MANDY ROSSOUW (1979 – 2013)
I was stunned when I found out that Mandy Rossouw was only 33 years old, given her maturity as a person, her broad writing experience and her overall influence in the South African political arena. She had a wide circle of contacts and was loved and respected by most international ambassadors, who relied on her for a sense of the political situation in the country.
There aren’t many journalists with so much energy; she would take on so many assignments at a time that, on many occasions, I had the privilege of fighting with her about prioritisation. She was highly driven and competitive and wanted to be the one to break the big stories. If others scooped us she would strive to give our readers the “insight story” and background. She was not content with being average.
We recruited Mandy to the Mail & Guardian in September 2007 after she expressed interest in moving away from the Afrikaans press. She was working for Beeld then and hiring her was a bit risky because we were not sure she could write well in English. But what a gem we landed.
What few people realise is that the story now known as Nkandlagate was broken by Mandy in December 2009. The front-page headline was “Zuma’s R65-million splurge”. She wrote: “President Jacob Zuma is expanding his remote family homestead at Nkandla in rural KwaZulu-Natal for a whopping price of R65-million – and the taxpayer is footing the largest chunk of the bill.” The story was bound to be a major scandal and three years later the costs escalated to more than R200-million.
Mandy had actually visited the site and had not relied on a press release from opposition parties. Her story was vivid with descriptions of the cement mixers, water tanks and earthmovers. After the presidency received her questions they tried to undermine the story and, a day before it was published, a press release about the construction was sent to every media house.
Mandy was not every politician’s friend. More than once an official complained that she had “burnt” him (exposed information that he thought he was giving her off the record). But she knew what it took to be a political reporter in the epoch of an ongoing fight for the soul of the ANC; we have to be close enough to politicians to know what’s happening but guard against being immersed in their agendas.
She was warm and loving and never shy to show it by showering people with gifts, but she was also critical and outspoken, even in the workplace. She loved her job and enjoyed the publicity, controversy and travelling that came with it.
When the M&G decided to go the digital route, she was the first to embrace this and helped to shape our online political coverage.
Not once did she miss work because of illness, though she did take time off owing to exhaustion.
Her diligence was exemplified by the publication of her two books, Mangaung: Kings and Kingmakers and The World According to Julius Malema.
The gap her passing has left will be felt by politicians, journalists and her family.