The end of an error

December 2017 had seen Cyril Ramaphosa win the presidency of the ANC in an electoral contest at Nasrec that went down to the wire. Ramaphosa’s victory over rival Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was secured by a nailbiting margin, making the run-up to the conference’s critical vote one of high tension.

For the Daily Maverick bunch, doing justice to coverage of the ANC’s 54th national conference at Nasrec after a gruelling year required a heroic team effort. Managing editors Janet and Jillian manned the news desks from Cape Town and Joburg; journalists Marelise van der Merwe and Antoinette Muller maintained a live blog. A good portion of the rest of the editorial staff, Branko included, decamped to the conference venue south of Johannesburg for the best part of a week.

To accommodate the out-of-towners, Styli had rented a house in the suburbs in which the Cape Town crew lived like a strange and sleep-deprived little family – and learnt that Merten could whip up a mean pasta.

“The hardest thing about covering Nasrec was the team’s lack of access to delegates,” says Jillian. “The ANC’s corralling of journos and parading specific leaders for journo interaction meant they kept tight control over the info flow. This made coordinating coverage difficult. Ultimately it came down to waiting. So much waiting!”

“When there’s a big story on the go, key to quality coverage is to resist being caught up in the race to be first, and be brave enough to allow the journos to pursue the deeper story at the expense of being first.”

Adopting the metaphor that Daily Maverick’s editors frequently use to describe what it’s like giving instructions to DM writers, Jillian says: “Nasrec meant extreme herding of the cats and making sure that we had the most important angles covered. When there’s a big story on the go, key to quality coverage is to resist being caught up in the race to be first, and be brave enough to allow the journos to pursue the deeper story at the expense of being first.”

“Surreal”, is how Daily Maverick writer Nkateko Mabasa remembers the experience of reporting from Nasrec: “As a young journalist, I had the opportunity to see, up close, politicians and journalists I admired and had only seen on TV.” But Nkateko was also able to witness firsthand the gulf between the party and the people.

“I saw the disregard for the people outside the gates of the conference venue by party members who were only interested in delivering their slates and being next in line to take over party positions,” he says. “Furthermore, the people who had come to trade outside Nasrec seemed to have given up on politics as a means for change entirely.”

Rebecca recalls the announcement of the ANC presidential vote: “The atmosphere inside the main Nasrec conference hall was absolutely crazy; non-stop singing, non-stop noise from delegates in support of their favoured candidates. The final result is announced, and Ramaphosa beats NDZ by 179 votes. Hundred and seventy-nine votes. I’m standing in the media pen directly in front of Jacob Zuma, and I turn around and study his face while Ramaphosa supporters go mad with joy. Zuma is clenching and unclenching his fists, moistening his lips. He must’ve known about the outcome ahead of the announcement, but that didn’t stop him looking as if the reality was finally hitting home for the first time.”

2018 may have dawned with Cyril Ramaphosa finally ensconced as president of the ANC, but the tightness of the vote at Nasrec was a clear indicator of how limited Ramaphosa’s powers were to make any sudden moves in the direction of the country’s presidency.

While the writing was visible on the wall for Zuma, technically Number One’s five-year presidential term only reached its expiry date in 2019. Zuma was in no hurry to go. He still had things to do, he said; like introducing Ramaphosa to his friends within BRICS.

January 2018 ended with Zuma still in the Union Buildings with nary a box packed. SONA was due, but who would deliver it: Zuma or Ramaphosa? After days of will-he-won’t-he speculation, and much behind-the-scenes ANC intrigue, Zuma finally threw in the towel on his favourite date: 14 February, Valentine’s Day. After nine long years, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma was no longer president of South Africa.

Zapiro had long been planning for this day – and was ready with his now-classic “End of an error” cartoon. “I had been thinking about it for quite some time,” the cartoonist says. “The end of an error is not an original phrase; it was first used about 40 years ago. It’s been used in a number of ways. I wanted to use it but I hadn’t actually figured out how. Then I had the light-bulb moment. I realised that the shower had become such an understood symbol, and knew that’s all I needed.”

Zapiro’s Daily Maverick newsletter had grown to more than 98,000 subscribers by this time. “End of an error” popped into each one of those inboxes the next day. The cartoon was seen on Facebook by more than 800,000 people, and shared more than 47,000 times on social media.

Within the Daily Maverick offices, something else was to land in the inboxes of the team. This one was a note penned by Styli. It read:

From: Styli Charalambous

Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2018 at 10:39

Subject: Game changed

“We have a Game changer”

That’s the WhatsApp message I received after Branko was asked to fly to Jhb for a secret meeting, the contents of which could not be spoken of over the phone, even using encrypted lines.

Recognising the magnitude of its contents, the person who had received the files entrusted Daily Maverick as the vehicle to set the #GuptaLeaks in motion. While I have no doubt the leaks would have made it out some other way, I’m pretty sure the impact would have been different if that drive was handed to anyone else.

Take note of the date. 5th of April is just a heartbeat away in the context of the drawn-out suffering of a traumatised nation. Remember when jaded folk complained about the seeming lack of impact the #Guptaleaks were having despite landing blow after blow? In meetings, events and dinners we urged people that six months was not a long time for things to unfold in a system so captured, so rotten that it was no longer able to register the toxicity of its own stench.

So today, while many exhale at the chance to rebuild South Africa, you will no doubt be readying for the continued madness of a swearing in of a new president, SONA and so on and so forth. Our job is still not done and is by no means over. Whether you were directly involved in the investigations or not makes no difference. Daily Maverick needed every one of us to keep doing our thing for it to have been the logical choice to fuck the corruptors’ shit up.

In this frenzy, treat yourself to a moment to reflect, congratulate yourself and your colleagues. South Africa is a better place because of you.


SONA what?

SONA 2018 was new President Cyril Ramaphosa’s first major platform to address a country desperate for evidence of change. The speech he delivered will go down in the annals of South African history as the “Thuma Mina” recruitment drive, as Ramaphosa concluded his address by quoting stirring lyrics from recently deceased musical legend Hugh Masekela.

The debates that followed SONA were also Ramaphosa’s opportunity to tackle an issue which otherwise looked likely to cast a long shadow over his presidency: Marikana.

We must be prepared, as government, to acknowledge where we have failed our people. Where we have made mistakes, we will correct them. The Marikana tragedy stands out as the darkest moment in the life of our young democracy. Members will recall that the Commission of Inquiry headed by retired Judge Farlam investigated the direct and root causes of the tragedy. Three broad areas were identified for action: compensation to those injured and the families of those who lost their lives, examining the procedures of public-order policing, and preparing valid cases for prosecution according to applicable laws. Government is making progress in continuous engagement with the legal representatives of the victims, especially on the matter of reparations to families who lost their loved ones. This must be concluded in the coming months. The incident also brought into sharp focus the distress felt by people living in mining communities. As we engage with mining companies, unions and communities on the finalisation of the Mining Charter, we need to ensure that these measures receive priority attention.

Ramaphosa had been formally absolved of any responsibility for the massacre by the Farlam Commission, but many remained unnerved by his role as non-executive director of mining house Lonmin at the time.

Marinovich observes now: “The businessman seen as an important cog in the sequence of events is now president. Impunity is everything. It’s not correct to define a person by a single act or group of actions. On the other hand, Ramaphosa’s role within Lonmin and the link to the policing that took place should not be swept under the carpet.”

Addressing the former unionist in a Daily Maverick op-ed just before SONA, opinionista Sahra Ryklief, of the International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations, laid a challenge at Ramaphosa’s doorstep.

