Named South African Story of the Year and Journalist of the Year at the recent Standard Bank Sikuvile Journalism Awards, Pauli van Wyk is the epitome of what the Standard Bank Sikuvile Journalism Awards stand for, and in particular with this year’s theme: The Naked Truth, as she doggedly stuck to her story about corruption involving two leaders of one of the biggest political parties in the country.
Her Scorpio, Daily Maverick Body of Work comprising six investigative reports published between April and November 2019, revealed how the EFF leaders, Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu, benefited from VBS money, revealing definitively and in detail how they used family and front companies to hide their involvement, how Shivambu’s political power won him at least two illegal VBS ‘loans’, and how, damningly, even the EFF’s fourth birthday party was funded by stolen VBS money.
The stories also showed, importantly, that the VBS money wasn’t Malema and Shivambu’s only illegal income streams.
Journalists are expected to speak truth to power, to report fearlessly on those with power, influence, and authority.
However, this is often easier said than done, say this year’s judging panel, especially when you go up against popular political leaders who will not hesitate to use their legions of followers to get back at you, mainly using threats on social media, but sometimes doing it in real life.
“It requires bravery, tenacity and determination to continue an investigation when you are under constant attack.”
Van Wyk’s entries were not only meticulous and creative in tracking money linked to the VBS heist being spent all over the country and beyond, but she was confronted by severe acts of intimidation and threats to her personal safety.
This made it a difficult story to pursue and required courage and perseverance from the journalist.
The reaction from the EFF leadership was to vilify her publicly and ban her publication and investigative unit from their gatherings as well as making continuous personal attacks on her.
They used their many followers on social media to make threats against her, including threats of rape and even that she would be shot or burnt.
“My source on that day in January 2019 told me that they’re “scared”, that they can “lose my job, my pension and my family”, but that they’re motivated to be a “good South African citizen”, because “someone has to do something”. I will never forget their story and their angst. My words to them – that the EFF’s intimidation tactics will only work if we buckle under pressure – rung in my ears often during this ordeal,” said van Wyk.
She continued her investigation, meticulously going through thousands of documents and speaking to more than 200 sources to build a story of corruption at the highest levels of political party leadership.
Because of the angry way in which the EFF leadership had responded to her earlier stories; she could not afford to make a single mistake in any of her reporting.
“It is a sad state of affairs that more than 25 years into our democracy journalists are still being subjected to threats and intimidation by politicians. In this case it is even worse that the threats and intimidation come from opposition political forces,” commented the judges.
“The Sikuvile Awards acknowledge those who have excelled at uncovering and disseminating the truth. They not only recognise the winners of truth, but journalism as a whole for the excellence it produces every day to keep us informed, to keep us honest and to speak truth to power,” said Thulani Sibeko, CMO at Standard Bank Group.
Van Wyk said: “Are we making a difference,” a source asked me in January 2019 early one morning at our meeting in a Seattle coffee shop in a South African metropole.
“We do,” I answered. “Every day. We shine a light on the hidden truth”.
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