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Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards: winners announced for Gauteng

Thursday, 7 November 2019

7 November, 2019. The 2019 18th Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards drew more than 1,000 entries from across the country. This year’s theme, ‘Connect the Dots’, pays tribute to intrepid and fine journalism that has taken up the challenge to reflect on issues that expose flaws in, and supports, South Africa’s democracy.

Takalani Netshitenzhe, Chief Officer for Corporate Affairs at the Vodacom Group says: “Once again the entries for the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards have been exceptional. Vodacom is proud to play a role in supporting press freedom in South Africa through the continued sponsorship of these prestigious awards. We are deeply grateful to the judges for their time and congratulate the winners from Gauteng.”

Convenor of the judging panel Ryland Fisher says: “The judging panel, with three new members in Mapi Mhlangu, Franz Kruger and Jermaine Craig, were impressed with the calibre of the entries, once again. It showed us that journalists are doing their bit to enhance our democracy through their reporting and investigations, despite tough economic times which are impacting on the media industry. We congratulate all the regional winners, who are all worthy winners, and wish them luck as they prepare to contest for the national awards.”

Seasoned media veterans Mapi Mhlangu, Jermaine Craig and Franz Kruger have replaced Elna Rossouw, Megan Rusi and Mathatha Tsedu.  They join an experienced adjudication panel which includes Ryland Fisher, Mary Papayya, Arthur Goldstuck, Patricia McCracken, Collin Nxumalo, Albe Grobbelaar and Obed Zilwa.

The 12 categories journalists were invited to enter are:

  1. Investigative
  2. Opinion
  3. Lifestyle
  4. Photography
  5. Sport
  6. Economics
  7. Politics
  8. CSI
  9. Live reporting/ breaking news
  10. Data Journalism
  11. Multi-platform
  12. Young Journalist of the Year Award

Gauteng Winners by category are:

Many strong entries were submitted in this category in Gauteng, the seat of economic and political power and the centre of most national media. With such a wide range of topics covered so well, selecting a winner was not easy and the judges would like to commend a piece by Nicky Troll for M-Net’s Carte Blanche, The JRA is Falling Down. Ultimately, however, the winner was chosen on the basis of detailed, careful work, an ability to make complex issues accessible and the ongoing impact and newsworthiness of the reporting. The submission represented the latest contributions to the ongoing saga that has come to be known as BosasaGate. The winner is Kyle Cowan of News24.   

Effective writing of political opinion means keeping an eye on trends that others may be missing. The relentless pressure of producing weekly columns leads to too much of what we would call writing by herd, which offers little of value to readers. The judges commended Thango Ntwasa of the Sowetan for How the Gay Community is Saving Xhosa Culture. Our winner, however, spotted an important trend among the various political parties and showed how it reflected trends causing concern in many other countries. Carefully presenting strong evidence for the case, the two columns showed how South African parties across the range were showing a rightward drift with respect to migration. The winner is Jan Bornman, writing for New Frame.

Lifestyle journalism remains one of the most challenging forms of writing. Those who ply their trade in this form of journalism are sometimes seen as writers who produce “lighter” stories rather than hard or industry-specific news. This year entrants had to compete with those who report on current affairs, financial journalists, all specialist writers under Vodacom Journalist of the Year Lifestlye/Feature category. It was a tough competition with investigative television shows and high calibre features from magazines and other platforms. The winner of this category in Gauteng took us to church, vineyards, and inside that national past time of choosing a song to usher in a new year. The winner of this much contested category in Gauteng is the Mail and Guardian’s Zaza Hlalethwa. 

The judges would like to commend Sethembiso Zulu of Eyewitness News for Dididi Day Zero, a series of photographs of a 91-year-old woman who lives without mobility or access to water. However, our winner shows how photographers often strive to create quality news images even on the most mundane assignments. It’s the ability to stay calm and fearlessly capture the unexpected that makes for great images. A news image captured during what was going to be a rather boring routine military exercise turned into a spot news picture of the day. The quick-thinking photographer captured the crashing of an Oryx and the military reaction that followed. The winner is Deaan Vivier of Beeld for Lugmag se Magsvertoon Ontwrig.

Former Bafana Bafana midfielder Maimane Alfred Phiri has become even more popular after his career for the famous township football tournament that bears his name in his hometown of Alexandra. The amateur football festival has become a major festive season hit in Gauteng, attracting thousands of football fans who yearn for the pure magic, skills, and flair of old-school kasi football. The New Frame has been an entertaining addition to South African sports journalism and Dennis Webster is our Gauteng sport winner for Township Football in Full, Flamboyant Swing, a wonderful, descriptive account of the joy of the Alexandra football festival, beautifully illustrated by the images of Ihsaan Haffejee.

