Sunday Times' Taco Kuiper runner-up award revoked - Anton Harber

Review finds newspaper's reporting on Cato Manor unit was shoddy and amateurish

Statement from the judging panel of the Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism – March 2019

In 2012, we gave the runner-up prize in the Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism to the three journalists of the Sunday Times responsible for the Cato Manor Shoot to Kill story, Mzilikazi wa Africa, Stephan Hoffstatter and Rob Rose (Sunday Times, 11 December 2011). We made this decision in good faith, based on the information before us at the time.

Since then, elements of the story have been disputed, leading us to reconsider that decision.

In October 2017, we received a letter from General Johan Booysen, former regional head of the Hawks and a subject of the story, asking us to reopen our deliberations on the award. The same week, and before we could respond, the Sunday Times published a retraction of and apology for the Cato Manor article and two others. “We committed mistakes and allowed ourselves to be manipulated by those with ulterior motives,” the current editor Bongani Siqoko wrote. He said the newspaper would return prizes won for these stories.

Siqoko wrote to us to “tender to return the Award”. However, the prize went to the individual journalists involved, rather than the newspaper. Some of these individuals, and the then-editor, Ray Hartley, criticised the decision to withdraw the story, leaving its status in dispute.

We have now conducted our own investigation. We have studied the reports and relevant documentation and interviewed most of the individuals involved.

After extended deliberation, we have reached the dismaying conclusion that while there was a legitimate story around the Cato Manor unit, the reporting, writing and editing was shoddy and amateurish, leading to serious errors and gaps in the report. With the information that has come to light, it is clear that this work did not merit the recognition of the Award.

We are therefore withdrawing the runner-up award that we gave to these journalists and asking them to return it.

We have taken steps to subject entries to our award to thorough due diligence. We have this year subjected them to detailed screening before our judging process, putting questions to entrants where there was a lack of clarity about any aspect of the story or their reporting on it, and had a team fact-check elements of the entries. We will assess these measures and take additional ones if necessary. At the same time, we are aware that we depend on the honesty and integrity of the entrants and these steps will not preclude the possibility of controversies occurring after we have given out awards. We will be vigilant in ensuring the integrity of the Award and ensuring that we recognize and encourage the highest quality of investigative reporting in the public interest.

Anton Harber
Convenor, Taco Kuiper Awards