“Give of your personal wealth to those who lost their loved ones. Open and reveal to all the inner workings that led to this atrocity, the twisted mindset of the Lonmin management and board, the evil cruelty and impunity of the security forces. Leave no stone unturned, no perpetrator unpunished.”

President Ramaphosa attempted to confront the matter head on in his SONA debate response. “I would like to use this opportunity to address the role that I played in my capacity as a Lonmin director in the events of that tragic week,” Ramaphosa told the House, describing the massacre as “an instance of the most appalling dereliction by the state of its duty to the people”.

He continued: “Notwithstanding the findings of the Farlam Commission on my responsibility for the events that unfolded, I am determined to play whatever role I can play in the process of healing and atonement.”

While a spirit of optimism that quickly became known as “Ramaphoria” was in the air, it was already clear that Ramaphosa’s ascent to the presidency would carry with it much baggage from the events of the Zuma years.

The yin & yang of Daily Maverick

Stephen Grootes and Richard Poplak, the yin & yang of Daily Maverick

Stephen Grootes and Richard Poplak, the yin & yang of Daily Maverick

Source: Bernard Kotze & Tevya Shapiro

The ambivalence over the Ramaphosa administration that was to amplify over the next 12 months was already exemplified from the start by the contrasting takes of Poplak and Grootes, the yin and yang of Daily Maverick.

In Poplak, the publication has an eternal pessimist who rails against the establishment and will call a spade a shit-covered trowel; in Grootes, Daily Maverick has more of a pragmatist, whose focus lies on the inner workings of the establishment and who is less interested in describing the spade than he is understanding its use. Ramaphosa’s new gig gave the two political journos the perfect opportunity to stake out their corners anew.

In Poplak’s “State of Rapture – time to get real about Ramaphosa”, he sought to pour buckets of cold water over the Ramaphoria parade. “During his global trawl for R1.2-billion of foreign loot, President Cyril Ramaphosa granted the Financial Times an exceedingly rare one-on-one interview. It is a strange yet revealing insight into his character, and it suggests that the sooner South Africans terminate the honeymoon, the better things will turn out for all of us in the long run,” Poplak wrote. “But here’s the thing. Like all the big players in the ANC, Ramaphosa waited so long not to save South Africa, but to save the ANC. Time and time again, we heard how important it was to keep the congress intact, to save it from splitting, to avoid a repeat of the Mbeki debacle which this time would surely prove even more devastating to the interests of the country’s elite.”

And so it was, Poplak suggested, that “Zuma was swaddled in political cotton wool while South Africa’s democratic and economic institutions were degraded and, in many cases, destroyed. Meanwhile, Ramaphosa, the Hamlet of South Africa, mused over the vicissitudes of time, while the media, civil society and the judiciary were forced to keep this joint from flaking out completely.”

While Ramaphosa had already received applause for starting the process of sweeping clean at state-owned entities, Poplak urged South Africans not to get too excited. “Don’t believe the hype: this is the comparatively easy part,” he wrote. “Remaking the state into something both functional and fair is considerably more difficult.”

Four days later, a more Ramapositive Grootes hit back against the doubters in a piece headlined: “Ramaphosa chose a better path. Here’s why”’.

“Since the slightly odd political process that saw Cyril Ramaphosa becoming President, and delivering his first State of the Nation Address, there have been several claims that he cannot be trusted, or that nothing has changed, because of his silence while he was Deputy President. They are wrong,” Grootes argued. “There are those who claim that ‘one must always do the right thing’ or that ‘the time to do the right thing is always now’. It’s a sort of Bono-inspired slogan that doesn’t take into account reality, and human beings. How often does a parent lie to a child because it’s in the child’s best interest, or who has not fibbed to their partner because the truth about their looks or manners would not help the relationship blossom? In politics, where timing, strategy and planning are all-important, this is magnified.”

At time of writing, it’s still too soon to tell on which side of history Ramaphosa’s legacy will land – but Daily Maverick will be watching.

Paywalls and parapets

Editorial efforts might have hit lofty heights, but Daily Maverick’s finances were still scraping the ground. It was increasingly clear that a small, independent online publication could not rely solely on digital advertising revenue to keep things afloat.

“We thought if we hit one million visitors a month, that would be a turning point,” says Styli. “That was when we would start getting taken seriously, when advertising budgets would come our way and we would become more noticeable. One million was a little bit of a psychological thumb-suck, but we could see that News24 was at five million and Tiso’s online network was two million, so there was some kind of benchmark. When we were on 100,000 or 200,000 per month, one million seemed far, far away, but we believed that if we got there things would change.”

Then they got there. And things did not change. Says Styli: “By then, there were so many more platforms getting more than a million. Now, those numbers don’t really matter. There are brands that have three times as much audience as we do in South Africa and struggle to generate revenue to sustain quality journalism.”

What nobody really realised until it was too late, was that the real competition was not coming from other media outlets, but from Silicon Valley. Google and Facebook had transformed from tools journalists could use to stay relevant into media hegemons of their own.

“In that time, as ad revenue was moving from print into digital, news publications assumed that what they lost in print they would just pick up in digital,” says Styli. “What they didn’t know was that 90% of the spend moving from print to digital was ending up at Google and Facebook. And classified revenue had been consumed by dedicated online classified operators like Craigslist and Gumtree.”

It was also an uphill battle to persuade advertisers to spend money on digital marketing at all. “Digital was very much an afterthought,” Styli says. “People were prepared to spend on TV, radio, print, outdoor, and if there was anything left digital might get it. We were fighting for scraps. And within those scraps you would then have to fight with News24, which had a massive audience and huge sales teams, and was being subsidised by all the different parts of the Media 24 publishing business and the world’s sixth-biggest media giant, Naspers.”

Styli summarises the problem: “We had little chance of actually making it as an advertising operation. We just decided to keep creating good content and somehow, somewhere, we hoped it would sort itself out.”

Daily Maverick realised early on that they could not compete with the rest of the internet in maximising clicks for low-cost advertising. While it was pointless getting involved in an arms race based on page views, they obviously still wanted to attract as many visitors to the site as possible just not at the expense of quality content. As it turned out, their commitment to editorial would emerge as the key to unlocking revenue. But before they could get there, they first had to sidestep the allure of the paywall revolution.

The growing belief among major media brands – especially in developed markets and with prestigious, established outlets like The New York Times – was that the idea that everything online was available for free had to be challenged. Consumers needed to pay, and paywalls were the way forward to protect the value of the editorial content.

As part of The New York Times’ pivot to try to adapt to the online wild west, the publication invested a great deal of time and money into its 2014 Innovation Report, a detailed and honest introspection on the changes needed for its revered newsroom to survive and prosper in the digital age. Fortunately for Daily Maverick, the report was leaked – and DM could piggyback on some of its insights.

Styli says: “To their credit, almost every single finding published in that document, they have executed on. They realised they had to change their digital operations; that they had to be more nimble and stop relying on the whole, ‘We’re The New York Times, people will come to us’ approach and get involved. They drew this diagram of how they will get new readers to become casual readers, to become revisiting readers, to become newsletter subscribers. And you can see the one thing that underpins all of this is quality journalism.”

The message chimed with Styli. “For me, that was instrumental when we were designing our own reader revenue efforts: we have never wavered from that quality journalism. It’s always been there,” he says. “The components were there; we just were not thinking that way yet.”

“Paywalls may have made sense for The New York Times, but in a country like South Africa, a paywall would drastically limit the number of people who could access Daily Maverick’s reporting.”

