Monday, March 29, 2010

Business Day: "...and a spunky little community paper called the Highlands Herald of Mpumalanga"

From This year's bumper crop of entries for the Taco Kuiper awards represents cheerful proof that SA's journalists are breaking solid investigative stories regularly, writes Anton Harber in Business Day.

Anton Harber writes in Business Day:

SOUTH African journalists — at least some of them — can hold their heads up high and stop flagellating themselves. Something has revived in at least some of our media — the fighting spirit that is essential to keeping our country’s leaders on their toes.

In recent months, the talk in media has been of cutbacks in newsrooms around the world, closures of titles, consolidation and the loss of senior and experienced journalists. We have been asking what would happen to in-depth journalism when newsrooms did not have the time and resources to do the digging. And what will this mean for democracy?

Well, I have good news for you (and bad news for the scoundrels of politics and business).

I spent some time in the past few weeks as part of the panel of judges for the country’s biggest journalism awards, the Taco Kuiper Prize for Investigative Reporting. In previous years, we have received about a dozen entries, never more than 16, and only a few were contenders.

This year, the entries flooded in — a total of 44, and the standard across the board was much higher than ever before. They came from television, radio, internet sites and print. Entries were received for the first time from SABC,, Radio 702, Politicsweb, Sake24, Business Times and a spunky little community paper called the Highlands Herald of Mpumalanga. Others came from Noseweek, City Press, M-Net’s Carte Blanche, Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian and the Daily Dispatch.

What it showed us was that, despite the tough financial climate, there were pockets of dedicated journalists in many places doing hard work and great stories. One does not always notice the pattern from week to week, as these stories are scattered and sporadic, but look at them lined up together and it amounts to nearly one good muckraking story breaking every week somewhere in the country.

Journalists took the government to task, but also the private sector. It was not just the usual stories about corruption, but also tales of environmental degradation, xenophobia, animal welfare, white- collar crime, prosecutors who plagiarise dubious opinions to get their political bosses off the hook, the police’s shoot-to-kill policies and even sport issues in the form of the Leonard Chuene affair.

It was an amazing array of material, most of it well produced, powerfully presented and full of impact. It was the most cheering thing I have seen in South African journalism for some time.

The notable gap was in radio, which drew only one entry. It is a great pity, because radio is our most popular medium and a wonderful platform for nailing no-goodniks.

It is still true that there is less reporting of essential daily matters such as the courts, the city and town councils. It is true that in the routine stuff, there is too much reliance on PR handouts, and too many free lunches, trips and cars.

But we are doing well on the big stories that tackle the powerful and the wealthy. We are not talking here about stories where journalists were handed information by politicians to trash their rivals. Or where documents were slipped under the door. We are talking about endurance journalism, where reporters have taken the time and trouble to push and to probe and to piece together evidence to make a story, often over months and with great courage, taking on the worst elements of our power structures.

It may not be public policy to do lifestyle audits of politicians, but the media is doing it anyway. Parliament may be slack in forcing the president to declare his assets, but newspapers are on the case. Our public prosecutor will know that when he compromises his independence, reporters will be all over him. The ruling party might hire a spokesman who commits fraud and owes money all over town, but you can be sure it will make the front pages. The president’s friends may use deceit to get out of prison early, but there is no escaping the photographers.

There will be one entrant who will take home the big prize next Friday, March 26, but the big winner is our democracy.

- Harber is Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits University. This column first appeared in Business day on 24 March 2010.

Rob Rose is 2009 Taco Kuiper award winner

From THE winner of the prestigious 2009 Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative journalism is Rob Rose from the Financial Mail/Sunday Times. The runners up are producer Susan Puren and presenter Devi Sankaree Govender from investigative program Carte Blanche, writes Ruona Agbroko for

Rose’s series “South Africa’s Madoff” exposed fraudster Barry Tannenbaum who swindled South Africa’s business elite of millions. Puren and Govender’s Chicken Run about a chicken-breeding operation snowballed into a major scandal involving animal cruelty and a politician obtaining international funding under false pretences at the expense of a local community.

Rose won R200 000 for emerging tops of 44 entries from 16 media outlets while Puren and Govender scoop R100 000 as runners-up.

