2016 Taco Kuiper Awards
“We gather for this year’s  awards in a world defined by fake news and a highly contested media space. Technology and social media continue to redefine our ideas of news and its consumption.
It is a time of uncertainty. In the age of “alternative facts”, we need proving, fact-checked, fearless journalism of this nature. In the age of mass opinion carried in 140 characters, our society needs those – like our entrants this year – who scratch and worry to reveal what lies beneath the surface.” – Taco Kuiper Judges
The winner of the 2016 Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism was Suzanne Venter for her investigation into the “Pasiënte ‘soos honde’ in tehuis” [The mentally ill patient scandal. The story looked at the Gauteng health department’s ill-conceived plan to save money by ending its contract with four Life Esidimeni hospitals.
The runners-up: Thanduxolo Jika, SAbelo Skiti and Qaanitah Hunter of Sunday Times for State of Capture.
2015 Taco Kuiper Awards
“We pay tribute to the muckrakers – the investigative journalists who play such an important role in our society by digging around in the dirt to hold the powerful to account.” — Taco Kuiper Judges
“This was classic investigative work: careful, patient probing to find supporting evidence for an abuse of public moneys, backed up with solid documentation, and powerfully presented to ensure it had impact. And it certainly did.” – Taco Kuiper Judges
And the runner up:
The winners of the 2014 Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism are Sipho Masondo and Paddy Harper, of City Press, for their investigation into the selling of teacher’s jobs: How Sadtu decimates our education system, one school at a time.
Speaking at the Awards, Anton Harber, head of Wits Journalism and convener of the judging panel, said “ These two journalists did exactly what we ask for from investigative reporters. We all know the importance of fixing our education system, and they have exposed one of the known – but unspoken – problems at the heart of the system. It was important work, brilliantly executed and carried through to the full. We can only hope that the story and this award help empower the minister to take strong action.”
Miner’s Shot Down, the film about Marikana, by Rehad Desai and Anita Khanna of Urhuru Productions, was runner-up.
Nick Davies of the London Guardian was the keynote speaker.
The 2013 Taco Kuiper Award went to amaBhungane, the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism. The team of reporters were represented by Stefaans Brümmer, Sam Sole and Vinayak Bhardwaj.
After receiving the Award on Friday 11 April, Stefaans said it was an award for their whole team as “it was truly a team effort.”
Announcing the Award at the Rand Club, Johannesburg, Anton Harber, Caxton Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand and convenor of judges 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 and we would like to acknowledge them all.”
Central to the team’s reporting was a PAIA, Promotion of Access to Information, request, which finally bore fruit in 2013, when a vast horde or 12 000 documents was handed over.
Msindisi Fengu and Yandisa Monakali of the Daily Dispatch, Hostels of Shame
The judges said of the winners: “East London’s newspaper has identified a way of taking one small item – in this case a remark by an MEC that prisons were ‘far better’ than the Eastern Cape’s rural school hostels – and turning it into a major investigation.
Msindisi set out to visit 70 school hostels. Forty of them turned out be ghost hostels, and did not even exist, and those he saw over two months allowed him to document horrifying conditions.
“This was not a story that arrived in an envelope or was the result of a lucky leak. It required many weeks on the road, visiting each school across the length and breadth of the Eastern Cape to document the appalling conditions in which students had to live.
Msindisi’s persistence, determination and rigour together led to a most important story, powerfully told. And powerfully illustrated by photographer Yandisa Monakali. As a result, at least one official was suspended and the provincial authorities were booted into action.”
Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Rob Rose and Stephan Hofstatter, Sunday Times:
Mac’s dodgy millions“The judges said of the winners: When one takes on a man like Mac Maharaj, one has to have a cast-iron case. That is not easy when it is a case which has stymied the Scorpions. The Sunday Times team spent months pursuing it, and found the smoking gun: a consultancy agreement that set out how money would flow from a company bidding for a major tender with Maharaj’s department to his wife.
They had dates, amounts and bank account numbers – the detail that turns a good investigation into a great one. Maharaj could not take action against the paper, as he had done elsewhere.
He tried bluster, but none of the facts of the story have been challenged. The thud one heard as one read the story was the sound of an important politician being nailed to the wall.”
Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter, Sunday Times: “Police commissioner and the SAPS lease”.
The story by Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter was an extraordinary account of how the Police Commissioner Bheki Cele had influenced a R500-million lease deal with businessman Roux Shabangu without a proper tender process. The series also detailed a similar lease agreement on the cards in Durban.
The judges said of the winning entry: “Despite strong reactions from the authorities, the newspaper was vindicated by the Public Protector and, as we speak, the positions of the Police Commissioner and the Minister of Public Works are up for debate.”
Two days after breaking the story Mzilikazi wa Afrika was ostentatiously arrested on trumped up charges which were subsequently dropped.
Rob Rose, Financial Mail/ Sunday Times: ‘South Africa’s Madoff’.
The award was for a series of articles on fraudster Barry Tannenbaum and the way in which he swindled some of South Africa’s biggest and most respected businessmen and investors out of millions, raising questions on how a seemingly well-connected and influential man could deceive so many of his peers.
Sam Sole, Stefaans Brummer, Adrian Basson of the Mail and Guardian for The Arms deal
The Judges’ Citation: “The M&G’s extraordinary commitment to the complex arms deal story is bearing fruit as they have in the last year revealed substantially more detail, slowly but surely. The paper, its editor and staff deserve recognition for their doggedness, chipping away at the edifice of secrecy and steadily filling in the detail of what must rate as one of the most important stories of this era.
It is a hydra-headed tale, and they have been chasing every aspect, using a the full range of investigative techniques: cultivating sources, accessing court documents, chasing down US records, and using the internet to track down individuals in obscure places. They have presented their story in a readable, graphically-rich way and made it people-centred. This story has not ended (indeed, one of our judges said it was like one of those horror films in which the villain never died) but if this remains a national issue then it is largely because of the excellent work of the Mail & Guardian team.”
Daily Dispatch: Mount Frere Hospital
Brett Horner, Chandre Prince and Ntando Makhubu of the Daily Dispatch for Mount Frere Hospital.
The Judges’ Citation: “The Daily Dispatch’s expose of neo-natal deaths at Frere Hospital was labelled “false” by the President and “lies” by the Health Minister. On the other hand, our judges called it “a model of excellent and powerful journalism”. In the words of one of the panel, “it has everything we were looking for”.
The paper uncovered every aspect of the story, from the highly technical to the human interest; to get to the evidence, they had to use imagination, creativity and some unusual methodology; it had an enormous impact on the country as a whole; and, when facing criticism, from the highest offices, their story held up well, leading to major positive results for the mothers they were writing about. It was the work, over about three months, of Brett Horner, Chandre Prince and Ntando Makhubu. Editor Phylicia Opphelt must be commended for supporting this team and carrying it through with a series of powerful and well-presented stories.
Deputy Editor Andrew Trench deserves credit for exceptional news editing in seeing the full potential of a story which started as the complaint of one mother. Great journalism often involves taking a single case and building it into a larger picture which lays out the context, examines the cause and points fingers at the culprits – and therefore has maximum impact.
This is what the Daily Dispatch did. As a result, and despite her criticism of the newspaper, the Health Minister promised to build a new labour ward, increase the hospital’s maintenance budget ten-fold, start a programme to hire extra nurses and doctors and pay them better, and overhaul the management of the institution. It is a testament to the power and value of the best kind of journalism, of which this is most exemplary.”
Adriaan Basson and Carien du Plessis, Beeld/ Die Burger: ‘Investigation into Corruption at the Department of Correctional Services’