If Daily Maverick had gone the paywall route, it’s possible it would have become one of the more successful paywalls in South Africa. It would also have taken Daily Maverick to financial sustainability quicker than anything else. But Styli and Branko also knew it would be a hollow win, doing an active disservice to the country. Paywalls may have made sense for The New York Times, but in a country like South Africa, a paywall would drastically limit the number of people who could access Daily Maverick’s reporting. After all, you can’t “defend truth” – the slogan that Daily Maverick had recently adopted – if you can’t expose lies and corruption for all South Africans to see.

Styli says: “Take the #GuptaLeaks. I can say with a fair degree of certainty that if an editor of a big traditional media publication had got those files, we may not have seen the same impact on South Africa. Because trying to keep those stories for whatever their paywall or sold product is – whether that’s a newspaper or some kind of TV channel – they would ultimately have been used to grow their revenue-generating product. We wanted to get the #GuptaLeaks out there. We decided to collaborate with amaBhungane and News24. That made a huge difference too. Anyone who asked, could access it. Imagine if we were behind a paywall? Great, we can sell 10,000 subscriptions, but then only 10,000 get to see it instead of hundreds of thousands or millions. We knew it wasn’t for us.”

While paywalls were out, that did not mean the door was shut on other forms of reader revenue. All over the world, the media brands that were big enough or, like Daily Maverick, small and nimble enough to survive the initial media massacres, were working on new financial models. Styli was paying close attention. Then, for the first time in recorded Daily Maverick expenditure history, he decided to do something truly maverick. He flashed some cash.

“We made the decision to go on a learning and innovation tour to the US in October/November 2017, which was put on by a media education organisation called the Poynter Institute,” says Styli. “It was a huge investment on our part: $6,000 just for the tour, and then you still need to get there. I looked at the lineup and saw how they would facilitate taking us through Washington DC and New York, visiting leaders in media organisations, from The New York Times to The Washington Post, Quartz, National Geographic and USA Today. It was amazing, because by now I’d come to appreciate media and knew who was doing what, what was happening internationally, what was happening locally and who the people were that we wanted to emulate.”

He recalls: “I said to Branko, ‘I really want to go. If any of the shareholders give us crap about this – I don’t think anyone would – it’s certainly worthwhile.’ To date, that is the biggest investment we have ever made in anything not ‘core’.”

To put into perspective just how desperate Styli and Branko were by this stage: they had come to terms with the realisation that Daily Maverick was basically a non-profit in all but name. They were trying not to overthink it. Daily Maverick’s agonising near-decade-long evolution had already had major positives of the non-monetary sort. The most obvious plus was that because they did not have a reliance on any big advertisers they were worried about losing, they were always free to carry the editorial they wanted to. (Suck it, Camry distributors!)

Styli says, “People talk about setting media up as a for-profit or non-profit. To me, it doesn’t really matter as long as how you execute is that editorial comes before profit. Some non-profits still have to trade in order to be sustainable; and for-profits still have to deliver editorial that is congruent with their values. As long as you’re making the right decisions it doesn’t actually matter.”

What did matter to Styli and Branko was failure. After years of hanging on, they were shattered. Continuing in the same way was just not sustainable. They raised funding. That funding ran out. They raised some more, that ran out – it was a relentless and exhausting cycle. Beg, borrow and beg again.

“The number of times we were short or scraped by with R10,000 or R20,000 on a payroll, just meant that we were continuously watching every single cent being spent – all the time. Having always had to scrounge for everything, we wanted to change,” Styli says.

“Justifiably, we could play the victim card. We were doing this great work, yet we weren’t getting supported by corporate South Africa, and we struggled with grant-making institutions, I guess because of personality and ego clashes and also the hybrid non-profit/for-profit structure. At that point, we decided to stop being victims. We just realised that if we want to be players, if we want to be market leaders, if we want to be people that others look up to, we’ve got to learn from the best. And there is no one better at what they are doing in media than the Americans.”

Expecting to find mostly doom and gloom on the innovation tour, Styli came away surprised by the amount of optimism most of the organisations he visited had expressed about the future. A big reason was reader revenue. These brands, especially The New York Times and The Washington Post, believed – and showed – that they had cracked the reader-revenue conundrum.

“A couple of themes came out. Everyone was talking about the ‘funnel’; how new readers become casual readers and eventually become paying subscribers. The ‘funnel’ is an e-commerce marketing concept, which everyone is used to. News publishers were now starting to think about it in those terms, because they are essentially now e-commerce businesses. That was a big theme,” says Styli.

“The other one that stood out for me was just the investment in technology and ‘product’ as a function of the news business. Product is a function within a news or tech organisation where you’ve got engineers or tech developers, and you’ve got editorial. There are things that bring the two together. For example, a newsletter could be a product, an app could be a product, a new function on the website could be a product. So effectively the product that people use at the end of the day encompasses editorial, technology, all these different components. There needs to be someone thinking about bringing this whole thing together. It’s traditionally been a role in tech companies, but only recently, in the last five or six years, have there been more formal product functions within a news organisation.”

Styli returned from his trip realising that Daily Maverick needed to do two things immediately. He says: “The first was, we needed to get someone who was dedicated to thinking about product in our business. Traditionally, Branko and I had been responsible for innovation, new ideas, managing the tech rollout, managing any bit of marketing that we did – it had all come from us. The other thing I said to Branko was that we have got to sort out reader revenue.”

“Well,” Branko said, “we’re not doing a paywall.”

Fortunately, Styli had a plan that did not involve paywalls. One of the other trends he picked up from the innovation tour was the rise of memberships as a reader revenue option. There was already an organisation established solely to do research into media membership models. There was something about this idea that felt to Styli as if it might be the right route for Daily Maverick.

Styli says: “We needed to invest in someone, but we did not have money to invest in experts. For the product role, I managed to find a friend of mine who had some tech experience and had worked as a business analyst, and who was keen to help. He wasn’t qualified, as such, for the role but he was capable and affordable. I knew he could do it, so I brought him in on a contract basis. We set about designing the membership plan and moving from a custom CMS to Wordpress, which would allow us to launch the plan. We started out by testing a stronger call for donations and recurring donations as a precursor to our membership plan.”

If The New York Times’ attitude to its subscription model was that it was going to create journalism so strong that millions of people worldwide were going to be willing to pay for it, Daily Maverick’s approach to membership was similar. Same same, but different. For Daily Maverick, it was about bringing attention to the cause: South Africa’s democracy. By becoming a member, you were helping Daily Maverick protect that cause.

Branko says, “That’s where the success of Daily Maverick lay. We were in a space where there was no chance of making any money. What actually saved us was that we created a product that people were willing to help with. They were willing to donate money or time. They were willing to become part of the movement. Because if we had a commercial approach to it, like everybody else, we would never have raised our heads above the parapets. People would never say, ‘This country is not going to be the same if Daily Maverick goes down.’ What saved us was the fact that we could not make any money, because this industry was so messed up.”

Makwakwa mare, part 2

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Those lines from poet Dylan Thomas might serve as a summary of the reporting mission that Pauli van Wyk had signed up for while covering the roiling scandals that have beset SARS during and after the Zuma years.

From November 2017 to March 2018, Pauli revealed in her five-part “Makwakwa dossier” that SARS’s second-in-command Jonas Makwakwa and his girlfriend Kelly-Ann Elskie (a low-level SARS employee) were making suspicious bank deposits way beyond what they earned at SARS. She also revealed the lengths to which SARS commissioner Tom Moyane and Hogan Lovells – the international law firm Moyane hired – went in order to cover this up.

