Honouring the superheroes of democracy

By Prof. Ylva Rodny-Gumede

The Nat Nakasa awards truly showcase the best of journalism in South Africa today and reminds us about the need for journalists that report without fear or favour, who do not shy away from either the political or financial story, and who make stories accessible to a broader audience.

South Africa is better off thanks to courageous journalists who have uncovered corruption and malpractice in government according to Advocate Hermione Cronje, the new head of the Investigative Directorate at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). Addressing the audience during the Nat Nakasa Award for Courageous Journalism in Johannesburg on June 22, Cronje said that journalists have, in many ways, done the work for her. Her job is now to continue investigations and make sure guilty parties are brought to justice.

This year the Nat Nakasa award was given to Sunday Times political reporter Qaanitah Hunter for her fearless and courageous reporting on state capture, governance and party politics that has made her one of the country’s lead investigative and political reporters despite being only in her mid 20s. Just like late journalist Nata Nakasa himself that started his career while still young and who achieved acclaim for his courageous reporting on the apartheid state and the social and personal ills it created. And here the similarities between Hunter and Nakasa are clear to see, as Hunter was awarded not only for her political reporting but for her stories on mental health challenges facing many journalists including her own battles with anxiety.

The Nat Nakasa award was awarded along-side the Sanef-Wrottesley Award, named after late journalist Stephen Wrottesley, one of the founding members of Sanef. This year the award went to SABC’s Editor of Digital news Izak Minnaar as a long-standing Sanef member in recognition of “extraordinary commitment to work towards the achievement of the association’s goals”.

These awards were preceded by the Sanlam award for Excellence in Financial Journalism, which saw eight journalists from South Africa and the rest of the continent awarded for stories on the economy, financial markets, and personal finance, including a special award for coverage focused on Africa and economic growth on the continent.

These awards truly showcase the best of journalism in South Africa today and reminds us about the need for journalists that report without fear or favour, who do not shy away from either the political or financial story, and who make stories accessible to a broader audience.

Amidst growing concern over intimidation and attacks on journalists, particularly through social media, we need to ensure we give recognition and support to courageous journalists.

Again, this is something Hunter is well aware of, having herself been a victim of intimidation attempts and attacks, including death threats. With cyber misogyny on the rise, it is fitting that a young courageous female journalist is honoured.

In a hardening economic climate and with further cuts to budgets and downsizing of newsrooms as well as closures of media ventures as shown by the latest South African State of the Newsroom report published by Wits Journalism, we need to continuously look towards new funding models and sources to support quality journalism and reporters who go the extra mile to bring wrongdoings to the attention of the public and the authorities. After all, journalists are, as advocate Cronje says the “superheroes of democracy”.

Ylva Rodny Gumede, was one of the judges of this year’s Sanlam Awards for Excellence in Financial Journalism.

More stories in Issue 112

Contributors

Prof. Ylva Rodny-Gumede

Ylva Rodny-Gumede is Professor in the Department of Journalism, Film and Television at the University of Johannesburg. Ylva is a former journalist and her current research includes investigating journalism practices in the post-colony, the transformation of communications and media studies curriculum, including the broader transformation of higher education in South Africa.

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