Carping Point: South Africans needs to dig deep and support its journalists

Kevin Ritchie. File image.

Kevin Ritchie. File image.

Published Apr 1, 2023


Johannesburg - This week the country was agog and aghast as revelations emerged of the convict who escaped from a prison by having a dead body smuggled in, kept in a fridge and then put it in his cell – which was then firebombed.

The con in question, so-called Facebook rapist, Thabo Bester, was then driven out prison dressed in a warder’s uniform. That was a year ago.

Bester is still at large. The story has the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s sadly a commonplace South African reality. There are plenty of other horror stories, like the ongoing investigations into the Tembisa Hospital scandal, where R1 billion was blown on over-inflated tenders and then brave Babita Deokaran was gunned down for blowing the whistle.

We dare not forget the story of the PPE procurement scandal uncovered in the Union Buildings literally feet away from the presidency. Or Digital Vibes, orchestrated by no less than the then minister of health.

It’s easy to wring our hands, gnash our teeth and rend our clothes at the state of the country – and we should. But we need to remember how we first learnt of these stories. The state was not just indifferent to what was happening, in Bester’s case the department in question just doubled down on the denials until it couldn’t any more.

When we think of investigative journalism, we tend to think no further than Guptagate and the unravelling of the rat’s nest of corruption and nepotism, because it’s easy. After all the “New Dawn” was supposed to stop all of that. But Bester, Tembisa, the PPE scandal and Digital Vibes are symptoms of a cancer that has metastasised far beyond what anyone was prepared to comprehend.

We only know about the rot because of the media, but we don’t support journalism in this country – not if the plummeting print circulations and dwindling broadcast audiences are anything to go by. We don’t protect our hard-won right of media freedom either, because we ignore that a free media depends on a diversity of voices and (for editors) the obligation to publish news and views that might be the polar opposite of what you believe, like and support, but need to be aired because they are the truth.

The stories above are a case in point; they weren’t “broken” by the same journalists but by journalists from competing media houses. The PPE procurement scandal was particularly difficult for many to swallow, because the journalists who broke the story were discredited by their peers. They were accused of pandering to Cyril Ramaphosa’s foes – because we were still in the afterglow of the “New Dawn”.

Today, three years later, this country is as dysfunctional as it ever was during the decade of state capture – in some cases it’s a lot worse because of the orgy of criminality that was spawned once Jacob Zuma was unseated.

South Africa needs to dig deep and support its journalists, because without them we wouldn’t have a clue of how deep the hole is that we are stuck in.

Buy a paper – any paper. Get your friends to do it too.