From disclosing to Makwakwa that there was a Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) report into the illicit payments to his account, to the way Moyane stood by while Makwakwa’s lawyer, Liezl David, attempted to gain access to FIC information that neither she nor Makwakwa were entitled to, the SARS commissioner did nothing to protect the integrity of the previously respected revenue service.

This was not the sexy stuff of political journalism. No Juju screaming in Parliament, no Zuma laughing at Nkandla, no Helen Zille twar. It involved poring through report after report, the records of internal disciplinary enquiries and investigations both real and fake, countless financial statements, as well as misleading and obfuscatory arguments from the pros representing Hogan Lovells, Jonas Makwakwa and Tom Moyane.

Pauli remembers: “I read through my work a million times. At the end, you read line for line, thinking how do I back up this line? What is the underlying evidence for this line? Because often if you get taken to court or the ombudsman, it’s that one throwaway little thing that you put in that they get you on. Politicians are so smart that they would win on this little line that is not material to the story, but it would enable them to say: ‘We beat Daily Maverick, they had to try to excuse themselves, they are wrong’.”

In Makwakwa, Pauli found she had plenty of evidence to back up her suspicions. One of the few at SARS who benefited from Bain & Company’s restructuring, he was the man in charge of the SARS Large Business Centre, the mega taxpayers SARS relies on to generate revenue. It took Pauli an immense amount of effort and time to get to the bottom of what was really going on.

“Moyane had no background, no knowledge or experience in tax. He relied very heavily on Jonas Makwakwa. Makwakwa in the end gathered a lot of power untowardly, under him. You could see that there must have been weird things happening because of all the money flowing into his account. I wrote that in some months he received three times the amount of money he got from SARS. It was just crazy.”

One might think that Makwakwa, the real taxman behind Moyane, would have the savvy not to risk detection by depositing inexplicable amounts of cash into his own accounts. Yet that is exactly what he did, bringing the attention of the FIC upon him in the process.

“One of my good sources says, ‘The stupidest crimes are committed by police and SARS officials.’ It’s as if they think that no one will look at them, that they commit these crude crimes,” reflects Pauli. “With Makwakwa, he thought that he was in power, that it would never change and that he would get away with everything, and that Tom Moyane would shield him from scrutiny forever.”

The story of the Zuma years is not only the story of the greed of the South African government, the ANC and assorted parasitic local individuals and entities, but also one that laid bare the complicity of a host of supposedly reputable major multinational brands in the looting of South Africa.

Like flies on roadkill, Bain & Company, KPMG, Gartner and Hogan Lovells were all attracted to what was happening at SARS.

Like flies on roadkill, Bain & Company, KPMG, Gartner and Hogan Lovells were all attracted to what was happening at SARS. Starting in 2014, Bain played an instrumental role in coaching Tom Moyane on who to replace and which investigative units to disband, hugely damaging “work” for which they were paid a tidy sum. In the course of investigating the mythical Rogue Unit, KPMG were also paid a lot of money to not do their jobs – as the auditors were found to have simply copied Moyane’s lawyers’ findings, which falsely confirmed the Rogue Unit’s alleged transgressions.

Lastly, there was Hogan Lovells, the UK law firm brought in to investigate Makwakwa after Pauli’s reporting revealed the suspicious activity in his bank accounts. Only the lawyers didn’t actually investigate his alleged transgressions. Instead of insisting that SARS hand over a PricewaterhouseCoopers investigative report into Makwakwa, the law firm accepted the excuse of taxpayer confidentiality, which was an incorrect interpretation of the law. They also neglected to contact the Hawks to find out about the police investigation into Makwakwa, the most basic of moves required to add substance to their own report.

The blurbs to Pauli’s “Makwakwa Dossier” series sum up the timeline of events.

“Jonas Makwakwa’s disciplinary process seems so tailored that it borders on the realm of being cooked. Tom Moyane tried his utmost to keep the facts and the prolonged process secret, and in the end attempted to mislead the public into thinking his second-in-command has been cleared of fraud and money-laundering allegations. Scorpio can now reveal that the opposite is true, show how the tailoring was done and explain how Moyane was aided and abetted by the international law firm Hogan Lovells.” Scorpio: The Makwakwa Dossier, Part One

“Jonas Makwakwa received a bonus of R930,000 in the 2016/2017 financial year, SARS annual financial statements have revealed. He worked for six months only before getting suspended on allegations of corruption and money laundering. Not only did tax boss Tom Moyane sign off on Makwakwa’s bonus, he also did so unilaterally in an act pitting SARS against the Auditor-General. The Auditor-General did not take kindly to this move, labelling it unlawful and indicative of a “serious internal control deficiency” at SARS. Stuffing ATMs with cash… Nice job if you can get it.” Scorpio: The Makwakwa Dossier, Part 2

“Jonas Makwakwa – in charge of SARS key revenue generating units – seemingly struggles to manage his own finances. We know this because Scorpio has seen the financial statements of Makwakwa’s primary bank account for the years 2014 to 2016. His expenses often outweighed his income – in three months Makwakwa spent about three times more than the salary he gets from SARS, our analysis of his financials show. Reporting a series of suspicious deposits into this account in 2017, the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) found that Makwakwa had grown a dependency on possibly illegal payments to maintain his lifestyle. In Part Three, Scorpio reveals that the FIC had good reason to be worried.” Scorpio: The Makwakwa Dossier, Part 3

“SARS boss Tom Moyane misused SARS in order to hustle information out of the Financial Intelligence Centre for the benefit and defence of his second-in-command Jonas Makwakwa, who stands accused of money laundering. Moyane also tipped off Makwakwa about the FIC investigation into his mysterious good fortune. This amounts to several serious contraventions of the Financial Intelligence Act. In accordance with the act, there are grounds for criminal charges against Moyane – something that might land him a jail sentence or hefty fine, experts say.” Scorpio: The Makwakwa Dossier, Part 4

“SARS boss Tom Moyane lied to Parliament and the public about the extent and content of the disciplinary inquiry into his right-hand man Jonas Makwakwa. Scorpio can reveal that the closely guarded and highly secretive disciplinary findings had no relation whatsoever to the damning financial intelligence report that forced the suspension of Makwakwa in the first place. Thanks to Moyane’s sleight of hand, Makwakwa found himself back in his top job after a year of what amounted to paid leave. Scorpio shows how the whitewash was done.” Scorpio: Makwakwa Dossier, Part 5

And finally…

“Jonas Makwakwa resigned on Wednesday after a series of stories published by Scorpio on the cooked Hogan Lovells investigation and disciplinary hearing that cleared him of “all charges” as well as news that he sat on the SARS panel that signed off on the appointment of a debt collector linked to Makwakwa and a possible money-laundering ring. The resignation was hastily pushed through amid Cabinet considering tax boss Tom Moyane’s “imminent” departure. We analyse Moyane’s misleading public statement about Makwakwa’s departure and find many holes.” Scorpio: Poking holes in tax boss Tom Moyane’s statement on Makwakwa’s resignation

In the context of the bigger-picture fight against State Capture, Pauli’s was a work of vital importance. Not only did it help rid SARS of Makwakwa first and then Moyane, but it also further shone a spotlight on the role of big business in South Africa’s graft-fest. Bell Pottinger had disintegrated in the face of the backlash to their disinformation efforts for the Guptas, while McKinsey, KPMG, HSBC, Gartner, Bain & Company and SAP had all done massive damage to their reputation on a global scale. For its SARS “work”, Hogan Lovells was excoriated in the House of Lords by respected anti-apartheid activist Lord Peter Hain.