The large number of excellent entries in this category resulted in long deliberations by the judges. It was eventually decided to give commendations to two entrants before we announce this year’s winner. James de Villiers’s series of price comparisons for Business Insider; and the timely reporting of a serious breach of corporate governance at EOH by TechCentral’s Duncan McCleod, were of high quality and deserve special mention. However, painstaking research and extended reporting over a period of time, then writing with insight, understanding, and dexterity set our winner apart from the rest. For her exceptional reporting on the state of gold mining in South Africa, the Blyvooruitzicht mine and mining communities more broadly, the award goes to Lisa Steyn of the Financial Mail for The Death of Gold Mining.

There is a saying that those who shout the loudest against wrong-doing are often the most corrupt. This could not have been better illustrated than by the revelations that government officials at the former ANC Johannesburg administration, the organisation’s structure that was known to detest erstwhile President Jacob Zuma on account of his multiple scandals, were themselves involved or heavily implicated in wrongdoing. The story tells of millions of rands that are alleged to have been deposited into the account of highly respected former MMC for Finance at the Joburg Municipality and present leader of the opposition in Council, Geoff Makhubo. The Gauteng winner in the politics category won for incisive and revealing reporting on Makhubo’s dubious dealings with persons doing business with the city. Our winner is Susan Comrie of Amabhungane for Down and Dirty in Joburg Politics.

Sustainability is one of today’s key media issues as we confront climate change and biodiversity losses. These worsen socio-economic challenges for the many people living in poverty and struggling to survive from day-to-day. The judges commended one such entry, where Athandiwe Saba of the Mail & Guardian showed how important it is to reintegrate young offenders to build a sustainable society for our future. A major theme among the category’s entries was the way severe drought and widespread municipal dysfunctionality has combined to create water crises of different kinds across South Africa. In a tight race, the judges also commended the work of Sipho Kings of the Mail & Guardian on river and air pollution in Gauteng. However, the regional winner’s body of far-sighted work on the Vaal River pollution shone a spotlight on how lack of implementation and corruption have contributed to the shocking condition of the river and of local residents’ homes. The regional winner is Sheree Bega of the Saturday Star.

Live reporting/breaking news
Breaking news has two forms. Firstly, there is breaking news we expect such as the funeral of a public figure, and there is also breaking news driven by an unexpected event such the death of such a figure. Contests in this category demonstrated both the ability to cover the unexpected news which often involves grieving characters, the skill to do rolling coverage on all platforms, and preparing for the expected breaking news. The Gauteng winner of the breaking news category is Zikhona Tshona for the body of work which included an interview with a mother who had just lost her son, the funeral of HHP, and victims of VBS looting. 

Data Journalism
Data journalism can innovatively present indisputable evidence on serious and complicated issues in society. The judges want to commend a fresh approach to one of the biggest news stories of the year which analysed the exact scope of the Bosasa corruption through invoices to 40 government departments. The commended entrants were Athandiwe Saba with Thanduxolo Jika, Sabelo Skiti, and Jacques Coetzee from the Mail & Guardian for The R12-billion paid to Bosasa. However, our winning entry was an excellent example of data journalism that provides a full picture of a topic that is often in the spotlight, but rarely illuminated. We all think we “know” that data prices are too high but even in the media few are able to unpack the why and how, and what it will take to change it. The Gauteng winner of this category is Liesl Pretorius of Fin24 for The price of data.

The strength of multi-platform journalism often highlights the synergy of use of a specific digital platform contextualised in an additional medium. Using podcasts framed effectively on a website, for example, offers tremendous potential. Yet the podcast particular platform is all too often confined to thought-leadership style content. For an entry that stretched the boundaries of podcasting, quite literally giving voice to the voiceless, the regional winner for Gauteng is Mihlali Ntsabo of Eyewitness News for SA’s Forgotten Citizens.

Young Journalist of the Year Award
The Young Journalist Award emphasises VJOY’s commitment to furthering the career of a dynamic young journalist in South Africa. At stake is the chance of a lifetime for the lucky young journalist winner to accelerate his or her professional and personal development through an all-expenses paid trip to follow cutting-edge training overseas, both at the renowned Thomson Foundation and in a newsroom context.

This award recognises the efforts of the rising stars in newsrooms across the regions. Entrants must have worked in journalism for three years or less and should be demonstrating great potential. They should be able to act as ambassadors for South Africa and South African journalism when they are abroad. Entrants had to submit a body of outstanding work together with a strong motivation showing commitment to the vocation of news well above the norm – this motivation is a critical component of the judging process. All shortlisted entrants are entered in a further round where they will outline their achievements and their aspirations to the judging panel. Regional nominees will automatically become finalists for the national Young Journalist award and the career-enhancing prize. The Gauteng nominee is Karabo Ledwaba of the Sowetan

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