17th Annual Taco Kuiper Awards – Judges’ Remarks 2022

Delivered by Anton Harber, convener of the Taco Kuiper Awards

We gather to honour the best of South African journalism and to highlight once again how important and valuable is the work of our investigative reporters. But you will see from the entrants that we must at the same time pay our respects to two other groups who play an invaluable role in this important work.

First, the editors, media proprietors and managers who recognize the importance and value of investigative journalism and make the resources, time and space available for it to happen. Secondly, the whistleblowers, whose principles and courage have allowed for much of the work done here. Some blow loudly, some quietly, but all do it at great personal risk. We raise our glasses to them and thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

The work we recognise today highlights the value and importance of such work in ensuring the accountability that is the foundation of good governance, democracy and economic prosperity. This year we have again seen journalists tackle issues at every level of our society: political leadership, business leadership, national, local, big names, small names, social issues like the environment. And each one of these stories took courage and resilience.

We can say with pride that some of our news outlets are among the few institutions which remain independent and strong enough to tackle these issues and force those with power to account for themselves. While we are often concerned about the state of our media as a whole, we will see from those who entered today’s awards that there is a significant amount of excellent and important work being done. The bottom line is that there is so much we would not know without these reporters, so much that would remain hidden, so many wrongdoers not held accountable. We can truly say that an investment in the work of accountability journalism is an investment in our future, and we thank those who make that investment.

We had 29 entries this year, up from 26 last year, and they allow for a useful peek into the condition of the country’s journalism. Those entries came from 13 different outlets, including some pleasant surprises. We had our first-ever entry from a student publication – Tannur Anders, an Honours student here at Wits submitted her capstone project first published on Wits Vuvuzela – and Nicky Troll gave us the first entry from the international online publication, Vice.

Of those entries, 11 were in video and the balance in print/online, including one book. Our judges commented that some of the video was of a higher quality with better storytelling than we have seen in previous years. We have our usual lament about radio, as we had not one single audio entry this year. In a country where radio is the most widespread medium and in an age where so much interesting work is being done around the world in podcasting, there is an notable gap in our radio journalism. And it is a pity. We certainly saw some work that would have lent itself to a good podcast.

This work comes from some of the larger newsrooms and media groups, as well as some of the small ones and some brave freelancers. Notably absent, without a single entry, is the biggest media operation: the SABC. You would expect the organization built around public service would be a leader in this field, but they are sadly absent.

The range of topics among the entries was gratifyingly wide: there were the tales of corruption and mismanagement at big state-owned enterprises like Eskom and Prasa, but also at private companies like Tongaat, and smaller operators, like those who sell fake Covid certificates, steal copper cables, run bed and breakfasts or entrap women online. There were stories on the collapse of state bodies like agricultural schools, hospitals and the lottery. There were environmental and water stories, as well as those dealing with socio-political phenomenon like the construction mafia and zama-zamas. There was a drug story, a platinum story, a story about the transport of poisonous manganese and another about the theft of body parts from a mortuary. And, of course, we showed that the US is not alone in having grifters as presidential candidates.

This is a wide range of subject matter, indicating that our investigative reporters are spreading their wings, taking on diverse issues and concerns.

Our judges noted that we received a few entries that were good features, but don’t belong in an investigative journalism competition. And our judges pointed to a number of entries that suffered from a lack of editing. Editors, we ask, please edit. We saw pieces that would be significantly improved if properly processed and prepared for publication.

A special thanks to the judges, who put a lot of time and effort into the careful analysis of each entry, ensuring we were rigorous and exhaustive in our considerations. They take their task seriously and we thank them for that.

The first round of judging was done by Thabo Leshilo, an editor of many years’ experience, and myself. We took it down to a shortlist of 9.

The final selection was done by a panel on which Thabo and myself were joined by former Appeal Court Judge Tom Cloete, CBS producer Sarah Carter, and former editor Mahlatse Mahlase.

The exhausted judges have asked that we make one rule change for next year. Some entrants put in as many as 20 pieces for their body of work. We will need to restrict this in future, asking entrants to choose their top six pieces and give us links to the rest if they wish.

I want to add that with some long series, where investigative work unfolds bit-by-bit in daily reporting, I was surprised that these were not more often pulled together into a more comprehensive, hard-hitting summary, rather than assuming readers follow it through every story over an extended period.

And our judges commented on some stories where they looked for the follow-up. These were good stories, which broke new ground, but lacked the obvious follow-ups to complete them.

So I am going to first announce the shortlist of nine and then move to the winners.

In no particular order:

1. Anina Peens of MNet’s Carte Blanche gave us Aggrievance, a hard-hitting exposé of conditions in the country’s state-owned agricultural colleges. The decay and dysfunctionality of these institutions was shocking to witness, powerfully demonstrating the state’s neglect of educational institutions and the young people who place their hopes in them. Most memorable was the last sick cow found at one college where students get their animal husbandry marks by cleaning out mostly empty sheds. This is an important story, graphically and powerfully told though the eyes of student leadership.

