Matuma Letsoalo joined the Mail & Guardian in 2003 and writes on labour and politics, and collaborates with the investigations team from time to time. In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Letsoalo was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008.
Why he Won
Matumo Letsoalo broke an important story at a time when its indirect subject (Zwelenzima Vavi) could be described as having become endeared to the media through his anti-corruption stance. But neither the journalist nor the newspaper baulked at presenting the facts of this story which served to somewhat weaken Vavi’s glowing image. Letsoalo’s digging resulted in him as a journalist being offered a R40 000 bribe in an attempt to stop publication. As a result of the exposé, one Cosatu staffer was forced to resign after having been exposed as receiving a gift of a car, while Mrs Noluthando Vavi resigned from the company SA Quantum Financial Products. The SAPS has since launched an investigation and the Financial Services Board is also investigating. It was a story with consequences, and it entailed excellent follow-up as it unfolded.
Behind The Story: “Company Hit by Scandal”
Reading like a fictional thriller, this story is an example of where fact is stranger than fiction. Based on purely information – no source, no leaked forensic report, or police docket; the experience was to shake the journalist and his newspaper:
When I got information suggesting the wife of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was receiving payments from a company that was providing financial services to Cosatu and its affiliates, little did I know the story would later turn into a bribery scandal.
I needed to verify the information in our possession. It came as a shock to me when SA Quantum CEO Veon Bock, instead of clarifying issues, offered to pay me R120 000 to suppress the story. I had two choices here. The first was to take the cash and the second was to expose the bribery attempt. I chose the latter. After consulting with senior colleagues in the newsroom, including editor Nic Dawes, we chose to go with the story to expose the bribery attempt and secure incontrovertible evidence in the form of cash and hidden footage. The first thing I did was to depose an affidavit setting out the facts, which was lodged with the newspaper’s attorneys before the pay-off.
After missing an initial meeting arranged for the evening of Friday March 26 2010, Bock arranged for the cash to be handed over just after 1pm on Saturday in the parking lot of Linkwood Business Park in Randburg. The rendezvous was filmed by a hidden camera. Bock led me to a car, where a waiting associate handed over a white envelope containing two bundles of R100 notes.
On the M&G’s secretly recorded video, Bock can be heard telling his subordinate: “Take out the thing and give it to him.” The cash was immediately handed to Dawes, who was waiting nearby, and who passed it to the M&G’s attorneys for safekeeping.
Three weeks later, we ran a follow up story, showing that Noluthando Vavi, was not the only person linked to Cosatu, to get dubious benefits from Bock’s company. Jan Mahlangu was forced to resign from his position as Cosatu pension fund coordinator after we revealed that he received an Audi A4, from Bock’s company. Noluthando Vavi also resigned from her position and Bock is being investigated by SAPS and the FSB.