Sunday Times journalists asked to return awards for Cato Manor ‘death squad’ stories

Johannesburg – The panel of judges at the Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism has requested three winning journalists at the Sunday Times to return their 2012 awards for the Cato Manor unit story.

Mzilikazi wa Africa, Stephan Hoffstatter and Rob Rose received the runner-up prize for their Cato Manor splash headlined ‘Shoot to Kill’ published in December 2011.

Wa Afrika and Hoffstatter have left the Sunday Times, while Rob Rose is editor at Financial Mail

The awards’ convenor Anton Harber said although the judging panel made the award to the journalists in good faith based on the information before them at the time, aspects of the story have since been disputed, leading to the panel to reconsider the decision. Last year, the weekly newspaper acknowledged that the stories were part of a political project that spread to newsrooms and subsequently retracted all the articles and apologised to former KwaZulu-Natal head of the Hawks Johan Booysen.

”In October 2017, we received a letter from General Johan Booysen, former regional head of the Hawks and a subject of the story, asking us to reopen our deliberations on the award. The same week, and before we could respond, the Sunday Times published a retraction and apology for the Cato Manor article and two others. 

“We committed mistakes and allowed ourselves to be manipulated by those with ulterior motives,” the current editor Bongani Siqoko wrote.

"He said the newspaper would return prizes won for these stories,” Harber said in a statement.

He said Siqoko wrote to the judges, ”to tender to return the award”.

”However, the prize went to the individual journalists involved, rather than the newspaper. Some of these individuals, and the then-editor, Ray Hartley, criticised the decision to withdraw the story, leaving its status in dispute. After extended deliberation, we have reached the dismaying conclusion that while there was a legitimate story around the Cato Manor unit, the reporting, writing and editing was shoddy and amateurish, leading to serious errors and gaps in the report. With the information that has come to light, it is clear that this work did not merit the recognition of the award. We are therefore withdrawing the runner-up award that we gave to these journalists and asking them to return it.”

108159747 - Sunday Times journalists asked to return awards for Cato Manor 'death squad' stories
General Johan Booysen, former regional head of the Hawks and a subject of the story. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency (ANA)

Booysen, who was at the time investigating high profile cases, was at the centre of the so-called Cato Manor death squad consisting of 29 police officers and based in Cato Manor, KwaZulu-Natal. The group was accused of a string of crimes, including racketeering and killing at least 28 people. The officers were arrested in 2012 after the Sunday Times broke the story. Litigation by the officers to have all the charges dropped will be heard again in Durban High Court later this year. 

Testifying before the Mokgoro commission of inquiry probing top prosecutors Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi’s fitness to hold office, Booysen reiterated that the two prosecutors took a decision to prosecute him with no sufficient evidence.  He said his troubles with Jiba began in August 2012 after he turned down a request made to him by ex-president Jacob Zuma’s son Edward that he allow the police treasury to release an outstanding R15 million payment to Durban businessman Thoshan Panday. 

The businessman is reportedly linked to the former president.

African News Agency (ANA)

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