Start main page content

AmaBhungane and Daily Maverick win Taco Kuiper Award

- Wits University

Stories that unearthed corruption in the Health Ministry and exposed threats by a torched chemical company win the premier award for investigative journalists.

Stories that unearthed corruption in the Health Ministry and exposed the operations of chemical company win the premier award for investigative journos.

Pieter-Louis Myburgh of the Daily Maverick who untangled scandalous contracts in the Health Ministry and Susan Comrie and Dewald van Rensburg from the Mail and Guardian’s wing amaBhungane, whose investigation brought attention to a chemical disaster in Durban are joint winners of the country’s top award celebrating investigative journalism. The Taco Kuiper Awards recognises outstanding examples of investigative reporting that reveal untold stories, hold the powerful to account and question those in public life. The winning teams walked away with R150 000.

Myburg, a seasoned investigative journalist and author reacted with delight.

Myburgh, produced a series of stories that over several months built up a picture of corruption in the Health Ministry’s Covid-19 communication operation. Through dogged persistence and digging, he pieced together the sordid mess of ministerial friends and family members who benefited from over-priced communications contracts under Digital Vibes. The detail was meticulous and good graphics added a strong visual element. The exposé led to the cancellation of contracts, saving millions, and the axing of Health Minister and presidential contender Zweli Mkhize.

Speaking on behalf of the Taco Kuiper judges, Thabo Leshilo said such “brazen corruption during a pandemic caused genuine shock and horror”.

Comrie and Van Rensburg from AmaBhungane which get its name from the isiZulu word for ‘dung beetles’ and organisation’s claim to ‘digging dung, fertilizing democracy’, were reporting on the 2021 July riots and looting in Durban when the pair followed on the chemical fire at the UPL plant in Durban.

They were spurred on to dig deeper when the company refused to give basic information about the chemicals in its warehouse. Their investigation revealed the scale of the disaster as enormous as the toxic mess spread around the area and washed into the sea.

Leshilo said “reporting raised important questions about how this material could be stored next to a school and whether the state had been negligent in dealing with it.”

Commenting on their win, Comrie said:

The Taco Kuiper awards are held annually by the Wits Centre for Journalism and the Valley Trust. Now in their 16th year, the call for nominations in February 2022 resulted in approximately 250 submissions from South African media.

The judges’ remarks praised the quality of the submission as well as the diverse topics covered signaling an inclusive and broad news agenda in line with democracy. However, they flagged the absence of submissions from radio investigative journalists.

Leshilo whose career spans almost three decades in media praised editors who dedicate resources and time that enable journalists do the work that supports democracy.