Top performers

2014-06-25 00:00

IT’S not every day that a newspaper gives a nod to the competition, but I’m going to nod to a couple today.

The first goes to my journalistic alma mater, the Daily Dispatch in East London, which has pulled off one of the most remarkable feats in recent South African journalism history with a series of stories that has led to precedent-setting action against a gaggle of politicians in that city.

Editor Bongani Siqoko and his deputy Brett Horner (a former Witness man, coincidentally) have led a team that has reported, in career-ending detail, the looting of over R5,9 million in public funds allocated to commemorative events around Nelson Mandela’s death.

Monday saw the arrest of Buffalo City’s mayor, the deputy mayor, the council speaker, the ANC’s regional secretary and a senior councillor, by the Hawks. They have all appeared in court and have been charged with money laundering and fraud.

I write under correction, but I cannot think of another occasion when a newspaper’s reporting has led to such firm action against so many politicians.

Bongani and his colleagues have been torn into by critics in the Eastern Cape as their team’s reporting unfolded over several months, but they stood their ground, covered their bases and continued to hammer out revelation after revelation in their pursuit of the truth.

Bongani and Brett are both good mates and former colleagues of mine, and I’m proud of them for protecting the Mandela legacy, to which others seem to pay only lip service.

I’ve got high hopes for some of our recent work at The Witness when the next award season comes around, but fear the Dispatch’s work on this is going to be hard to beat!

The second nod goes to Philani Mgwaba, editor of the Mercury in Durban, who left suddenly and dramatically on Monday afternoon to pursue an opportunity at a rival newspaper group (not us, I hasten to add).

His exit continues a trend of significant turmoil at Independent Newspapers following the acquisition of the group by an entity headed by Iqbal Survé, whose views and reorganisation of his company appear to have contributed to a number of editors packing their bags either willingly or unwillingly.

I don’t know Mgwaba personally, having only met him briefly on one occasion, but respect him as an editor. The Mercury is a competitor I hold in regard, even as they are buffeted by the changes in their newspaper group and as we make our own foray into the Durban market.

Associates and friends of mine who worked with him at the paper describe him as a solid, principled editor with integrity; precisely the kind of person who should not be walking out a new media owner’s door.

If it means anything as he leaves, I’d like him to know that he had the respect of his competitors here too.

Back at The Witness , meanwhile, we’ve had plenty on the go.

A team of us flew down to Cape Town last week for the company’s annual Legends awards which recognise excellence in the newspaper division. While this is an internal award, it is no Mickey Mouse affair as our stable includes dozens of mainstream and community publications. This year saw over 700 journalism entries submitted, to give you an idea of the scope.

The Witness won in the investigative reporting category against my old crew in the Media24 Investigations team and City Press . Well-done again to Rowan Philp and Jonathan Erasmus who picked up another gong.

Also congrats to Lunga Mayaba, our human-resources head here in Pietermaritzburg, who picked up the People Management Award for the group — a wonderful accolade and well-deserved.

I told Lunga afterwards that it’s the first time in my career that I have seen a bunch of journalists cheering and clapping for an HR guy, which I think says everything about his professional and compassionate manner.

Young Nqobile Mtolo of Maritzburg Fever , our sister publication, also picked up the award for community journalist of the year — a great win against formidable competitors.

Finally, our redoubtable news editor Stephanie Saville has been accepted into the global Woman in News leadership development programme in association with the World Association of Newspapers.

She joins some 60 colleagues from across southern Africa in the programme and it’s a feather in her — and our cap — that she has been selected.

Meanwhile, work continues in Willowton in Pietermaritzburg and Riverhorse Valley, as The Witness team pushes ahead. Stay tuned for more news from the newsroom next week.

E-mail: andrew.trench@witness.co.za

Twitter: @andrewtrench

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