The judges said: “Financial journalists have been criticised in the last couple of years for the stories they missed. It is near impossible to expose an apparently respectable business person in South Africa without solid information. Painstakingly checking and double-checking the valuable detail of the intricate story, Rose came through with a really good tale, carefully pieced together and well told, exposing major deception in the country’s financial circles. Tannenbaum might have fooled some of South Africa’s best-known investors, but not Rose.”

On Chicken Run, the judges said: “The story appears at first to be about a chicken-breeding operation run with cruelty and disregard for health laws, which then evolved into something bigger when a former MEC was caught being dishonest, leading to the discovery that he has raised international donor money under false pretences at the expense of a local community.

“Carte Blanche took a seemingly little story and made it big. The journalists worked relentlessly hard and the end result was multi-layered, well-crafted and well told exposé. The judges made special mention of Govender’s excellent interviewing and presentation skills which were so central to the total unravelling of this story.”

The ceremony was held at the Rand Club, Johannesburg on Friday March 26, 2010.

“I didn’t feel like I deserved it,” Rose said minutes after he was announced winner. “There were some great stories so this is a pleasant surprise,” he added.

Puren told Vuvuzela she initially doubted the source who leaked the story that would become Chicken Run; “I met him on a dark cold night and he gave me this DVD...I was seriously in doubt. But as a journalist you have to listen to your instinct.”

Govender said the impact of the story has brought some downsides; “in fact, we came with our lawyers here today; they have been sent sms messages to newspapers that they will sue,” she laughed.

According to Prof. Anton Harber, Caxton professor of Journalism and Media Studies and Director of the Wits Journalism Programme, this year’s award received entries for the first time from 7 media organisations including SABC, Radio 704, Business Times and SAKE 24.

“Entries dealt not just with the political. Not only politicians were being held to account, but all those holding office of some sort. Every one of the top entries had a major impact on the world around it,” Harber continued.

However, he said that judges were concerned that “Radio, the country’s largest medium was underrepresented in the quality and quantity of work submitted.”

The ceremony was addressed by Ben Leapman, Deputy News Editor of The Sunday Telegraph in London, UK. Leapman investigated MP’s expenses over five years ago, doggedly using the UK’s Freedom of Information Act to force the facts out of the Government.

“It has been a pleasure to witness firsthand the quality of investigative journalism that is being rewarded here today. Clearly, journalists are upholding the trust of the people in South Africa”, Leapman told

Now in its fourth year, the Taco Kuiper Award is a joint initiative by The Valley Trust and the Wits Journalism programme to recognise outstanding work in investigative journalism in South Africa. The award was launched in 2007 in honour of the late business journalist and publisher Taco Kuiper, who shortly before his death in 2005, set up the Valley Trust.

Last Updated ( Monday, 29 March 2010 )

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Joburg Art Fair & lust

I hardly want what I can't see. That's why cities are such dangerous places...there's so, so much on offer and even if you don't need it, even if you know it's dangerous to have, you want it because you can see it.
Thank God for wisdom and understanding...

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Cranks for Vietnamese & Thai

Happiness describes the cuisine Steffen and I immersed ourselves in last night...and as I allowed my over-active mind to cool down, rest and then to begin gently percolating again. I have some great ideas for the newspaper...

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Diesel junk...for bird brains

Snore. Not only did the Diesel clothing brand make the mistake of completely underestimating my intelligence, but a long time it - once - made the mistake of selling me exceptionally bad quality clothing at exorbitant prices. The extortion brand.

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Movies, then Cranks

My most relaxing day in weeks.
Just out of Tom Ford's 'A Single Man'. I've one word for it... phenomenal.
I loved the parallels...even down to Kenny's beautiful eyes, his tighty whites.
There's a wonderful end-of-summer vibe in Rosebank tonight.
Even the old biddys are out...crutches and all.

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Feetsore, all-arted-out, walked the Joburg Art Fair flat. Now carrot cake and grande 'te mocha at Mandela Square's Exclusive Books. Then Tom Ford's 'A Single Man' at Rosebank Mall. But I'm so tired I'm in a dwarl...

