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The Zoutnet team, photographed during the year-end function earlier this month.

The year that was the worst of times, but perhaps the best of times

 

Nature is said to cause women to forget the pains of childbirth. Had it not been for this, the human species would probably cease to exist. Perhaps, at the end of every year, we need some form of anaesthetic or a powerful potion that, similarly, suppresses sections of our memory of the year gone by.

The year 2023 was not easy, especially if you are in the content-providing industry. Newspapers throughout the world closed shop at an alarming rate. All around us, layoffs and cutbacks have become the norm among media companies. The trusted messenger is under threat, with no guardian angel stepping to the fore with promises of relief.

To put matters bluntly – the business of news is in a terrible space, and 2023 is a year that most would simply want to be over. Let us move on and see if 2024 can be better.

But then we pause to look back, and we notice the silver linings that brightened up the clouds. If we look at the achievements of the past year of individuals and the two newspapers, the Limpopo Mirror and the Zoutpansberger, a different picture emerges.

A week ago, I was asked to make a summary of the awards that our newspapers won in 2023. The list was quite extensive:

In August this year, the annual award ceremony for the Forum for Community Journalists (FCJ) was held, and a record number of 527 individual entries were received. Most of the entries came from major publishing groups, and the writing categories (where all compete on equal footing) were especially tough.

The small independent Zoutnet group from Limpopo stole the show by winning several of the top awards. These include:

* Andries van Zyl, editor of the Zoutpansberger, won the Hard News writing category, with Maanda Bele from Limpopo Mirror third.

* Victor Mukwevho from Limpopo Mirror won the Column Writing category.

* Andries van Zyl was a finalist in the Journalist of the Year category.

* In the section for independently owned newspapers, the Limpopo Mirror and Zoutpansberger achieved a clean sweep. The Newspaper of the Year trophy was awarded to the Limpopo Mirror, with Zoutpansberger in second place.

* In the Best Frontpage competition, Zoutpansberger claimed the trophy, while Limpopo Mirror secured second place.

In November, one of the Limpopo Mirror’s longest-serving correspondents, Frank Mavhungu, was honoured by the Limpopo Department of Sports and Tourism for being the Best Sports Photographer of the Year.

On a more personal level, I received one of the country’s most coveted journalism accolades, the Nat Nakasa Award, in September. The award recognises courageous journalism in the community-media sector. This is a very special award because you cannot submit entries for it.

Even though the year was very difficult, we collected more certificates and trophies than ever. The industry recognised us and told us that we were making a difference.

But perhaps the biggest question is whether our reporting really made a difference. The worth of a local newspaper should be measured by its willingness and ability to serve as a watchdog. Did we succeed in doing that?

The Limpopo Mirror was mentioned in parliament this year and thanked for the role it played in exposing the rot at the National Lotteries Commission. The Zoutnet group also won its fight against the Makhado Municipality to force them to act more transparently and not hide the details of a corrupt tender process.

Earlier this year, the Zoutpansberger exposed a local Ponzi scheme, which was very active in the local community. The paper persisted with the story, amidst ferocious attacks against it on social media and other platforms. When the scheme folded, and the driver of the investment scheme was killed, the estimated losses were well over R100 million. No one else was willing to expose what was happening and confront the people involved. The Zoutpansberger did so.

However, the “minor” battles that are won often give you more satisfaction. Such as the Madombidzha hawker who took on a retail store to recover the money that she lost when using their money-transfer facility. Only after we reported on the case did the retailer decide to talk to her and settle the matter.

This week we cover the story of the lovely Engedzani Ndou, who was crowned Mrs Albinism SA. She thanked Limpopo Mirror for opening doors for her by featuring her on the front page earlier this year. For us, this was simply another story and a nice photo, but for her, it meant the world. We are so glad that we could help!

To be able to make a difference, you need a team of dedicated workers and contributors. At the Limpopo Mirror and Zoutpansberger, we have a wonderful team who make it all possible. I cannot thank them enough.

To all our readers – may you have a very blessed festive season! Let us move forward with the firm belief that 2024 will be magical.

 

 

Date:22 December 2023

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.

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