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Taking on the cartels

The bread price-fixing scandal struck a blow to the poorest of South Africans. M&G journalist Lloyd Gedye takes us behind the story that won him a Vodacom Journalist of the Year award.

Following a story that went to the heart of what ordinary South Africans must fight for daily, Mail & Guardian journalist Lloyd Gedye took home top honours in the Financial/Economic Category of the Vodacom Journalist of the Year awards held on Friday in Johannesburg.

“Give us our daily bread” was just one in a series of Lloyd’s dogged coverage of the bread price-fixing scandal.

“Greed and corruption in some sectors of South African business and industry seem limitless,” said the judges. “And this shameful behaviour becomes even more distasteful when it seems to hammer the final nail into the coffin of a group already suffering in the depths of poverty, a group that has nowhere else to turn to but stick with the available staple food — bread.”

Read more of Lloyd’s articles about the bread price-fixing scandal here.

As the judges put it, the winning piece “reveals the elaborate extent that the role-players in the bread price-fixing scandal went to, in order to fix the price of bread — a move which affected poor consumers the most”.

We asked Lloyd a few questions about his coverage on this issue.

How did you first get on to the bread price-fixing scandal?
The first time I heard about it was when the Competition Commission referred its case against South Africa’s food giants to the Competition Tribunal.

What has been the most surprising element of this story for you?
I was disgusted that respected members of corporate South Africa could fix the price of a basic foodstuff like bread. This affects all South Africans, but affects the poorest of the poor most. I was also surprised that after Tiger Brands, Foodcorp and Premier Food had admitted guilt and cooperated with the commission, Pioneer Foods still maintained that it was innocent and decided to defend the matter before the tribunal. I am also surprised how little South Africa investors seem to care that companies they invest in are part of such horrific behaviour.

The article that won you the prize was just one in a series … how long did you track this story and how many articles did you do?
I have been tracking this story since the commission referred its case to the tribunal in May 2008, and have written close to 20 pieces on it, if not more. Initially the focus was on the bread case and Tiger Brands and Foodcorp settling with the commission. Then the focus moved to Pioneer because it was claiming innocence and said it intended to defend the matter. I spent weeks covering the tribunal hearing on a daily basis and then the focus switched to the milling cartel, which has been identified through the commission’s investigation. This is what I dealt with in the story that I won the award for, including the allegations that the food companies’ staff had prayed in church before fixing the wheat price.

Are we likely to see an end to this behaviour once and for all? Or is it a trend we’re seeing in other food industries?
Not at all. When the commission announced its record settlement with Pioneer it announced its investigation into the poultry and egg industries, which Pioneer has alleged also had cartels.

Read about the rest of the winners at the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards here.

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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