In his speech, Hain said: “Hogan Lovells spared two of the most notorious perpetrators of State Capture in South Africa – Tom Moyane, head of SARS, and his deputy, Jonas Makwakwa – from accountability for their complicity in, and cover-up of, serious financial crimes. In so doing, Hogan Lovells was complicit in undermining South Africa’s once revered tax-collection agency, thereby effectively underpinning President Jacob Zuma and his business associates, the Gupta brothers and others, in perverting South Africa’s democracy, damaging its economy and robbing its taxpayers.”

In November 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa would fire Tom Moyane. But even after Moyane had exited SARS, the damage he had wrought continued to be felt – with consequences for all South Africans.

On Moyane’s watch, VAT refunds were delayed or unpaid, resulting in businesses closing and jobs being lost. Tax non-compliance became a bigger issue, with suggestions of a tax revolt gathering support. With the revenue service badly weakened, more people could also simply get away with not fulfilling their taxpayer obligations. In 2017 the tax revenue shortfall was R30.7-billion, in 2018 R48.2-billion and R57.4-billion in 2019. Not since the 2008 financial crisis had tax compliance been so low.

Crooks stopped fearing SARS. Cases being built against figures like Robert Huang, an associate of Jacob Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse Zuma who was under investigation for a decade-long tax evasion case allegedly totalling R3-billion, faded away. Because the units designed to take them down were closed, gangster Mark Lifman and many other notorious underworld figures continued to avoid paying tax.

Ultimately, the bill was footed by ordinary South Africans. The 2018 Budget saw VAT raised by one percentage point, to 15%, for the first time in democratic South Africa. This move was a direct consequence of the SARS implosion overseen by Moyane. As Merten explained it from Parliament: “The VAT hike became necessary due to a budget shortfall of R48.2-billion, largely due to the failure by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to hit tax collection targets.”

While Moyane and Makwakwa may be gone, and SARS has a more reputable boss at the helm in Edward Kieswetter, it’s beyond doubt that it will take years to rebuild the capacity of one of the institutions most effectively hollowed out by State Capture.

For Pauli, her reporting on SARS has brought with it mixed emotions. “Yes, there is a great sense of satisfaction in saying I have done well for our country, but I think the biggest thing to understand is that you are only making sources’ voices stronger. So you are putting a lot of work into it, but you have had a lot of help as well from people who trust you and often put their life on the line. It’s a big thing to be worth that trust,” she says. “That is almost more satisfying, that you can help people correct a wrong. Tom Moyane deserves to be in jail. I am very happy about him being out of SARS, but I am very sad about SARS being in this situation. The issue is that journalists sort of were the catalyst for this problem. The Sunday Times ensured we are sitting with this problem, so it’s almost been about correcting other journalists’ wrongs. It’s a terrible feeling.”

Our Burning Planet

2018 was a year in which climate-crisis journalism began to take centre stage all over the world. Daily Maverick made the decision that this most vital of issues could no longer be a sub-thought for the publication. The concept for Daily Maverick’s new environmental investigative unit, Our Burning Planet, began to take shape. It would be led by Daily Maverick old-timer Kevin Bloom, for whom October of that year was a particularly seismic month.

7 October 2018 brought the death of Kevin’s father. The following day, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.

“That’s the big one that changed everything, the one where 91 of the world’s leading climate scientists delivered to humanity the mind-blowing news that we had 12 years to fundamentally transform our social, political and economic structures otherwise civilisation as we knew it would begin to unravel,” Kevin explains. “For me, the two events were linked. The report on 8 October was a macrocosmic reflection of the raw microcosmic pain I was feeling. In a very real sense, both events were simply too huge for me to get my head around.”

A week later, Kevin found himself drafted onto a discussion panel alongside Poplak “where the topic was something inane like ‘Writing Novels in the Age of Twitter’. I just couldn’t talk about that bullshit. I pretty much bombed the audience with the news and facts of the impending climate apocalypse, which I had been voraciously consuming during the obligatory seven days of Jewish mourning for my father. Then I went back to Poplak’s place to crack a bottle of whiskey, which is when we came up with the idea for Our Burning Planet. Needless to say, Branko got the urgency of it immediately.”

Less than a month later, on 6 November, Daily Maverick announced the launch of the first investigative journalism unit in South Africa dedicated to climate-change politics. The announcement came in an editorial intended to serve as a game changer in climate reporting.

Our Burning Planet: The Earth is on fire, it’s time to start worrying

Last October, reporters for this publication fanned out across the Western Cape in order to make sense of an unfolding disaster: a once-in-628-year weather event threatened the existence of the City of Cape Town, and no one knew what to do about it. The mayor was fighting for her political life; the ruling party was engaged in a to‑the‑death leadership battle; political dysfunction compounded environmental calamity. The more our reporters reported, the more shocking and unbelievable the situation appeared.

Cape Town was on the cusp of becoming the first major developed city to run out of municipal water, which meant that South Africans were about to conduct one of the 21st century’s great inadvertent experiments: what happens to the foundations of human civilisation – our cities – when catastrophic climate change begins to bite?

Two things became immediately clear as the crisis unfolded. The first was that, as we’ve already noted, the municipal, provincial and national authorities had absolutely no idea how to deal with the looming disaster. (In some cases, it was basically policy not to care.) The second – and perhaps equally troubling – thing was that journalists didn’t really know how to cover the crisis. With very few exceptions, there is almost no tradition of climate-change reporting in this country. Much like the authorities, we couldn’t gauge the scale of the emergency, we had no experience in interpreting the data, and we had trouble discerning expertise from charlatanry. Worse, we collectively bought into the outrageous folly of “Day Zero” – the ticking-time-bomb invented by Cape Town’s mayoral office to mark the moment when the city would run dry. Day Zero was pushed out indefinitely (largely due to local conservation efforts), the rains eventually came, and the city was saved by grace, providence and old-fashioned gambler’s luck.

As a result, South Africa has returned to its default state on the climate: apathy.

Could any of this have been averted? Certainly. But there was never any proper engagement with the data collated over the past 30 years, which clearly demonstrated that the Western Cape was drying out and heating up. The desert was encroaching on the catchment areas, and long ago scientists predicted that the city and its environs were doomed to a future of water shortages, wildfires, and further meteorological shenanigans. Trends like these don’t caucus, and nor do they negotiate. Which means that Cape Town 2017 was just a preview of what’s to come.

Water apartheid is, of course, a South African mainstay, and there are dozens of municipalities, none of them as sexy as Cape Town, that have no access to running water at all. Ultimately, the crisis comes down to a confluence of magical thinking, dysfunctional governance and relentlessly accelerating global warming – a toxic cocktail of factors that has yet to be addressed, or even acknowledged, by the authorities. This is by no means an exclusively South African phenomenon – climate change is the single greatest threat facing our species, probably ever. But South African leaders, unlike their reactionary counterparts in the West or elsewhere, don’t even bother denying the facts – their tactic is to simply ignore the issue altogether. Happily for them, climate change disproportionally affects poor and rural communities: it can be swept aside with zero political fallout.

And so, as our Cabinet ministers become porn stars and our political culture craters, the thermometer ticks relentlessly skyward.


In the past month, two reports might have alerted policy-makers to the urgency of the issue. The first was the vastly researched, widely lauded Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. The IPCC report has been endorsed by 195 nations. It details how the world is warming up much faster than originally assumed, and how we have a narrowing 12-year window to avert catastrophe. (Take-home stats from the preamble: “Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.”) The bad news conceals worse news: Africa is warming faster than other parts of the planet, and southern Africa must brace for warming in the region of 3 degrees Centigrade by the turn of the century. That leaves the debate about land reform all but moot – at current rates of warming, there’ll be little arable land worth reforming, if any at all.

