-up, so we split this prize. Sharing the R100 000 are:
Greg Marinovitch for his Marikana expose
Stephan Hofstatter, Rob Rose and Mzilikazi waAfrika for Cato Manor Death Squad
And finally, the 7th Taco Kuper Award for an outstanding example of investigative journalism – and the R200 000 that goes with it – goes to:
This was not a story that arrived in an envelope or the result of a lucky leak. It required many weeks on the road, visiting each school across the length and breadth of the Eastern Cape to document the appalling conditions in which students had to live. His persistence, determination and rigour together led to a most important story, powerfully told. And powerfully illustrated by photographer Yandisa Monakali. As a result, at least one official was suspended and the provincial authorities were booted into action. As one of the judges said, there can be no more important story than neglect of our schoolchildren, and no more valuable role for journalism than forcing a provincial government to do their duty by these youth. Well done to Mndisi and the Daily Dispatch.
Professor Anton Harber directs the Journalism and Media Studies Programme at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa. He served for ten years as editor of the The Weekly Mail (now the Mail & Guardian), during which he was prosecuted numerous times under the State of Emergency laws.