Journalist Msindisi Fengu and photographer Yandisa Monakali from East London paper the Daily Dispatch were awarded the 7th Taco Kuiper award for investigative journalism yesterday at the Rand Club in Johannesburg.
Their story, Hostels of Shame, a two month investigation into the conditions of more than 70 rural school hostels in the Eastern Cape, culminated in what the judges called “powerful, original and relentless slog-work” that uncovered the appalling state of the hostels in the province.
What made the victory particularly sweet for the Eastern Cape journalists was the fact that, in Mfengu’s words, the story involved a large element of “luck”.
The luck Mfengu refers to is pure modesty on his part.
The idea for the story came when the small publication reported a local MEC’s statement, that prisoners were “far better” to live in than the hostels, as a signal for a much bigger story.
Without the resources of larger papers, and a subsequently small newsroom, the Dispatch’s approach to news was to identify “concept stories” and assign journalists to pursue these on a thorough and long term basis, according to the Dispatch’s editor Bongani Siqoko.
“It was Fengu’s insistence on visiting each and every hostel that made the difference,” added the visibly proud editor.
And he had plenty reason to be proud.
The pair walked away with the closely contested award and the generous R200 000 prize money, wrestling it from 2010 and 2011 winners Sunday Times team Stephan Hofstatter, Rob Rose and Mzilikazi waAfrika, as well as Greg Marinovich of the Daily Maverick, who were joint runners up.
The team from the Sunday Times had three entries on the final shortlist of eight.
One the investigative report into deputy president Kgaleme Motlanthe’s partner’s dubious business dealings, the other, “It’s Not Just Ayoba”, a piece on the misuse of power Communications minister Dina Pule, as well their powerful report into the Cato Manor police death squads.
Photographer Marinovich’s breakthrough story into what really happened when 36 miners were killed by police in Marikana during wage protests in 2012 was a strong contender as well.
Paul Steiger, one of the founders of Pro Publica, who was the guest speaker at the awards, emphasized journalism that “strives to be honest and exercises care in reporting” as key criteria for the awards.
His remarks, and the fierce investigative journalism on display at the awards, reinforce Anton Harber’s sentiments that “South African investigative journalism is amongst the best in the world”.