2. Second on the shortlist is the Timeslive team of Aron Hyman, Graeme Hosken and Tankiso Makhetha, who investigated the murder of 16 people at the Mdlalose Tavern in Soweto and gave us the first inkling that this was the result of a conflict between two Basotho zama zama factions. This was a series of pieces which together gave us real insight into this phenomenon and the way it plays out both here and in Lesotho. Excellent digging of the story behind the news story.

3. Jabulile Mabatha’s Bed and Breakfast Horrors for ENCA’s Checkpoint programme was an account of the owner of a chain of B&Bs’ gross mistreatment of his staff, trapping them in employment under unbearable conditions. The Checkpoint team went undercover to get their footage and alerted the Department of Labour, who took action. Mabatha submitted three entries, and this was the most compelling as it truly exposed the B&B owner’s arrogance and condescension.

4. Jeff Wicks of News24 took on the story behind the assassination of hospital whistleblower Babita Deokaran. His work was not just a fitting tribute to this whistleblower, but a formidable investigation into the complex story behind it. Wicks and News24 can be commended for sticking with the story with a commitment and determination to see through what Deokaran had started, but also for ploughing through 60 000 emails, extensive phone accounts, records of 217 companies, ledgers, a report they were told did not exist, numerous interviews and visit to company addresses to show they were fake. What emerged was a picture of an elaborate and extensive extraction network in the health sector, presented with strong graphics. This has led to a full Hawks investigation and hopefully will soon lead to arrests. A fitting tribute to a martyr for the truth, let’s hope this work encourages others to support and encourage whistleblowers.

5. Kate Barry of Carte Blanche gave us the story of the dangerous transportation of neurotoxic manganese in the Eastern Cape. It was strongly told as a television story with impactful imagery and brought together the careless treatment of the manganese, the human impact, the science and the lack of care from local politicians. What emerged was the structural corruption that lies behind such behaviour as it became clear that the ruling party had a vested interest in the industry. A different, and important, story.

6. Also from Carte Blanche was Nicky Troll’s Crooked Certificates, in which they confronted a person selling Covid vaccination certificates without requiring an actual vaccination. While there have been other exposes of fake certification, in this case they showed that this person was selling certificates produced from within the official system, and which were registered online, though no vaccine was administered.

7. Our seventh shortlisted entry is a well-known investigator with a well-known target: it is Pieter-Louis Myburgh of Daily Maverick’s Scorpio investigative team who exposed how ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize had benefitted illicitly from for facilitating a dubious investment by the PIC, the state-owned Public Investment Corporation (PIC). The pensioners whose money was handled by the PIC lost billions, while Mkhize received R6million secretly and the company directors shipped large amounts offshore. It was an original story, an important one, solidly executed.

8. Ray Joseph of GroundUp’s submission was the culmination of his multi-year investigation into corruption in the National Lottery, which came to a head last year when the CEO, the CFO and the board were fired and the Hawks launched a major investigation. Joseph’s single-handed resilience and determination has been exemplary, the kind of dogged persistence that is at the heart of great investigative reporting. One has to remember that when Ray first started telling us that there was rot at the heart of the lottery, there had been hardly any hint of it – and it was his patient persistence, with the backing of the small GroundUp newsroom, that brought it all tumbling out. Ray has produced a valuable database of lottery grants, which is available to everyone for further investigation. It was a self-generated story with major impact.

9. Another GroundUp entry came from Steve Kretzman and his Rivers of Sewage – an expose of sewage pollution of drinking water in two-thirds of municipalities. Interestingly, this story started with an analysis of readily available Department of Water and Sanitation data, correlating with figures showing the rise of child diarrhea. It was a series of six stories which showed systematic national failure and its human effects. It was not an altogether new story, but was investigated more fully, systematically and impactfully than we had previously seen.

So, 9 on the shortlist from 7 outlets, two of them – Carte Blanche and GroundUp – getting two entries onto the shortlist. Every one of these deserve the strongest commendation for excellent work. You can see that the judges had a tough task.

Before I get to the winners, I have been asked to make a special mention, a commendation for Tiara Walter’s Battleground Antartica, published by Daily Maverick. This was a long-term investigation which took Walters to the Kremlin to find the evidence that Russia was prospecting for oil and gas in the Antartic in contravention of international treaties and using Cape Town harbour as a base. She also showed how they were using sonic techniques which impacted on the protected species of the Southern Ocean. It was an international story, and it was an unexpected and unusual one that took substantial enterprise.

Let’s get to the winners. Les Jameson, please join me on the platform to hand out the awards.

This year we have a runner-up and a tie for the top prize. The runner-up will get R60 000 and the winners R120 000 each.

The runner up for the Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism 2022 is:

The TimesLive team for their Zama Zama set of stories: Aron Hyman, Graeme Hosken and Tankiso Makhetha

And two winners.

The first joint winner, for his lottery story, Ray Joseph of GroundUp.
And with him, Jeff Wicks of News24 for his work on Babita Deokaran.

Thanks to:
All the entrants
For helping us with the guest speakers, Michael Salzwerdel, Gus Silber an Izak Minaar.
The University and the Centre for Journalism for their support
The Valley Trust, our longstanding partner
Shireen Rubenstein, for organising this event.