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Taco Kuiper Awards

Yesterday late afternoon I fetched the April edition of Highlands Herald (The Voice of the Emakhazeni Municipal Region) hot off the press.
I waited until the late afternoon peak hour Johannesburg traffic cleared before driving home to Waterval Boven.
Along the way I distributed the paper, as well dropping off a few thousand copies at the Machado Toll Plaza. I got into bed at 2am.
This morning I drove straight back to Johannesburg. Highlands Herald was entered in to the Taco Kuiper Investigative Journalism Awards at the Rand Club in Loveday Street.
Unlike other awards, there are only two prizes: Runner up (R100 000) went to Carte Blanche for its Chicken Run expose, while first prize (R200 000) went to Robert Rose of Financial Mail for his Tannenburg expose.
There was one special mention.. for my entry, the Highlands Herald "But who mentioned corruption?" story that had its origins in last year's Mpumalanga service delivery protests.
It was just the encouragement I needed.
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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Autumn Equinox

It's been dry. Late this afternoon a huge storm came in from the north and thoroughly soaked everything. It was the last storm of summer; tonight is the autumn equinox.
I'm sitting in front of a fire warming my bare legs.
It's dead still except for some water dripping off the roof, and crickets in the dark periphery. In a month's time it won't be pleasant to sit out like this, unless warmly dressed.
It's Lent, so I'm sipping on a non-alcoholic Becks. I'm dying to crack open a bottle of champagne that's been leering at me for weeks now from the fridge door.
I slept deeply this afternoon. Even now I'm exhausted, after one of my most trying weeks in yonks.
My laptop crashed this week after being a good and faithful servant these last three years. I've migrated to a Sony net book, and while having compromised a few luxuries in exchange for an exceptionally small, light and sexy technology tool, I'm ecstatic with my purchase.
I feel dry, very dry.
Tomorrow is a writing day.
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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Last legs

It rained last night and this afternoon. The rainy season is on last legs, the dramatic, awe-inspiring thunderstorms of deep summer are more less gone until much later this year. I loved them.
I've already had the first lights on in the house for twenty minutes; dusk creeps in between the trees, through the veldt. After a long, very hard day I can feel the tension unclutching my throat, chest and shoulders.
Thank God for night.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fire break

The Lowveld (beneath the escarpment): So close to the eastern shore of Africa, the sun sets visibly earlier at this time of the year. Autumn has peeked its head around the next corner, just over there. I feel it tug on my heart strings; a time for introspection, reflection. It's also the time for the wonderfully pungent, wintery reek of veld fires as the breaks between the forests and farms are burnt, also the verges along the roads.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Loving you my heart.

Loving you my heart.

Cello music on the CD player. A dead quite but hot night.

I have a water sprinkler going in the front garden, also one in the back.

There's a beautiful, large frog in my studio. I’m amazed at the detail inherent in its glistening, pulsating existence. I'm no longer squeamishly off amphibians.

After coffee, at last light, I took a photo of its reflection on the lake water at Millys.

That’s when I really missed you sore.

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"Not telling the truth to ourselves and to others is the source of many of our greatest problems... a personal truth is a truth, it can’t be garnished, disguised or changed, it just is what it is...

"...When truth is buried, it grows, it chokes, it gathers such explosive force that on the day it breaks out, it blows everything up with it... the act of truth telling corrects what can become a poisonous situation. Truth-telling is a loving thing to do, even if we don’t always say it perfectly, it affirms our willingness to honour the importance of our relationships."

I’ve just received an email from a friend I love very much. In response to her taking a stance in her life, in drawing affirmative boundaries around her and her relationship, she received the above ‘confirmation’ in the course of her daily reading and living, while wondering (up until this confirmation) if she had done the right thing.

I believe that living life to the fullest is truly an act of faith – the instance when we confront our fears and take the plunge to fully immerse ourselves in our own life is exactly when walk off the edge trusting that either we will fly, or at least a net will appear. It’s in that moment of free fall that our faith is tested.

Those who are searching - but don’t yet believe that there is a living, real and up-front-and-personal God out there – take the plunge hoping with all their might that “the Universe will provide”.

Those who have had the hairs prickle on the back of their necks, that have had goose bumps and an extraordinary beating of their heart at His presence, will know that that Faith in Action is living in a perpetual space of endless miracles. They are - I believe - the ones living at, and within The Source. They are the one truly alive...

