M&G bags prestigious journalism awards

One of the photos forming part of 'Marikana: The Aftermath' series. (Paul Botes, M&G)

One of the photos forming part of 'Marikana: The Aftermath' series. (Paul Botes, M&G)

The Mail & Guardian bagged three important accolades at the annual 2014 Standard Bank Sikuvile Journalism Awards on Wednesday night.

While the bulk of the awards went to the coverage of the Oscar Pistorius murder case, the M&G earned acclaim for stories which steered clear of the obvious, and told the extraordinary stories that affected everyday South Africans.

Mia Malan, the M&G‘s health editor and director of the newspaper’s health journalism centre, Bhekisisa, won the Feature Writing category with two stories: ”The boys who lost their manhood”, a story about botched circumcisions in the Pondoland, and “If they are raped, then so what?”, a gripping story about the rape of mentally disabled girls at Hobeni village, in the Elliotdale area, Eastern Cape.

“To me, [boys who lost their penises due to traditional circumcision] was an untold story, and I wanted to tell it. I faced several obvious challenges. Firstly, as a woman, initiates were unlikely to speak openly to me.
Secondly, time and budgetary constraints were not on my side. I could also not speak Xhosa fluently,” Malan explained about the first story.

Of the second story: “The vulnerability of mentally disabled people to abuse was something I came across while travelling in the rural parts of the Eastern Cape and I felt it needed to be highlighted.”

M&G picture editor Paul Botes took home the prize for Feature Photography for “Marikana: The Aftermath”, a project that took eight months to put together with former M&G reporter Niren Tolsi.

“This project was initially conceived after I attended the funeral of Molefi Ntsoele, a miner killed in Marikana, in the remote village of Diputaneng in Lesotho. What struck me at the time was the imperative of attempting to understand the consequences of the killings on the families of the deceased, as well as their communities,” Botes said. “Niren Tolsi, the narrative writer who worked with me on the project, and Khuselwa Dyantyi, from the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, were crucial to the project, so much so that it could not have been achieved without them.”

The M&G‘s multimedia producer Demelza Bush and reporter Thalia Holmes walked away with the Multimedia award for their piece on the hidden world of torture.

When Bush and Holmes came across the United Nations definition of torture, they were completely taken aback. It is defined as an intentional, illegal act that causes pain and suffering. The guiding proviso is that it must be committed by an officer of the state. By that definition, they started to realise that torture is rampant in South Africa.

They found four victims – three drug dealers and a car guard – who were willing to talk. They were all unemployed men trying to graft out a living through alternative means. Their stories were sufficiently consistent that Bush and Holmes were comfortable that they were telling the truth. The reporters spent six months speaking to them, interviewing them and getting their stories.

M&G editor-in-chief Chris Roper praised the journalists for their deserved accolades. “Awards are all very nice, but what I’m really proud of is that our list of nominees and winners includes not just journalists, but developers and project managers. That’s what journalism should be about in 2014. The fact that there’s still a category called “Best Newspaper Journalist”, but nothing for Best Journalist, is inexplicable.”

Speaking on the quality of the winning submissions, Paula Fray, convener of the group of judges, said: “All the winners are assets to the journalism industry. Their work displayed passion and substantial editorial experience. They have understood the mind and heart of their audience.”

This year, winners were selected from 683 submissions across 14 award categories. A large portion of submissions received were from Feature Writing, with 120 entries, 82 entries in Hard News, and 78 entries in News Photography.

Read the full list of winners.

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