Nkandla journalists win investigative prize

Justice Tom Cloete, Prof Anton Harber and winners Sam Sole, Steffans Brummer and Vinayak Vhardwaj at the 8th annual Taco Kuiper Awards. Photo: Nqobile Dludla

Pictured from left to right: Justice Tom Cloete, Prof Anton Harber and winners Sam Sole, Steffans Brummer and Vinayak Vhardwaj at the 8th annual Taco Kuiper Awards. Photo: Nqobile Dludla

A team of amaBhungane journalists walked away with the 2014 Taco Kuiper award for investigative journalism at the Johannesburg Rand Club earlier today. 

Stefaans Brümmer, Sam Sole and Vinayak Bhardwaj of the Mail & Guardian’s investigative centre were recognised for their efforts in sifting through more than 12 000 pages of documents resulting in “The Nkandla Files,” published last July.

The team’s investigations show the irregular escalation of costs related to security upgrades on the personal residence of President Jacob Zuma in Nkandla. The investigation is based on documents accessed through a PAIA application (Promotion of Access to Information Act).

[pullquote]“This was undoubtedly the story of the year, in fact of the last five years, and maybe the next five.”[/pullquote]

Professor Anton Harber, the convenor of the judging panel, and head of the Wits journalism department said: “This was undoubtedly the story of the year, in fact of the last five years, and maybe the next five. The presidential spokesperson said they were making a mountain out of a molehill, but in fact it was not them that were making a castle out of a kraal, or a palace out of a homestead, but they did reveal it. Few stories have had, and continue to have, such impact. It was work done by a formidable team.”

The runner-up spot was shared by teams from television show Carte Blanche and the Sunday Times for “Game of Geysers” (Joy Summer and Susan Comrie), and the “Dina Pule series” (Rob Rose, Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter).

Guest speaker, Brant Houston, a Knight Fellow in Investigative Journalism, addressed guests before the awards were handed out. On the future of journalism, Houston said that “We are entering the golden age of journalism.” He attributed this to technological advances, quick communication, collaboration and networking and journalists working together.“This helps us to preserve our work and cover our backs. It helps us do what we love, which is truth-telling.”

This was the eighth installation of the annual awards in honour of the late journalist, Taco Kuiper, and carries a cash prize of R200 000 for the winner.

Eastern Cape’s Daily Dispatch snatches investigative journalism award

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Some of the winners of the 2013 Taco Kuiper Awards, from L-R: Rob Rose, Msindisi Fengu, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Yandisa Monakali and Greg Marinovich. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa.

 

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”.