Monday, March 15, 2010

End of day

Dunking double chocolate rusks in good coffee at the end of the day, on my own patio. It's great to be home. I love my simple, unpretentious space. It holds me tight, its arms around me, like old lovers. Tight without clinging, there's no explanations, just long un-awkward silences. And deep contentment, because you know me.
It's the end of a deadline day that began at my desk at 3h45 am after not enough sleep. I could afford nothing but complete focus. With my phone off, my inbox off line and avoiding all visitors it was an isolated, unpleasant Monday.
Now I'm enjoying the sofa in the garden with Mika (the African black foot cross cat that arrived on my doorstep as a fist-sized kitten a year ago ) on my lap. There's long views of the mountain to my left, uninterrupted rolling hills to my right and west.
Tomorrow I'll start again...and be more human being friendly. Hopefully.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sky high

In awe I look up at the sky and in less than a second my life passes before my eyes. But it's a superbly edited version revealing to me a lifetime of countless blessings.
Right now, in this very moment, I'm supremely happy.
I also have an awareness that every so-called bad or negative thing that has taken place in my life had to happen to get me to where I am this very second - supremely happy.
I'm sky high.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sandton Sun

The streets of Sandton, Johannesburg are alive with the oddest characters...and countless FIFA World Cup soccer-related paraphernalia.
But while I've resentfully got soccer coming out of ears, I've no option but to confess that there's a sense of mounting excitement about the impending World Cup pervading the very streets.
For the record, tonight I walked from 20h30 to 22h30 safely through Johannesburg's streets to Seattle Coffee at Sandton's Mandela Square and enjoyed every minute of it.
Architecture takes on another dimension at night, especially when building's heart-light emanates from their very innards, through their rib cages and eerily-beautiful around their very skeletons.
Being a hot and breathless summer night I wore only shorts, slip-slops and a t-shirt for the expedition. I almost thought it was the summer holidays.
Not to mention that I collected some plants along the way... in the best possible sense of course.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blackbird has spoken

I'm in the city for a week now. It's proving much more relaxing and productive than I thought it would be, despite long hours work shopping.
I've relaxed by making sure I use my car as little as possible, which has meant walking to and from the CBD and where I am staying. It's proved a photo worthy exercise and lots of fun.
I have also thrown myself into the garden where I'm staying.
And saying hello to blackbird this morning, despite longer autumnal shadows.

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I am an African... Greatness Shines!

This morning I received this email from my friend, Cape Town-based journalist Andrew October:

I rose with the rising sun.
I greeted my friends at the gym.
I danced to Chicane on my iPhone while training at gym, not caring who was watching, because I was happy.
I took pride in having a healthy body, and didn't forget to thank God for his awesomeness in healing me.
I stood at the Ocean's edge and took in the beauty of the morning sun.
I cherished the drive home along the Atlantic seaboard, smiling as I passed the many cyclists who are training for the weekend's Argus Cycle Tour.
I smiled because my English friend, Alastair, uploaded Thabo Mbeki's speech to his Facebook profile... it says...

I am an African ;-) Today it feels good to be an African.

Have you smiled today? Greatness Shines... brightest when it's from within.

:: Please join the campaign to celebrate our beautiful country and show the world the goodness that DOES exist in South Africa. ::

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Ashes to ashes

Hazyview: My grandfather's been trapped and claustrophobic in a small white plastic bag shut closed with rusty staples. It's been the case ever since he died in 1996.
Today my dad sprinkled his father's ashes, at last, around the pristine edge of a hippo pool on the edge of the Sabie River.
It's also the second evening in a row that the full moon has risen unhindered by clouds above the acacia thorn bush to the east.

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Monday, March 01, 2010


Sabie River Sun, Hazyview: I'm not sure how long ago it has been since I was able to lie on a towel in the sun next to a pool and read a book.
I drove through here early last night after an intense weekend at the end of an extremely intense month.
Although I came to rest, it has ended up being a day at the laptop tying up loose ends.
Now I lie and read 'A Warrior's Life', a rather disappointing biography of Paulo Coehlo.
Of course I'm looking out for hippos and crocs...

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When the moon dances, we all dance...

My friend Andrew October shared with me last night's full moon over a very hot Cape Town on the bottom tip of Africa.,