Indeed, you might have expected a report this dire to elicit a commensurately urgent response from the government.

But crickets.

If the IPCC report was the main course, dessert was served several weeks later. A Greenpeace paper found that Mpumalanga has the worst rates of nitrous oxide – a.k.a. air pollution – in the world. And while it should probably count as good news that South Africa is a global leader in something other than economic inequity, the report is a damning indictment of energy policy in this country: in a land of sun and wind, Mpumalanga’s 12 coal-fired plants are sickening its local population, while failing to meet the country’s energy requirements. In order to comply with clean air legislation – in other words, in order to avoid breaking the law on a second-by-second basis – Eskom will need R70-billion to retrofit its plants with the necessary technology. But the power utility has been gutted out by corruption and mismanagement, and finds itself in a debt trap from which it is likely never to emerge.

This is all compounded, if not caused, by the fact that during the interregnum between capitalism and whatever comes next, we have no alternative to economic theory that posits “growth” as the panacea to all evil. If only GDP would grow by 5%, 7%, 10%, then we’d all be fine! These shibboleths are parroted by the finest minds in the country, with little thought for the consequences wrought by eternal expansion. Indeed, the global economy appears to be the only entity in the known universe that can grow indefinitely without destroying a few surrounding galaxies in the process.

No one in the ANC, and certainly no one in the embarrassingly jejune opposition parties, has any solutions to these problems. South African politics generates no imagination and no curiosity: the prevalent economic theories serve either microwave-dinner Marxism or paleo-neoliberal socialism. Radical Economic Transformation faces down Radical Socio-economic Transformation: death by a thousand semantics.

Meanwhile, insofar as climate change is discussed at all, the “debate” continues to fall along ideological lines. The right denies that human-generated climate change exists; the left decries the denialism. This deadlock is routinely broken by the science that has presented more than enough evidence to prove that the build-up of greenhouses gases is an anthropogenic event. That said, scientists are not gods, and nor are their findings scripture – interrogating methodology and intent remains the obligation of those involved in climate change.

But as members of the press, it is no longer responsible to report on human-generated global warming with circumspection: we are heating up the planet, and it’s time to do something about it.

This places the onus squarely on the loose (and necessarily tenuous) alliance that forms the bedrock of South African democracy: the media and civil society. Neither are perfect entities; both come with built-in biases and blindspots. But the Zuma debacle proved that when we hold fast against the worst instincts of those that govern us, better instincts are free to prevail.

In this, and in order to acknowledge the severity of the crisis (or, rather, the series of crises that represent the new normal), Daily Maverick will run an ongoing, intermittent series called Our Burning Planet. It will concentrate on the head-on collision between bad governance and climate change, and show how the country is being reshaped by this phenomenon. We will travel to rural areas, and see how the weather has transformed food production and livelihoods; we will speak to scientists and specialists and the holders of traditional knowledge. We will offer more climate reporting than we will climate opinion, although we will continue to publish the latter. We will take notes, we will take photos, we will cut video. Send us tips, send us stories: we’ll do our best to follow them up.

Our Burning Planet is driven by one binding impetus: Cape Town was a warning. Eventually, miracles evaporate, just like the water.

Award-winning team

2018 saw multiple additions to Daily Maverick’s award mantlepiece. The Nat Nakasa Award from the South African National Editors’ Forum recognised “a brave and courageous bunch of journalists” who “showed how the Guptas were getting massive kickbacks on contracts with parastatals; it exposed how public departments and private entities helped boost the earnings of this elusive family. As a result some journalists faced a virulent social media campaign of ‘fake news’ and denigration, which also spilled over into acts of intimidation.”

Branko ended up taking this award home to Daily Maverick, but it was his own particular “journalistic courage and integrity” that won him the most prestigious award given annually to a person at a South African media publication.

After winning a national Vodacom award in late November Scorpio, amaBhungane and News24 also netted the Taco Kuiper Award and the Sikuvile Standard Bank award for their work on the #GuptaLeaks. Chronicle won a SAFTA for their documentary short, “Nanlaban”, and the Vodacom Journalist of the Year title in the multi-platform category.

Daily Maverick’s Leila Dougan bagged the Vodacom Western Cape Sports award as well as the SAB Digital Video Media Sports Award for a remarkable feature on one of the fastest-growing motorsports in South Africa: spinning.

Vodacom Journalist of the Year awards were also given to Pauli van Wyk in the Gauteng Investigative category and Marianne Merten in the Western Cape Politics category.

Finally, Antoinette Muller took home the SAB award in the digital media in the written category for sport. As Daily Maverick’s sole sports reporter, Muller had walked an often lonely road in a politics-obsessed newsroom.

Branko reflects: “Ant’s work was a surprise success of Daily Maverick. Being a political publication and not really focusing on sport, it was not an easy task, but through her powerful reporting she quite often put the sport story front and centre. She was just brilliant.”

Maverick Insider launches

After nine months of research, technical glitches, modelling and remodelling, Daily Maverick’s membership platform, Maverick Insider, was ready to launch. Styli decided to make the announcement at the Media Gathering in Cape Town on 15 August 2018. With more than 1,000 people in attendance, Styli was suffering from dry mouth at the thought of having to stand up, reveal the reality of Daily Maverick’s perilous financial status and ask for help.

Two hundred people signed up that day, choosing how much and how often to contribute to the Daily Maverick cause. The speech Styli had given was published on Daily Maverick on 3 September in the form of a letter to readers.

Dear fellow Daily Maverick traveller,

Re: Graduate to Maverick Insider

It is no secret the last decade has been one of huge upheaval and turmoil in the news media.

Globally, the internet is wreaking havoc in the very space it was meant to liberate – free thought and pure truth. The rise of platforms like Facebook and Google changed reader behaviours and swallowed up a majority of the ad revenues that used to sustain our newsrooms. Print newspapers are being decimated in real time, mostly because what once was their lifeblood, classifieds, have been all but wiped out by the cheap, or free, online postings.

During that same time in South Africa we saw a new President take charge, resulting in unprecedented attack on our state, economy and fundamental freedoms we’ve come to appreciate so much.

In other words, the last ten years were not exactly the best times to start an independent digital media company.

The awesome power of the Internet and global social connection was supposed to be used for good and the benefit of the human kind. We somehow forgot that the same power could be developed into a terrifying force, weaponised to ruin things we hold dear.

Truth itself is now under attack from all sides. Truth is not truth. Red is Blue. Up is Down. Good is Bad. Less is More. And facts can be alternative.

Poorly paid & barely protected, journalists are sometimes the last line in the defence of democracy, fairness, or future. We live in a time where Presidents are literally calling journalists an enemy of the people and harassment of journalists is all too common. Journalists all over the world are under attack, both verbally and physically.

And yet, we keep fighting.

These days, business leadership in South Africa means writing a strongly worded letter of disappointment when finance ministers get fired or another major corruption scandal is unearthed.

Silence and inaction yield a breeding ground for bad things to happen when good people do nothing. In the past, news media could rely on local advertising support from business to fight on behalf of the public, but these days billions in digital advertising rands leave the country into Irish tax haven companies without getting taxed and without attracting VAT, while genuine media is in a death spiral.

In South Africa, for years it was that anything with a hint of political content had the commercial equivalent of ebola – except of course the erstwhile New Age ‘empire’, SABC and not-so Independent newspapers.

