Speech by Wits Professor of Journalism Professor Anton Harber at the Taco Kuiper Award Presentation 2011, Johannesburg, March 30 2012
When I received this year’s shortlist of 12 entries for the sixth Taco Kuiper Award, I phoned fellow judge Margaret and said, “We have a problem.” It was immediately clear to me that the standard, range and depth this year surpassed anything we have had in the past five years and was going to make our task very difficult. In the past, there were three or four entries which immediately jumped out as the contenders. This year it was clear that there were far more than that which could fit our criteria for “a distinguished example of investigative reporting”, creating a headache for the panel.
The 43 entries we received give the lie to those who make sweeping generalisations about the quality of our country’s journalism. At today’s awards ceremony, we present the evidence that the best of our journalism is truly among the best in the world. I was a judge of last year’s Shining Light Award, given at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference, and where the 2010 Taco Kuiper winner was a finalist. I can tell you that our shortlist is as good as the international one; there are at least half a dozen entries here which would compete favourably on that list.
The work you will see today is well-researched, hard-hitting, courageous, and of great public interest. In their determination to shine light in dark spaces, to make public officials account for their actions and decisions, and to highlight complex social problems, our investigative reporters are making an inestimable contribution to the realisation of the constitutional goals of transparency and accountability, and thus to the health of our democracy.
Those who denigrate our journalism, who loosely call it shoddy, need to see the work we will see today. We hold up these stories and we say to all South Africans: join us in celebrating this work, and take heed of what we will lose if we allow secrecy bills and statutory media tribunals to impede such work, and if we allow our journalism to be mocked, attacked and restricted by those who are made uncomfortable by it.
Sometimes, a journalist might feel that there is no point to what they do, that exposés are published one after the other without apparent end and without obvious effect. But you will see that the stories in this competition had major impact: they led to the resignation of a cabinet minister; the firing of a deputy minister; the disciplining of a Member of Parliament; an official investigation of a youth leader, as well as a presidential spokesperson; the firing of a hospital CEO, the removal of a city fire chief, a R1,2-m fine for a company breaking labour legislation … a formidable record of effectiveness.
This year there are entries from print, television and radio, and strong competition among these sectors. In television, we had quality entries from both MNet’s Carte Blanche and the SABC’s Special Assignment. In radio, we had entries from the public broadcaster, two regional stations and a community station, I am pleased to say.
Two radio journalists in particular deserve mention for a powerful use of the medium: Barry Bateman of Eyewitness News for his running stories on the Tshwane traffic police’ chiefs illegal vehicle; and Melini Moses of the SABC for her exposé of a complex internet scam in which scores of people were fleeced. The immediacy of live radio is a powerful investigative tool, and these journalists used it well.
We welcome first-time entrants: The New Age newspaper, The Herald and Sports Illustrated magazine. The latter deserves mention for two very different and memorable pieces: The Survivor, about a Rwandan genocide survivor who is now a competitive cyclist, and Inside School Rugby, which dealt with illegal drug usage.
The judges have asked me to commend Fred Kockott in Durban for his Roving Reporters outfit, where he works with students to undertake fascinating investigations as part of a teaching programme. For their collective entry, published in the Daily News, they gave us an insightful look into the doomed lives of two young criminals.
And, there was one entry which was censored: the M&G was prevented from running its story about presidential advisor Mac Maharaj by the threat of court action. The story came out anyway, and probably had more impact than it would otherwise have had, hopefully making clear the high cost and danger of trying to suppress legitimate stories.
A feature of this year’s entries was that a number of reporting teams competed on the same stories: we had more than one entry on the Mac Maharaj story, the Julius Malema story, and the John Block story – which made life difficult for our judges as we had to take a view on who had brought the most value. It was notable, however, that journalists acknowledged each other’s stories.
All of this demanded a good deal of time, effort and thought from the judges, and I want to thank them for their sterling service. As you may know, we have two stages in the judging process. Our nomination panel first sifts the entries and makes a shortlist. This task was done by:
- Simphiwe Sesanti
- Ed Linington
- Pippa Green
Pippa then brought this shortlist to the judging panel, which consists of:
- Judge Tom Cloete, of the Valley Trust and the Supreme Court of Appeal
- Justice Malala, well-known writer, editor and publisher
- Margaret Renn, an international representative who holds our Taco Kuiper Chair in Investigative Journalism at Wits
- Charlayne Hunter-Gault, our other international representative who has a long and distinguished career in journalism. This is Charlayne’s last term as judge, so I wish her well and a special thanks for six years of dedicated work.
I served as convenor of this panel.
The nominators were asked for a shortlist of 10. It was again a tribute to the quality of entries that they felt they could not go below 12. In no particular order, they are:
1. Glynnis Underhill of the Mail & Guardian for Godongwana and the missing pension millions – an expose of the deputy minister’s shenanigans with workers’ pension money. Underhill followed this story for some months and pinned the minister down in a revealing interview. He subsequently resigned from his post.
2. Khanyi Ndabeni of The Herald of Port Elizabeth, for The Great Chicken Exposé. This intrepid reporter went to work at a food factory – she even paid a bribe to a labour broker to get the job – and exposed appalling working and health conditions. Getting it first-hand meant that the evidence was irrefutable. We commend her editors for letting her do this for two weeks when many bigger newspapers would hesitate to commit the resources, though we were surprised that they did not make the most of her first-person approach. Her reports did lead to the company being fined R1.2-m
3. Adriaan Basson and Piet Rampedi of City Press whose story, Malema’s Secret Fund, provided the explanation for the youth league president’s mysterious wealth, the beginning of a flood of stories that have sparked a police investigation.
