It was another year of vigorous reporting at the Mail & Guardian, a paper renowned for high-level investigations and intrepid coverage of the inner workings of government. The top 11 of the M&G’s major exposes in 1997 are detailed below.
Secret details of parks deal
January 10 to 16 1997. Justin Arenstein
We reveal a secret monopoly deal that will give the Kenyan-based Dolphin Group control over prime Mpumalanga nature reserves for 50 years. The deal was renegotiated and watered down.
This child of four was sold for sex ... The price? R200
March 20 to 26 1997. Stuart Hess
The M&G breaks a horrifying tale of a four-year-old rented out for sex by her destitute mother. Her rescuers hand her rapist to the police. He is released, without charge, within a week.
The Mugabe death squads
May 2 to 8 1997. David Beresford
M&G associate editor David Beresford recounts the full details of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s early-1980s Matabeleland death squads as detailed in a long- overdue report compiled by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and barred from publication by Mugabe. When the M&G hit the streets of Harare, the paper sold out within hours. Zimbabweans then downloaded the story from the electronic Mail & Guardian and photocopied it for distribution.
May 9 to 15 1997. Stuart Hess and Mungo Soggot
Mamokgethi Malebana’s death is a shocking indictment of a justice system gone very wrong. The seven-year-old went missing and was found crying on the bed of a neighbour, Dan Mabote. He was arrested, then allowed out on bail. A day before the case was due to be heard, the girl disappeared.
It took two months for the rest of the press to follow the M&G’s story—but they were there when, months later, Mabote led police to Mamokgethi’s body, buried in a shallow grave.
Why minister axed her housing boss
May 23 to 29 1997. Justin Arenstein, Stefaans Brummer, Mungo Soggot and Peta Thornycroft
Billy Cobbett, director general in the Department of Housing, is fired by his minister when he blows the whistle on a suspect deal. In a bizarre network of cronies, bankers and provincial civil servants, an Mpumalanga construction company—Motheo Construction—given a huge government building contract belongs to a friend of Minister of Housing Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele. It is the first venture into the housing field by the friend, a medical doctor. Provincial housing board chief Saths Moodley loses his job, the entire board is suspended by Premier Mathews Phosa and banker Kevin Gibb is fired by Nedcor in disgrace.
KWV in fake French bubbly scam
June 6 to 12 1997. David Beresford and Mungo Soggot
A scam in a bottle: we recount how, during the sanctions era, the country’s wine cartel, KWV, tried to flog bogus champagne to buyers who know the real thing in Europe and the United States.
How ANC used tour group to arm cadres
June 13 to 19 1997. Stefaans Brummer
Seven years after the African National Congress abandoned its armed struggles against apartheid, we take readers on the fascinating smuggling route used by Umkhonto weSizwe. The touring Bedford truck carried more than just hitch-hikers.
Gauteng premiership race
May to September 1997. Wally Mbhele
This inside tale of skulduggery begs the question: did Gauteng Premier Tokyo Sexwale decide to go or was he thwarted by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki? The M&G’s political team then turned to coverage of the ensuing race for the premiership of the country’s most powerful province. Many hours spent investigating the mood on the ground meant the M&G was one of the only newspapers that correctly predicted the victory of Mathole Motshekga.
‘Winnie hired me to kill Asvat’
September 5 to 11 1997. Wally Mbhele
One of two men convicted of the murder of Dr Abu Baker Asvat, Thulani Nicholas Dlamini, tells an M&G reporter that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela “promised us R20 000 for the murder of Dr Asvat”. Mbhele keeps us ahead in the year’s most compelling political drama: Madikizela-Mandela at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Fivaz probes Thabo’s secret cop unit
October 3 to 9 1997. Andy Duffy, Marion Edmunds and Stefaans Brummer
In a tale that could be used as a plot for a Hollywood cop caper, the M&G reports on a quiet investigation by police on a police unit. National Police Commissioner George Fivaz wants the lowdown on a high-living unit that reports directly to Deputy President Thabo Mbeki.
Shady Liberian gets R3-million state salary
November and December 1997. Mungo Soggot
Three million rands a year. That’s what Emanuel Shaw II, a shady Liberian oil dealer and diplomat, is being paid by the Central Energy Fund, the country’s state-run oil company. This one is still proving to be a bottomless can of worms.