“Great job guys, love your work, but you’re too political for our brand to be associated with”.

Our response:

“Can you imagine if we were not political?”

The truth is, we can only rely on a few brave brands for support but that just isn’t enough to sustain the work we do.

Soon Daily Maverick will be 9 years old. We’ve made it this far  thanks to gracious grant funders and donors and the most understanding shareholders ever, who believed in the impact we could achieve. But for Daily Maverick to be sustainable, we must now turn to our readers for support.

So we’re launching Maverick Insider, a community for readers who care deeply about the public interest journalism we do and the way it affects our common future.

We need to do this for several reasons but first and foremost so that we can continue the work which helped expose Marikana, the SARS wars and the #GuptaLeaks, to name but a few.

We firmly believe that, should you decide to become a Maverick Insider, the biggest benefit is that your support will keep Daily Maverick, Scorpio and Zapiro free to access for everyone. Good journalism is public service – we fulfil our side of it every day. Will you be part of it?

For the last 9 months we’ve been studying various reader revenue models from around the world and we’ve settled on one that will bring greater focus and effort on engagement with you, on sharing a common purpose, and helping to shape our trajectory.

Maverick Insider is more than just asking for financial support. It’s about how we can move from serving our readers content to also creating a community, around unique experiences with you, and for you.

We truly do not believe that only those with money should have access to our daily opus. We worked long and hard to create this online daily. We watched it grow to the heights we never dared dream of. We loved our journey and we loved sharing it with an ever bigger number of readers. We strongly believe that people who can’t afford to pay should still need, and deserve, to have full access to the truth, every day.

That’s why, unlike other models of reader support, we won’t be blocking access to our articles.

If you’re convinced, becoming a member is simple: Just click on this Maverick Insider link and choose your level of monthly, or annual, support. Apart from helping us keep Daily Maverick excellent, you will also enjoy other great benefits from your membership – from ad-free browsing (coming soon) to special newsletters, from access to members-only events to being able to comment on our stories (also coming soon), from preferential tickets to The Gathering to Q&A sessions with our top journalists and editors. Some of which will be made available and announced in the coming days and weeks.

In keeping with our public service commitment, you can choose how much you can afford to become a Maverick Insider and whether to pay monthly or annually. We’re building a better community here, not the one based on checkbook access.

Never forget: South Africa is a poor country – it will become even poorer if its people are not well informed.Sometimes our work can be a scary, lonely place. Last year really brought that home when we used to run drills expecting the Hawks to raid our offices or when a suspicious car crash happened. It takes a special kinda crazy to run towards the fire when everyone is running the other way.

We’re committed to that task. We just can’t do it alone and we don’t want to do it alone – we need you to join us for this incredible adventure called Daily Maverick.

The response from Daily Maverick readers was almost immediately encouraging, with the membership programme quickly showing signs of being able to provide a much-needed boost to the financial side of things. Styli now says that the two decisions that “changed the course that we are on” were those to invest in product and launch a membership plan. “The financial benefits are already significant and will now play a huge role in what the revenue mix looks like in the sustainability of the organisation.”

The initial goal for Maverick Insider was to reach 10,000 members by the end of 2020. As 2018 progressed, the decision was made to be bullish and move that goal up to the end of 2019. As of 31 December 2018, more than 4,500 members had signed up. That translated to covering 30% of the payroll for the entire year. It also meant that Daily Maverick was in uncharted territory. They could, for the first time since October 2009, think about seriously growing their offering beyond the political reporting that they had become known for.

The Media Gathering blows the whistle

Publisher and CEO of Daily Maverick, Styli Charalambous, launching Maverick Insider at the Media Gathering 2018

Publisher and CEO of Daily Maverick, Styli Charalambous, launching Maverick Insider at the Media Gathering 2018

Source: Daily Maverick

The launch of Maverick Insider wasn’t the only significant announcement made at 2018’s Media Gathering. Longtime political contributor and opinionista at Daily Maverick Ferial Haffajee was announced as joining the team as associate editor.

On becoming one of the Mavericks, Ferial said: “I have been a long-time part of the team, from when it was a beautiful print product (Maverick and Empire magazines) and I was featured as a young editor of the Mail & Guardian. It is still my favourite feature. Then, I became an opinionista, using my space to say things that I could not on other platforms. This tolerance for views has always been my favourite part of the Daily Maverick. Now, I am an associate editor after I quit City Press because I wanted to learn online journalism and – where better to do that than here?”

Ferial’s appointment was greeted with excitement by the Media Gathering crowd, who were used to surprises, though not normally such pleasant ones. At the previous year’s event, Andile Mngxitama’s Black First Land First had attempted to disrupt proceedings – unsuccessfully, since they were ignored. The stunt turned into a spectacular own goal from BLF when they drove off from the event in a red Audi that looked a little too flashy even for a group which may have received funding from the Guptas. It was a silly thing to do in a space swarming with investigative journalists. Leila snapped a picture of the car, Pauli started working her sources, and it quickly emerged that the vehicle belonged to ousted Eskom CEO Brian Molefe. Voilà: a scoop for Daily Maverick, considerately delivered to their door by BLF themselves.

The 2018 Media Gathering saw no attempted invasions, but there was poignancy aplenty when the audience was introduced to some of the whistle-blowers who risked so much to crack the lid off State Capture.

Bianca Goodson, former CEO of Trillion, and Suzanne Daniels, former head of legal and compliance at Eskom, took the stage to tell the stories of how they blew the whistle in their respective companies and how, in return, they lost their jobs, suffered intimidation and harassment, and saw a terrible toll exerted on their family lives. They were given a standing ovation.

For the first time, the experiences of #GuptaLeaks whistle-blowers Stan and John were also aired via the screening of a pre-recorded interview conducted by Stefaans Brummer. The two men could only be shown in silhouette, with their voices distorted. It was a bittersweet moment, bringing home the extent of their sacrifice.

Goodbye Gigaba

Halloween 2018 was a scary day indeed for Home Affairs minister Malusi Gigaba, when Marianne Merten unleashed the first piece in a series charting a string of indiscretions and misconduct that would ultimately culminate in Gigaba’s resignation. A leaked sex tape was the least of the minister’s forays into unethical behaviour.

The controversy that put the final nail in Gigaba’s coffin involved the min­ister’s decision to give permission to business titans the Oppenheimer family to operate a private terminal at OR Tambo International Airport – and the fact that he had lied under oath about it. The politician once touted as a potential future president was shut down by Parliament – including his fellow ANC MPs, as Merten reported – during his attempts to explain away the scandal.

Gigaba would step down from his ministerial role two weeks later. The Zupta minister was depicted by Zapiro as “Falling on his sword”.

Dlamini upended

Bathabile Dlamini

Bathabile Dlamini

Source: GCIS

Another scandal-dogged minister had been in the sights of Daily Maverick, with Marianne Thamm becoming a persistent thorn in the side of social devel­opment minister Bathabile Dlamini as she followed every twist and turn in the unfolding social grants scandal at South Africa’s Social Security Agency (Sassa). This was a story of unusual importance even by Daily Maverick’s standards: the bungling (and corruption) around the distribution of social grants had threatened to endanger the wellbeing of around 17 million South Africans entirely dependent for their livelihood on the payment of monthly stipends.

“While the Constitutional Court found in September 2018 that former Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, had been reckless and grossly negligent with regard to Sassa’s plans to take payments of social grants in-house, public documents indicate that Dlamini’s plan – including the irregular appointment of ‘work streams’ – could never have worked,” Marianne wrote.

