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South Africa's finest journalists were lauded for their best work over the past year by the country's longest running media awards, the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards' (VJOY), at a ceremony held in Johannesburg today.
The 2022 Vodacom Journalist of the Year overall winner, claiming R100 000, is GroundUp's Raymond Joseph, for his long-running investigation into the National Lotteries Commission and its recipients.
The VJOY awards have come of age but, now 21 years old, show no sign of abating in popularity with the media fraternity, with a 35% increase in entries this year. The VJOY judging panel is headed by convener Mapi Mhlangu, with judges Jermaine Craig, Ryland Fisher, Arthur Goldstuck, Patricia McCracken, Professor Gilbert Motsaathebe, Collin Nxumalo, Jovial Rantao, Elna Rossouw, Advocate Robin Sewlal, and Obed Zilwa
The theme for the 2022 Awards was ‘Storytellers', with judges praising the outstanding calibre of submissions from all nine provinces.
Mhlangu said, “Notable was the work that looked at how journalists, as story tellers, approached big stories and the individual impact they had on their craft and mental well-being. Many of these contributions were fascinating to read or watch and gave the public different and interesting insights into the issues facing our country. Telling and hearing these stories is a big part of what makes us human.”
Takalani Netshitenzhe, Director of External Affairs for Vodacom South Africa, said, “I'd like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to all of our award winners and thank our esteemed panel of judges for ensuring that the VJOYs have remained an important part of the South African media landscape for 21 years. Vodacom is cognisant of the increasing pressure faced by newsrooms across the country in the face of the cost-of-living crisis. Outstanding journalism should continue to be recognised and celebrated in South Africa as a key pillar of democratic society.”
The VJOY Lifetime Achiever Award went to renowned poet and author Dr Don Mattera, who died in July, aged 86.
The VJOY judges said that Mattera used his words to shake the foundations of the Apartheid government, backed by an army, on a mission to oppress South Africa's black majority. “Mattera is an intoxicating example of the power of words, which he used to good effect to fight against the system. His words were chosen carefully to deliver a message to those who sought to oppress the majority that they would never succeed, and that no amount of banning orders on him or his fellow journalists would shake him. He was a world class poet, an amazing writer and published author as well as a great humanitarian, political activist and revolutionary.”
The national category winners, who each won R10 000, are:
Investigative – Western Cape's Raymond Joseph of GroundUp for “Gaming the Lottery”
Judges said: “In a country that has suffered so much under apartheid and colonialism, we now suffer many other ills, such as the economic crisis and ongoing corruption and misgovernance. This means that the role of investigative journalists becomes even more important. The judges decided that our national winner should be someone who has doggedly stuck to their guns in an investigation that has gone on for years and has finally begun to show results in the charging of some of the alleged perpetrators of corruption and the firing of others.”
Opinion: Gauteng's Faizel Patel of The Citizen
Judges said Patel's body of work “provides deep analysis and emotions in communicating tragedy, loss and joy. In his winning works, he writes in compelling terms about the loss of his mother and how fellow human beings are dealing with the humanitarian crisis caused to Ukrainians by the war unleashed on them by Russia. Patel also shows his amazing way with words as he relates, in the most powerful way, his reunion with his son on Father's Day after 17 years.”
Patel won for his body of work: an exclusive “Listen to Schindler's List's Girl in the red coat”, “Facing Mother's Day after the pain of losing a mother” and “Fathers' Day: After 17 years I finally get to spend the day with my son”.
Features: KwaZulu-Natal's Nicky Troll for her Carte Blanche feature piece “Tactical Take Down”
This winning entry dealt with the growing trend of the criminalisation of key sectors of the country's economy by well-organised syndicates. The VJOY Judges said that the story gave viewers a rare glimpse into a successful police operation involving multi-disciplinary teams in an epic illegal mining take down.
Lifestyle: Gauteng's Charles Leonard of the New Frame Podcast for “Who's the blues for?”
The judges awarded Leonard for his body of work included a story titled “Who's the blues for?” which chronicles the broad influence of that music genre in a compelling way that incredibly evokes the audience's emotional experience.
Sport: Gauteng's Hloni Mtimkulu of eNCA
Sports reporting is a calling, a labour of love – and none more so than for our deserving national winner this year, who the judges said made it her daily quest to consistently bring the coverage of particularly women in sport into mainstream media. “For her powerful coverage this year, in particular of the scourge of child abuse in sport, and for the sheer weight of her consistent body of high-quality work, Mtimkulu is our national winner.”
