The collaborative effort from amaBhungane,News24 and Daily Maverick scooped the 2017 Taco Kuiper prize for investigative journalism.

A team of 19 journalists from amaBhungane, News24 and the Daily Maverick walked away with the 2017 Taco Kuiper award for investigative journalism handed out earlier today at Wits University. The team won R200 000 for their joint investigative project, the #GuptaLeaks which exposed the role of the Gupta family in the state capture of South Africa.

Managing partner of amaBhungane, journalist Sam Sole said working with a team of 19 journalists from three different publications was “surprisingly unruffled. I think it flowed from the kind of professionalism and generosity that all of the main people displayed.”

The 19 journalists were Branko Brkic, Pauli van Wyk, Lester Freamon, Adriaan Basson, Richard Poplak, Adi Eyal, Micah Reddy, Susan Comrie, Angelique Serrao, Stefaans Brummer, Antoinette Muller, Marianne Thamm, Sam Sole, Tabelo Timse, Pieter-Louis Myburgh, Craig McKune, Lionel Faull, Rebecca Davis and Sally Evans.

Sole said the collaborative investigation began when the Gupta leaks were received by the Daily Maverick. “He (Daily Maverick editor Branko Brkic), took a very mature and difficult decision to say ‘We can’t handle this on our own, let’s bring in amaBhungane’.”

“When it was clear the leaks had leaked as well to Tiso Blackstar Group, we decided that we did not want to waste a lot of energy competing too much. It was very generous of Branco to bring in News24. We did not want there to be too much competition over the same stuff. We set up a war room in Cape Town at the Daily Maverick offices and we parcelled out the responsibilities and worked very well as a team,” he added.

News24’s Angelique Serrao said, “It was really an amazing experience to work like that and it is something that I would highly recommend because everyone has different expertise. When we first got these leaks there were over 200 000 documents. At first we did not know what to look for or what kind of keywords to type in.”

“One of the things that we agreed on is that we were not going to use individual bylines, so you aren’t always sure when you see the stories who wrote it or who worked on it,” Serrao said.

Sole told the Wits Vuvuzela, “In the environment where journalism resources are shrinking, the funding model is broken, it was an important thing that we decided to collaborate across groups which would normally compete.”

Serrao said the collaborative effort had reduced the safety risks for individuals. “Because of the fact that everybody collaborated, I feel that it reduced the risks quite significantly. In the beginning we were very aware of the risks and we took a lot of security measures with regards to where the Gupta leaks were situated, what kind of electronic equipment we were using and where we were working on the stories. So security was very prominent in our minds.”

The theme of safety and security also ran through the keynote speech delivered by Indian investigative journalist Rana Ayyub whose self-published investigation on the role of Indian politicians in killings in Gujarat in 2002 has achieved international acclaim. Ayyub reflected on the lengths she went to to access the spaces she needed in order to produce Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover-Up, which has sold over 30 000 copies in 13 languages. As a result of her work, Ayyub said her life is constantly under threat.

South African journalists Jacques Pauw and Hennie van Vuuren shared the Taco Kuiper runner-up prize of R100 000 for their books President’s Keepers and Apartheid, Guns and Money, respectively. Wits Journalism Head of Department, Prof Anton Harber, said there were only 26 applications this year, a significant decline from previous years with only 5 from television and 3 from radio. Despite the decrease in entries though, Harber said, “what we lacked in quantity was easily made up in quality, as any of the top half-dozen entries might have been a contender in another year.”

FEATURED PHOTO: A few of the team of 19 journalists who won the 2017 Taco Kuiper award for investigative journalism. Photo: Gypseenia Lion.