Updated: May 17, 2020
Daily Maverick investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh clinched top prize at the 14th Taco Kuiper Awards for Investigative Journalism held today for his book on South African politician Ace Magashule.
“To even be in that pool of finalists, people who are doing amazing work to expose the shortcomings in areas such as government and the private sector, is a massive honour,” Myburgh told frayintermedia.
Myburgh was awarded R200 000 for his book Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule's Web of Capture that lifts the lid on Magashule’s rise to power in the ruling party African National Congress (ANC). The book also examines top ANC leadership.
“The saga was too vast to contain in a single article or a series,” Myburgh said.
“Every now and then there comes along a piece of work that is so impactful and convincing that it comes to define the way the public sees someone. That is the case with Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s deeply researched book and its subject, senior politician Ace Magashule,” said Anton Harber, convenor of the awards and adjunct professor at Wits Journalism.
Daily Maverick reporter Pauli van Wyk was the awards’ runner up for her investigative work on how the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) benefitted from the VBS Mutual Bank looting.
“It involved classic investigation like getting documents and inside sources but it was imaginative, forensic social media analysis that pulled the story together and broke new ground,” Harber said.
A swarm of social media criticism on Van Wyk’s EFF VBS coverage ensued.
“It really must be noted that Pauli stood firm in the face of an onslaught of serious abuse and threats from EFF supporters,” Harber said.
Myburgh said backlash is inevitable and journalists need to take it with a pinch of salt. Magashule threatened to sue him for his book and the ANC Youth League in the Free State province threatened to burn Myburgh’s book but later retracted their decision.
Myburgh said the payoff in spite of the backlash he receives as a journalist is to see “power-hungry” people taken to account.
“I set out to examine stories that benefit people on the ground,” he said.
Wits Journalism partners with the Valley Trust to administer the awards in honour of Taco Kuiper, a publisher who left a portion of his estate to promote investigative journalism in South Africa.
Head of Wits Journalism Franz Krüger said investigative journalism continues to play an important role during an “extraordinary time” of the new coronavirus pandemic.
“Even as we share the same sense of anxiety and worry about what’s happening, as we worry about our livelihoods and our families, we need to remember the importance of critical distance that is central to journalism and particularly to investigative journalism,” he said.
Vrye Weekblad founding editor Max du Preez was keynote speaker at the event and highlighted that investigative journalism is much more than investigating scandals and corruption.
“Investigative reporting on local government, health, education and the environment is as important even if it sometimes feels less glamorous,” Du Preez said, adding that the next big story after COVID-19 is climate change.