Digging dung: South Africa’s amaBhungane heaps pressure on Zuma

Together with online news site the Daily Maverick, amaBhungane in June released leaked emails and documents that they said showed allegedly improper dealings in government contracts and influence peddling by the Guptas, a family with close ties to South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (REUTERS) – A group of investigative journalists whose slogan is “digging dung, fertilising democracy” is holding South African President Jacob Zuma to account over his widely criticised links to a family of wealthy businessmen.

AmaBhungane, which means dung beetles in the Zulu language, was founded by three veteran reporters to expose wrongdoing in South Africa.

Together with online news site the Daily Maverick, amaBhungane in June released leaked emails and documents that they said showed allegedly improper dealings in government contracts and influence peddling by the Guptas, a family with close ties to Zuma.

Zuma and the Gupta family, which has said the emails were fake, have denied wrongdoing.

Co-founder Stefaans Brummer said amaBhungane, which was founded in 2010, had spent several years probing Zuma’s family business dealings, and had verified the authenticity of the leaked documents.

“Our very very first story as amaBhungane, was a series called, ‘Zuma Inc’. And we looked at the Zuma family and how its business fortunes had grown since Zuma took the office of president. And in that first story already, there was you know, one of the names that came up was the Guptas. And over time, obviously, lots and lots of stories, looking at what now would be called, ‘State Capture’ not necessarily by the Guptas but tender rigging and all this kind of stuff. But a constant theme interestingly, was the Guptas, throughout so we kind of became the experts in what this family was doing,” Brummer said.

Brummer said the Gupta name popped up in several of amaBhungane’s inquiries into Zuma’s family business links and the organisation was well placed to process the trove of information in more than 100,000 emails and documents.

Brummer added that amaBhungane, which mostly uses external hard drives to store documents for safety reasons, had sent a copy of the leaked Gupta emails to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project – a global consortium of investigative journalism centres.

Reuters has not independently been able to verify the allegations in the so-called “GuptaLeaks” emails, sent between the Gupta brothers and their associates.

Mahlatse Gallens is the Chairperson of the South African National Editors Forum.

“What amaBhungane basically do is to focus on a very important brand of journalism where they spend time to connect the dots to find, to dig deeper into a whole lot of issues around, especially state and state corruption,” she said.

The allegations, which came after an anti-corruption watchdog report into claims of influence peddling, opened Zuma up to renewed scrutiny and deepened divisions within the ruling African National Congress.

Zuma survived an attempt in parliament to force him from office on August 8, but he was left politically wounded after some ANC members voted with the opposition.

As a non-profit company, amaBhungane’s 8 million rand ($600,000) annual budget is funded by grants from charitable foundations and public donations. It does not sell adverts or accept funds from the government or from companies.

But amaBhungane has been accused by a group called Black First Land First and some on social media of being run by ‘racist white men’ and not doing enough stories on ‘white monopoly capital’, a phrase used to describe the fact that the white minority still control much of the economy

Brummer said the criticism has not deterred amaBhungane.

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