Mtimkulu won for her body of work: “The visibility factor for women”, “South African sport's abuse problem” and “Failed communities as facilities fail”.
Financial and Economics: Gauteng's Lisa Steyn of the Financial Mail for “Inside SA's Mining Mafia”
Steyn entered a body of work, among which was a story that showed her untiring pursuit of the truth. The judges said that she invested a lot of time in speaking to mining stakeholders, from small-time operators - the Zama-Zamas - to syndicate kingpins in the background, and also government officials in an effort to try and get answers to reasons for increased killings in the sector.
Politics: Western Cape's Athi Mtongana of Newzroom Afrika for “FW De Klerk's Death ignites emotions from North Crest Massacre Families”
The death of former president FW de Klerk was a major news story. The judges said that not only did Mtongana of Newzroom Afrika secure exclusive details of the story, accompanied with unique footage, “but she was able to provide proper context for the story, by bringing into the story, the families of the victims of acts of crime by soldiers of the then South African Defence Force acting on the instruction of their commander”. The judges awarded Mtongana for excellence on a global story and the sensitivity with which it was handled.
Sustainability: Western Cape's Caryn Dolley of DM168 for “South Africa's rare plants are being poached to extinction and the ecological nightmare is only getting worse”
The judges said that the spotlight fell regularly in the past year on perhaps South Africa's most unexpected crime – plant robbery from some of the country's most delicate heritage environments. “Dolley's article detailed this new green crime wave particularly well, astonishing the audience with the quantities that poachers have bagged and their international crime networks stretching from the US to Europe and the Far East.”
Live reporting/ breaking news: KwaZulu-Natal's Dasen Thathiah with contributors Nkanyiso Mdlalose, Sandile Makhubela and Susanna Holmes of eNCA for KwaZulu-Natal floods
The judges said that live reporting an event could be a daunting task. “You don't have time to prepare or gather information before you rush to the scene where a natural disaster is taking place or an accident scene where the police and ambulance sirens are still howling. To cover breaking news effectively requires a cool head and a thorough knowledge of the principles of news reporting.” They gave this accolade to eNCA's team for a body of work which included a behind-the-scenes look at the province's floods.
Photography: Gauteng's Shiraaz Mohamed of the Daily Maverick
In a year of drama, flood and flames, Mohamed captured the human tragedy within events with delicacy and sensitivity, and his winning portfolio included one photograph that shocked the nation and the world. Judges said he “respected the subject, could not be construed as offensive to human dignity and deepen the truth that such news pictures must portray”.
Mohamed won for his body of work: “Images of Hell: The death and destruction in the aftermath of the KZN floods” and “My message to other cancer patients: ‘Never give up… and it's okay to cry'”.
Innovation in journalism: Gauteng's Mamaili Mamaila of The Outlier
This category revolves around both novel techniques and technologies and finding new ways to tell a story so that it provides insights that were not possible before. Judges said Mamaila's winning entry for a body of work “used data journalism to delve skilfully into different aspects of a sport that has been covered intensively for decades, yet never before seen this kind of treatment in South Africa”.
Mamaila won for the body of work: “Which PSL football clubs have won the most prize money”, “Why are young players struggling to find their feet in SA's top football league” and “Have Covid-19 spectator restrictions affected SA's football teams negatively Apparently not”.
Judges said Mamaili's work was a case study in innovation, informed by an appreciation of the power of data journalism. She showed a strong understanding of the data available to her and used data analysis tools effectively to underpin incisive journalism.
The Young Journalist of the Year Award: Gauteng's Michelle Banda from Daily Maverick
This award emphasises the VJOY's commitment to furthering the career of a dynamic young rising star journalist in South Africa, who has worked in journalism for three years or less.
This year the line-up of finalists was one of the best ever in the life of the competition and the judges had their work cut out for them in adjudicating the winner. Banda wins an all-expenses paid overseas trip to work in an international newsroom.
Banda won for her body of work: “Determined survivors of apartheid-era atrocities describe their anguish of being forgotten and ignored”, “Body of Khayalethu Magadla found three weeks after six-year-old becomes latest casualty of country's uncovered manholes” and “Ready to retire, but not nearly finished yet: Meet the unsung heroes of South Africa – our teachers.”