The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane): The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism aims to develop investigative journalism in the public interest. A first in South Africa, the centre is a non-profit, public interest initiative to produce better investigative stories and to plough back into the profession through internships and advocacy.
The centre, whose investigators are nicknamed amaBhungane (isiZulu for the “dung beetles”), was founded in April 2010. It is funded by M&G Media Ltd (publisher of the Mail & Guardian), the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and the RAITH Foundation.
Stefaans Brümmer – managing partner – is an old hand at investigations. He cut his reporting teeth at the Cape Argus in the tumultuous early 1990s, then joined the Mail & Guardian as democracy dawned in April 1994. For the next 16 years (a late-1990s diversion into television apart), the M&G was his journalistic home and launch pad for award-winning investigations focusing on the nexus between politics and money. Stefaans has contributed to exposés including Oilgate, the Selebi affair, Chancellor House and significant breaks in the arms deal scandal. Stefaans co-founded amaBhungane in 2010.
Sam Sole – managing partner– Sam has been a journalist since 1986. He has worked for the investigative magazine noseweek, served as political editor of the Sunday Tribune, and joined the Mail & Guardian as investigative journalist in 2002. In 2003 he won the Vodacom Journalist of the Year award for first reporting the criminal investigation of then national deputy president Jacob Zuma. He has shared in numerous journalism awards, including for Oilgate, the Jackie Selebi affair and the arms deal scandal. Sam co-founded amaBhungane in 2010.
Why they Won – Judges’ Comments
The winning story, which comprised many sub-stories, highlights a powerful insidious trend in regard to political cronies acquiring wealth and other privileges with relative impunity. It is thanks to the Mail & Guardian’s amaBhungane team that South Africans have become sensitised about the phenomenon of “Gupterisation”. In motivating their stories, the entrants wrote: “The spectre of a president’s family and his cronies using their access to political capital to leverage business deals is an established pathology all over the world, so it was logical for us to put Zuma under this lense.”
The amaBhungane sank their teeth into the issue and did not let go. Instead, they systematically worked their way through the many complex stories that they unearthed and which they summed up as the rise of “Zuma Inc”. The Mondi-Shanduka judges were impressed by the use of graphic journalism amongst these entries, which illustrated vividly the explosion of directorships of the extended Zuma family after the 2007 Polokwane conference.
This journalism set the agenda which other media could not but follow. From Aurora, through to Imperial Crown Trading, the New Age newspaper, Shiva uranium mine, and Daewoo shipping – and that was just in 2010, the reporters tracked the connections. Lazarus Zim’s conflict of interests was highlighted when his partners the Guptas emerged in ICT’s deal with Arcellor Mittal, leading him to resign as chair of Kumba.
The Mail & Guardian team may likely not have uncovered the full extent of the web being spun, and nor did their exposé stop it from expanding even further. But the cumulative extent of information which they brought to light is nothing less than shocking. As a result, in 2011 there is growing public concern at what the Zuma Inc trend means for the very nature of business and power in South Africa.
Behind The Story: “Zuma Inc”
Initially Zuma Inc was intended to fulfill two functions. One was to look at the business interests of the first family and their friends and relatives. The second was to use it as a vehicle for our brand new amaBhungane team to carry out research of a project big enough to demand input from the whole team, but straight-forward enough to introduce the less experienced to basic profile research.
The initial survey allowed us to introduce some key players we concentrated on throughout 2010 – the Guptas, the President’s son Duduzane and nephew, Khulubuse.
Today it is not strange to read opinion pieces referring to the “Guptarisation” of South Africa. We pride ourselves on having introduced this topic into the body politic through our coverage of Zuma Inc.
The Schabir Shaik trial revealed the extent to which the Zuma family’s lifestyle had to be bankrolled by business interests – and Zuma’s willingness lend his face and name in return. Post the Shaik trial, Zuma’s family kept growing – as did the associated financial burden. And after his removal as deputy president and through his political come-back fight, Zuma was particularly reliant on the generosity of his supporters, so we were alive to the question of whether there would be debts to repay once Zuma became president.
It is trite to say that the intersection of business and politics is where grand corruption happens. The spectre of a president’s family and his cronies using their access to political capital to leverage business deals is an established pathology all over the world, so it was logical for us to put Zuma under this lens.
The President’s tardiness in compiling and releasing his declaration of interest was the catalyst, in March 2010, for us to take on the project of a systematic examination of the Zuma family’s business interests.
The March 19 edition introduced the shorthand concept of Zuma Inc – and the trends, personalities and deals it identified became part of the news agenda for the year, not only for the Mail & Guardian, but in many cases for the local media as a whole.
The stories this focus opened up made more forensic investigations necessary and Stefaans and Sam – the managing partners of amaBhungane – assumed the burden of probing the main seams of, well, seaminess.
The team was the first to identify the Zuma link in the shelf company that snatched mining rights to a portion of the giant Sishen iron ore mine from under the nose of Anglo American’s Kumba Resources.
And we were the first to identify the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma as the buyers of the mothballed Dominium uranium mine, which they renamed Shiva. In both these deals President Zuma’s role in the back ground was alleged, but disputed.
In both, state resources appear to have been mobilised to back a deal of which the president’s son was a beneficiary.
The abuse of state resources by a dominant party and its cohorts – aside from being a breeding ground for corruption and institutional decay – has been identified as a key threat to a fully functioning multi-party democracy.
Zuma Inc has been – and continues to be – a key marker of such trends.
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