One of the many controversial NLC grants that Limpopo Mirror reported on. In 2020 we wrote about an R11,37 million grant made to “build” a sport stadium in Vhembe. Our team of investigative reporters finally traced the project. Instead of building a new stadium, the NPO did some slight renovations to an existing stadium, built many years before.
The team from Limpopo Mirror, with support from online publisher GroundUp, won Vodacom’s regional Journalist of the Year Award (VJOY) in the investigative journalism category. The names of the winners were announced during a virtual ceremony on Monday night.
This is one of the most prestigious awards, especially for investigative journalism, in the country. Limpopo Mirror’s team had to compete against journalists from all major news outlets from the Free State, North-West, Northern Cape and Limpopo. The local team consist of Anton van Zyl, Tshifhiwa Mukwevho and Raymond Joseph. The prize was awarded to them in recognition of the work done in exposing the rot within the National Lotteries Commission.
“The virtual awards announcement was the culmination of a judging process which reviewed more than 1 300 entries received nationally across 12 categories,” said Vodacom in a press statement afterwards. The theme for this year’s awards is “resilience”. “Despite many challenges, and sometimes at significant personal cost, South African journalists across the country have persevered to bring high-quality journalism to the public through various mediums,” the statement reads.
The Vodacom judges complimented the journalists who entered and said that the quality of entries had instilled confidence in the future of journalism in the country. The entries have “set a new benchmark for excellence in South African journalism”, the judges said.
This year’s VJOY judging panel consists of convener Ryland Fisher and judges Jermaine Craig, Arthur Goldstuck, Patricia McCracken, Mapi Mhlangu, Gilbert Motsaathebe, Collin Nxumalo, Jovial Rantao, Robin Sewlal, Phindile Xaba and Obed Zilwa.
Takalani Netshitenzhe, Vodacom South Africa’s Chief Officer for External Affairs, said: “For two decades, the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards have recognised many of the leading lights of South African journalism, those who have contributed to upholding democracy and protecting the right of freedom of expression, so vitally important in our society.”
Limpopo Mirror’s team won the award for a series of articles published that expose the shenanigans at the National Lotteries Commission (NLC). “The three stories entered for the Vodacom competition are to a certain degree a culmination of three years’ work. It is also not the result of one journalist’s endeavours. In order to properly investigate each of these grants, we needed to firstly find the project, visit the area and speak to as many people possible to find out what exactly happened and when. We interviewed sources who were often in fear of their lives and too scared to be identified. We also scrutinised hundreds of documents, some leaked and others in the public domain, to connect all the dots,” said Anton van Zyl, editor of the Limpopo Mirror.
“The story about the Mdabula Stadium in Vhembe is a good example of how patience helps. The NLC refused to provide information on this project. Our earlier 2018 story about a R27,7 million grant to Denzhe Primary Care exposed a corrupt lawyer and his modus operandi. One of his NPOs received R11,37 million for a sports project in Limpopo, but no-one wanted to say where it was. It was only in 2020 that we could connect the dots and, with the help of some leaked reports, trace the project back to the stadium in Mdavula village,” Van Zyl explained.
Mdabula stadium was built several years ago by the Thulamela Municipality. The GroundUp/Limpopo Mirror investigation found that the grant was used to do only minor refurbishments to an existing stadium, leaving close to R11 million unaccounted for.
In October 2020, Limpopo Mirror reported on a R3 million grant awarded to the Hangwani Mulaudzi Foundation. At the time, Hangwani Mulaudzi was the official spokesperson for the Hawks. What made this story interesting is that the NLC tried its best to not make public the names of its beneficiaries in 2019/20 and had to be forced to do so.
The final entry was about the old-age home at Maila village. “We have been monitoring this project for some time, checking on the progress – actually, the lack of it. This story was an excellent example of how many of the Lottery scams worked: dormant NPOs are hi-jacked and new bank accounts opened and used to funnel millions to individuals with no link to these non-profits,” said Van Zyl.
“We are very grateful for the recognition from Vodacom,” said Van Zyl. “The sad part is that you write about what is happening all around us, but it just seems to continue. Currently, the Special Investigating Unit and the Hawks are investigating the NLC and the organisations it funded, but the wheels of justice are slow.
“Villages such as Maila will never be able to escape the cycle of poverty if people do not stand up. Sadly, at this stage, only the journalists speak out. Maila village deserves more than half-built structures for a centre they never asked for. They deserve a better life, and if R26 million was earmarked to offer them a steppingstone to escape poverty, they must benefit from it,” said Van Zyl.
The regional award-winning journalists will compete for national honours against their peers in other provinces at the national awards ceremony on Thursday, 25 November 2021.
Date:13 November 2021 - By: Anton van Zyl
Anton van Zyl has been with the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror since 1990. He graduated from the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and obtained a BA Communications degree. He is a founder member of the Association of Independent Publishers.