For more than two decades, journalist and academic Eugene Saldanha dedicated his life to social justice activism. He spent years lobbying the government to recognise the not-for-profit sector in Southern Africa and he has left behind a legacy for other journalists and activists to continue.
The Mail & Guardian and the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) Southern Africa has set up an annual fellowship in social justice reporting for young journalists to spend a year working at the M&G on poverty, inequality and the realisation of human and socioeconomic rights. This year, with support from the Summit Education Trust, Dinonofo Pico was selected as the Eugene Saldanha fellow.
Saldanha was born in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg, where he was raised by his mother, Carmelita Saldanha, who was a teacher. He experienced the injustice of apartheid when his family was moved to Benoni under the Group Areas Act. That and other similar incidents planted the seed of activism.
He worked at The Star from 1980 to 1986 and for a short time was at the Diamond Fields Advertiser. Saldanha displayed a keen bent for human-interest stories but, because of media censorship during apartheid, he left journalism in 1987.
He then worked as the resources executive of the Urban Foundation, which tried to ensure that the poor had access to shelter, to improve teachers’ skills to the further preschool education, while also lobbying to change policies that would allow black South Africans to own property and move about freely.
The Eugene Saldanha Memorial Fund was established in 2007 by friends, colleagues, family members and international foundations such as CAF. For Saldanha, press freedom was paramount and he wanted to see journalists use their platform to ensure that injustice, inequality and discrimination were exposed.
This year’s fellow, Pico, came to the fellowship by an unusual route — after studying physics. It was his activist work that drew the selection panel’s interest. He used his skills to arm miners with the information they needed to fight for housing and to put pressure on the local municipality to provide his village with a constant supply of water.
He is also interested in food security and poverty alleviation.
Previous fellows have focused on social issues that included rape, the battle of street vendors, evictions and the housing crisis in Cato Manor.
Pico will gather and analyse data on issues such as the widening poverty gap, access to clean water for the indigent and how the justice system treats people of different economic circumstances. Using this data, the newspaper aims to reveal the problems South Africans battle with every day.