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By Amanda Watson

News Editor

Taco Kuiper judge Anton Harber welcomes Sunday Times’ return of award

The paper won a prize for investigative journalism in 2011, which has subsequently been completely discredited.

Professor Anton Harber, convenor of judges for the Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism, on Sunday welcomed Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko’s decision to return the awards that articles on the Cato Manor “Death Squad”.

“The Sunday Times’ ‘Cato Manor Hit Squad’ story was joint runner-up for the Taco Kuiper Prize for Investigative Journalism in 2011,” Harber said in a statement.

“We note the editor’s admission today that they ‘committed mistakes [in their reporting] and allowed [them]selves to be manipulated by those with ulterior motives’, and their decision to return the prize. We appreciate their honesty in dealing with this.”

Harber noted the judges had made the award in good faith.

“We could not have expected that journalists and editors would submit stories that do not meet the highest editorial standards,” said Harber.

“South Africa has an excellent record of fine investigative journalism and the Awards will continue to support, promote and recognise the best of it and be vigilant in upholding the highest standards.”

At the time, and according to a press release by Wits University, “Harber said the Sunday Times team took last year’s story of a rogue police squad and mixed well-researched, fresh evidence with effective storytelling.”

By 1 December 2011, the cracks had already begun to appear in the narrative.

“Susan Smuts from the Sunday Times, in a letter to the press ombudsman, admitted that [Sunday Times journalist Stephan] Hofstatter had worked on the Cato Manor story with Colonel NH Sing from Crime Intelligence,” said the man at the centre of the furore, former Major-General Johan Booysen, while writing for Uncaptured SA.

“NH Sing (now deceased) was linked, along with Crime Intelligence Chief, Richard Mdluli and others, to a multimillion-rand corruption scam,” Booysen said.

On 1 April 2012, NoseWeek pointed out a political conspiracy had developed to discredit Booysen.

“Nose149 pointed out that all the police officers targeted by name in the Sunday Times probe were involved in the probe of serious corruption charges brought against a few businessmen and politicians – and their corrupt collaborators in the police service,” Noseweek found.

“Noseweek also pointed out that two of the accused in a major police corruption case – businessman Thoshan Panday and his friend Colonel Navin Madhoe – had, late last year, been offering a “package” to various newspapers of supposed evidence, including a CD with pictures allegedly taken at the scenes of shootings by members of the Hawks unit. As far as Noseweek had been able to establish, the Sunday Times was the only taker. The cases cited and pictures used in the newspaper’s story are demonstrably derived almost entirely from the material on that CD.”

In 2018, journalism.co.za reported the Taco Kuiper judges wrote: “We gather for this year’s [2016] awards in a world defined by fake news and a highly contested media space. Technology and social media continue to redefine our ideas of news and its consumption. It is a time of uncertainty. In the age of ‘alternative facts’, we need proving, fact-checked, fearless journalism of this nature. In the age of mass opinion carried in 140 characters, our society needs those – like our entrants this year – who scratch and worry to reveal what lies beneath the surface.”

The Citizen asked Harber on Sunday if members of his panel did not at some stage become aware of problems with the story and whether anyone decided to follow up on it. Harber has not yet responded. This article will be updated if he does.

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