Twenty years ago Stefaans Brümmer, then the head of the Mail & Guardian’s investigative unit, recruited an obscure Durban journalist to join the team. That was me.
Not long afterwards, in November 2002, I broke the story that the Scorpions were investigating then Deputy President Jacob Zuma “for an alleged attempt to secure a bribe of R500 000 a year from French defence giant Thomson-CSF”.
This year Zuma finally went on trial on that charge; this month (hopefully) he finally goes to jail (briefly) for a decade of constitutional contempt; and this week (hopefully) Stefaans finally gets a rest (briefly).
Stefaans and I have worked closely together for two decades – and for all that time Zuma has loomed as a dark shadow over the constitutional project.
- Also read: An unShaikable friendship
Of course the problems we face today are not all down to Zuma – the arms deal, which dominated our early collaboration, was Thabo Mbeki’s baby.
But we are living in the state that Zuma, more than anyone else, constructed – or rather demolished, piece-by-piece. A state more captured than capable, with a governing class that is sometimes indistinguishable from an organised crime network.
It was investigative journalism that, year-after-year, threw a few frail bodies at the political and state ramparts that Zuma fashioned to protect himself, his family, his cronies, his wealth and his influence.
It was investigative journalism that laid the groundwork for both the Zondo Commission – and the Constitutional Court decision this week that called the deposed emperor on his naked disdain for any form of genuine accountability.
It is worth quoting what judge Zondo said this week about South African journalism.
He told a media briefing, “I want to take this opportunity to point out that we certainly appreciate the very important work that the media plays in our society. We appreciate the enormous contribution that you as journalists make in building our society, in building our country, in placing before society various things that society should know.
“Of course, you know what I am talking about because you have played a very important role towards the creation of this commission. Indeed, as I have been hearing evidence since August 2018 I have come across many areas where it was quite clear to me that had we not had the kind of investigative journalism that we have in this country, this society and this commission would not have known certain things, ugly things, that have now been placed before society.
“We really salute you… we think this commission has benefitted enormously from the investigative journalism we have in this country.”
What he didn’t say, what the public doesn’t often see, is how thin this line of defence is. Journalism and journalists are stretched. Stefaans and I have the scars to prove it.
Stefaans is taking a break, but amaBhungane’s mission continues – and we expect to announce the arrival of some reinforcements soon.
The constitutional delinquents – Zuma included – are still here, not only outside the walls, but in powerful positions within the city, stealing its meagre reserves, stripping its defences, jostling for power.
We rely on you, the public. We depend on you to keep us going. To fund us. To support us. To defend us.
So, if you’re moved to donate to our cause, go here.
If you want to read our new story on the VBS bank scandal, go here.
If you’d like to know more about our latest success at the Constitutional Court go here. Or do it all!
Sam Sole, amaB managing partner