The criminal incompetence of Dlamini in her role as minister of social development inspired Branko to repeatedly and deliberately publish her picture upside down. It was a design jab that prompted more than a few emails from confused readers.

The great art heist

A few months before he would be officially announced as the newest member of Daily Maverick’s Scorpio team, Pieter-Louis Myburgh broke the news for Daily Maverick on how a painting worth R8-million had disappeared from the Bloemfontein offices of former Free State Premier Ace Magashule. The painting, by South African landscape master JH Pierneef, appeared to go “missing” while Magashule was vacating his offices to take up his post-Nasrec role as secretary-general of the ANC – but the artwork subsequently turned up at art auctioneers Strauss & Co, with a valuation sought.

This news was to be small beer compared to the avalanche of credible allegations Myburgh would unleash against Magashule the following year. But unlike many South African corruption cases, there is a mildly positive update to report with regards to this story: the Hawks went to investigate, and as of September 2019 the matter has been handed to the NPA for a decision on whether to prosecute.

Nothing left of the left

As November dawned, Poplak nailed a growing disenchantment with the EFF: the party’s failure to truly plug the gap in South Africa’s left-wing politics in the manner that many had expected the Fighters would.

“South Africa has been robbed of a leftist party, and for that Malema and company can never be forgiven.”

“South Africa has been robbed of a leftist party, and for that Malema and company can never be forgiven. While their Central Command Team is lorded over by a PhD, a Marxist scholar, one of the best legal strategists in the country, and a president who has been relentlessly self-improving with regard to his education, their lack of real-world curiosity mimics the gerontocrats in the ANC,” Poplak wrote. “In my discussions with them over the years, I’ve never heard them express any interest in how new forms of technology could help the disadvantaged; they have not travelled to international leftist conferences to glean new modes of thinking; leaving aside Rhodes and Fees Must Fall, they’ve formed few alliances with leftist organisations or civil society; they’ve been all but mute on the LGBTQ issues that form the bedrock of campus leftism; on gender parity they’ve been a joke. Meanwhile, they’ve solicited an endorsement from the most patriarchal and conservative corners of South Africa’s body politic, namely the chiefs and Bantustan warlords of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) – the very apartheid hangovers that the EFF promised to vanquish back in 2013.”

Poplak’s conclusion? “Post-Zuma, there is nothing left of the left.”

Indeed, it had become clear that in the absence of Zuma as the EFF’s public enemy number one, the party had seemed to lose its ideological way. In 2018, the Fighters began lashing out at Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and at the commissions set up to investigate both State Capture and the corruption at SARS. They became ardent supporters of former Zuma puppets like Tom Moyane.

The EFF wasn’t the only opposition party looking disoriented after the ousting of Zuma: the DA, too, had seemed to suffer from the loss of a JZ-shaped political target. But in the EFF’s case, their unlikely support for Zupta figures and apparent antagonism to attempts to clean house at state-owned enterprises smacked of something more sinister happening behind the scenes. And so it emerged – with the jaw-dropping release of a report into the collapse of VBS Mutual Bank and subsequent investigations by Pauli, which were to reveal that the Fighters had, quite literally, robbed a bank.

Cue the bank heist

Until its collapse, VBS Mutual Bank’s most visible moment in the media spotlight was when it emerged as the bank that had given Jacob Zuma a multimillion-rand loan with which to buy his Nkandla property in 2016. But the 36-year-old bank was also the financial institution on which rural women in Limpopo, in particular, most relied. Community burial societies, stokvels and saving clubs placed their trust – and their funds – in VBS. Many lost everything when the bank went down, following the looting of almost R2-billion by the bank’s directors, executives – and politicians.

In the wake of the bank’s collapse, Pauli would expose the many links between the failed Limpopo institution and the leadership of the EFF. Pauli’s resulting stories were the kind of scoops that make any journalist’s career – but in this case, they came with a side-portion of death threats and a torrent of online harassment.

“EFF President Julius Malema and his ‘corruption-busting’ political party directly benefited from the VBS Mutual Bank heist, a Scorpio investigation has found. Scorpio traced the flow of illicit VBS funds, earmarked for a property in the affluent Johannesburg suburb of Sandown, through three fronts that also dished out money to the EFF,” the indomitable Pauli revealed. She went on to dish the rest of the muck: “Julius Malema stayed for years at the property, which is now registered as an EFF asset. More than R1,8-million of the same illicit VBS funds was used to prop up the EFF, Scorpio has found.

“Stripped to its essence, a company officially owned by Floyd Shivambu’s brother made questionable payments to a company owned by Malema’s cousin. Both these companies operated like slush funds that dispersed money to where it was needed. This is a story of how the constituency Malema claims to fight for – the poor, the young and the vulnerable – was robbed to feed the EFF leader’s private and political interests.”

Readers also had to wake up to the news that, “Along with the R16.1-million in illicit payments, VBS approved Brian Shivambu’s R1.46-million home loan, with a little help from uBhuti ka Brian.” According to Pauli: “Leaked emails show EFF Deputy President Floyd Shivambu used his influence with VBS Mutual Bank’s management in order to get a VBS home loan to buy a house for his parents to live in. The R1.46-million home loan is registered to the slush fund his brother Brian Shivambu operated.”

As the aftershocks of Zuma’s tenure continue to cause damage through South African politics and economics, what has become apparent is how party political boundaries no longer matter between those implicated in either corruption or State Capture.

While the EFF engaged in the politics of distraction by turning Gordhan into their new prime target, the public enterprises minister was busy trying to make it clear just how much mess remained to clean up. Appearing before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, Gordhan put a price-tag on State Capture for the first time.

“R500-billion and counting! Minister’s bombshell affidavit puts the first costing on State Capture,” wrote Ferial. “Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s testimony to the Zondo Commission of Inquiry places former President Jacob Zuma front and centre of the State Capture project.”

Food, glorious food

With the financial injection offered by the new membership programme, Daily Maverick found itself in unknown territory. For the first time in nine years, payroll was being covered a little easier. Styli’s usual 25th-of-the-month heart palpitations were calming down to an almost normal rhythm. Maverick Insider, although far from being the complete answer to Daily Maverick’s financial prayers, had given the team a sense of security that was, in itself, unnerving. The decision was made that Daily Maverick needed to grow.

The first new division came in the shape of a food newsletter, produced by Daily Maverick’s chief sub-editor and veteran food writer, Tony Jackman. He says, “It was Styli who first raised the idea of it with me, and later Branko, Styli and I met in Cape Town to thrash out how it should work, what the content focus should be – with the emphasis on food stories, much more than on recipes. I’d wanted to bring food into the DM mix since I first joined the staff in 2016, so let’s say I wasn’t slow to grab the opportunity.”

It was Branko who came up with the newsletter’s name: TGI Food. “It represents exactly what it is,” says Tony. “It’s the weekend, time to push the politics and angst aside and get into the kitchen. It took a while for me to settle on the content style. Then one day Branko nailed it with a simple, ‘Tony, it needs to be stories, great stories’. And that’s what it is.”

The already overworked sub-editor jokes: “I cloned myself. When one of me is working the other has a nap.” Tony’s toil paid off: the TGIF newsletter was an almost immediate success, netting more than 60,000 subscribers and supermarket chain Pick n Pay as sponsors.

With the first foray into Daily Maverick product expansion looking good, there were bigger plans afoot. Launching a food newsletter was growth; but what none of the team expected was that Branko and Styli were planning supernova-type growth. In 2019, Daily Maverick was either going to make it… or break it.