2021: What a year!

Like everyone else, amaBhungane has had a tough year, but we’ve emerged stronger and ready to grow — with your help.

As we all stagger to the end of this year with the hope there will be some rest (if not respite from the relentless bad news), I want to share some actual good tidings from amaB — and ask you to renew your support for our extraordinary journey.

This was a difficult year for amaBhungane.

At the end of May, my co-managing partner Stefaans Brümmer unexpectedly announced his resignation to pursue long-delayed personal goals.

His sudden departure put the organisation under stress — and it didn’t help to steady our nerves that this year several 3-year funding grants were up for renewal.

In addition, our first effort at an emergency recruitment to fill the gap left by Stefaans fell short when our chosen candidate changed his mind.

In the meantime, we faced a bit of polite but serious grilling from both our board and one or two big donors.

Now I am delighted to announce that we have hired Vicki Robinson, current managing partner (editorial) for the IJ Hub, the support structure (for investigative journalism centres in the SADC region) that we spun off from amaB in 2019.

Vicki is joining the amaBhungane team in our new editorial coordinator role.

Vicki started her career as a political and investigative reporter at the Mail & Guardian. Later she moved to London where she worked as an analyst in the Africa practice of a business intelligence consultancy.

In 2010, she moved back to South Africa and joined the banking world, first with Standard Chartered as head of corporate affairs for Southern Africa and then with HSBC where she established and headed the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) for South Africa.

When the horrors of state capture started emerging, Vicki took a leap of faith and joined a group of civil society stalwarts and academics to help in the pushback – and later co-founded a non-profit organisation called The Centre for Change.

But she has long hankered for a return to journalism.

Vicki starts on 17 January 2022 and will significantly bolster amaB’s editorial and organisational capacity.

Secondly, I can report that all our multi-year institutional funders have retained their confidence in us and our work, anchoring our sustainability efforts.

That does not however, reduce the pressure for us to keep up and even grow the levels of crowdfunding that we have managed to secure over the years.

Indeed, at least one large grant-maker has indicated that it is going to be wound down over the next few years and has pressed us grantees to make plans to secure their own sustainability.

Traditionally we have aimed to raise a quarter of our budget from you, our readers and amaB Supporters.

Your financial support remains key to amaB’s long-term sustainability.

[sidebarContentQuote align=left]AmaBhungane investigations have impact. We won’t stop exposing wrongdoing and holding government and corporate institutions to account. But we cannot do it without your support.[/sidebarContentQuote]

Our numbers show steady levels of support for the year to date but this against reduced expenditure occasioned by Stefaans’ departure and other savings.

With Vicki on board and two more senior editorial appointments planned, next year will be more of a challenge, which we hope supporters will help us meet — though we realise the economy is in a parlous state and there are other causes clamouring for attention and aid.

Nevertheless, as we head into 2022, we are proud of what we have achieved in 2021 and some of the potential long-term benefit amaB has contributed to.

I want particularly to highlight our advocacy portfolio, which sometimes gets forgotten in the more ‘glamorous’ work of editorial exposés.

Here we have scored some famous and far reaching victories this year.

The first of these was our February win in the Constitutional Court, where several provisions of the law governing the state’s ability to intercept communications (via the Rica Act) were declared unconstitutional and invalid.

The court also declared the practice of bulk surveillance — which has the potential to enable communications to be monitored almost indiscriminately — to be without any legal basis.

The benefit of this decision will be experienced by the public at large, who will enjoy additional safeguards against unwarranted interception.

But its impact will be felt even more by journalists and lawyers, due to the court’s recognition of the need for extra measures to protect sensitive communications between journalists and sources, and lawyers and clients.

Later in the year, we argued before the High Court that blanket tax record confidentiality was constitutionally untenable as it failed to strike the correct balance between privacy of the taxpayer and the public’s right to such information, in narrow circumstances where compelling reasons for disclosure in the public interest exist.

The court agreed with us. We’re confident that the Constitutional Court will confirm the order of constitutional invalidity.

Later in November, we received more good news: the full bench of the High Court found in our favour in our challenge to the disclosure regime in the Executive Ethics Code.

We argued that if the code was not wide enough to include the mandatory disclosure of donations for internal party election campaigns — such as ‘CR17’, which got Cyril Ramaphosa elected as ANC president — then the code fell short of what the Constitution demands.

The court found the Code does not mandate disclosures in all circumstances and therefore introduces uncertainty. As a result, it is “not an effective means of achieving accountability, transparency and openness”, warranting a declaration that it is unconstitutional and invalid.

We will now seek confirmation of this declaration in the Constitutional Court.

These three decisions are a ringing endorsement of not just our legal team and strategy, but the foundational principle of our litigation: the advancement of media freedom as well as access to information in the public interest.

One of our board members, former Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes, tweeted this week:

“Is there a news organisation in the world with as much impact on freedom of information law as @amaBhungane? When it’s not breaking stories, Africa’s leading investigative shop also conducts more strategic litigation than most full-fledged advocacy outfits.”

If you’d like to give strength to our arm, please go to our supporter page.

Wishing you and our country a safe and peaceful break.

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