4. Lionel Faull of the Mail & Guardian for Trifecta’s Kickback Circle, the account of various bribes paid to senior politicians of the Northern Cape, most notably ANC chair John Block. It is remarkable that this politician survived such a thoroughgoing and damning exposé.
5. From MNet’s Carte Blanche, we have two finalists. The first is by Joy Summers, for her piece on Northern Cape politician John Block and his involvement in a series of questionable companies and tenders. It was great television, an important and complicated story told well. Summers did not break the first story on this subject, but she added great value to it and had us glued to our screens.
6. The other Carte Blanche story was from Odette Schwegler and Nicola de Chaud for their piece on the dubious management practices of the Johannesburg Fire Chief. All of us have chance conversations on airplanes where we pick up snippets, but these reporters followed it up with months of work to piece together the details, including evidence of what appeared to be a straightforward case of theft. It was a telling expose that brought changes to the management of that department.
7. The Daily Dispatch put in three entries notable for their varied subject matter, two of which the judges want to highlight. Many entries this year dealt with corruption, but this East London paper had a major story about newborns at Eastern Cape hospitals dying of infection and another in which they visited 17 mortuaries across the province to document despicable conditions. The first was by Michael Kimberley and Msindisi Fengu; the latter by Michael Kimberley, Lindile Sifile and photographer Mark Andrews. It was rigorous and resourceful enterprise journalism on important social issues, powerfully written and presented. The hospital chief was fired and reforms implemented in the mortuaries.
In our second Taco Kuiper Awards in 2007, a Daily Dispatch team won the prize for an exposé of hospital conditions; six years later, they are still pushing for changes and improvements. Our media is sometimes criticised for neglecting those other than the urban elite or being only interested in sensation and profit; here the newspaper showed itself to be a strong and concrete ally of local citizens in their fight for decent health and social services.
8. The Mail & Guardian again for the work of their team – Fiona Forde, Craig McKune, Stefaans Brummer and Lionel Faull – on Limpopo Inc, which brought to light the extent of tender manipulation and its relationship to important politicians in that province.
9. Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Rob Rose and Stephan Hofstatter of the Sunday Times‘ for their splash, Mac’s Dodgy Millions. When one takes on a man like Mac Maharaj, one has to have a cast-iron case. That is not easy when it is a case which has stymied the Scorpions. The Sunday Times team spent months pursuing it, and found the smoking gun: a consultancy agreement that set out how money would flow from a company bidding for a major tender with Maharaj’s department to his wife. They had dates, amounts and bank account numbers – the detail that turns a good investigation into a great one. Maharaj could not take action against the paper, as he had done elsewhere. He tried bluster, but none of the facts of the story have been challenged. The thud one heard as one read the story was the sound of an important politician being nailed to the wall.
10. The Sunday Times again – this time in the form of Stephan Hofstatter and Mzilikazi wa Afrika – for Shiceka, The One & Only, the expose of a Minister’s flagrant and dishonest spending spree which led to his downfall. It was a great headline, and a lesson for politicians who try and lie to journalists.
11. Hazel Friedman of the SABC’s Special Assignment, for a two-part series on the resurgence of Pagad, the Western Cape anti-crime organisation, which revisited a violent era in South Africa’s recent past and questioned the activities of some of the police in their uncovering of Pagad’s activities.
12. And from SABC Television news came Yolisa Njamela’s Fraudulent Matric Certificates for Sale, about an internet cafe which sold authentic-looking matric certificates. Television and radio news journalists have less space and time for their investigations, so one must commend their capacity to compete with an investigative report only a few minutes long.
You will see a range of stories and perhaps notice that a number of previous winners are with us again, as well as some new and younger faces. The M&G is on the shortlist three times, the Sunday Times twice, as is Carte Blanche.
Hard to pick from a list like that, isn’t it? Every single one of them deserve recognition. Well, after much deliberation, the judges whittled this down to six entries from six different outlets:
1. Lionel Faull of M&G for Trifecta’s Kickback Circle
2. Joy Summers of Carte Blanche for her John Block story
3. Adriaan Basson and Piet Rampedi of City Press for Malema’s secret fund
4. Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Rob Rose and Stephan Hofstatter for Mac’s Dodgy Millions
5. Khanyi Ndabeni of The Herald for the Great Chicken Expose.
6. Michael Kimberley, Msindisi Fengu, Lindile Sifile and Mark Anderson for the two Daily Dispatch stories: Dead on Arrival and Exhuming the Truth
From 43 entries, to 12 shortlisted, to 6 finalists – and in the end we have to have a winner and runner-up.
First, the judges have asked me to give a special mention for outstanding work of the sort they wish to encourage:
Khanyi Ndabeni for her undercover work on the Chicken Expose
It was courageous journalism of the first order and the judges shared the view that we do not have enough of this powerful and impactful first-hand reportage.
The runners-up, who win R100 000, are:
Michael Kimberley, Msindisi Fengu, Lindile Sifile and Mark Anderson of the Daily Dispatch for Dead on Arrival and Exhuming the Truth.
Finally, the 6th Taco Kuiper Award for an outstanding example of investigative journalism – and the R200 000 that comes with it – goes to:
The Sunday Times‘ Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Rob Rose and Stephan Hofstatter for Mac’s Dodgy Millions
I should note that this is the first time we have a second-time winner, the Sunday Times having won last year as well.
I want to thank all the entrants and congratulate all those who entered for their contribution to the important work of investigative reporting. Let’s raise our glasses to our investigative reporters, and to those editors and publishers who support them.