Adv. Hermione Cronjé addresses the 2019 Nat Nakasa Awards ceremony

Casa was the prominence of African journalist and writer who died in exile in 1965 the award is awarded annually for courageous and brave journalism it recognizes any media practitioner who has among others shown integrity and reported fearlessly let's cross live to that ceremony now then I am with the people I'm supposed to be going after intimidated by the intensity of the scrutiny and awestruck by what you have accomplished in this country in the last decade or so and I had to restrain myself from going around asking for autographs but I haven't yet been allowed my glass of wine after that and I may be doing the wrongs so I heard that they have the average South African feels profound gratitude like I do for that all the media has play and especially the role investigative journalists have played but in my case they it's fresh in my mind my recent experience of interacting with journalists so when you ask is it on or off the record I'm still trying to work out exactly what that means and so from all the media attention I received two weeks ago I suddenly find myself a lot more sympathetic to those people who have been interviewed by journalists who complain afterwards that they were misquoted or they were quoted out of context I felt there was a disconnect between what I thought I said to the journalist was interviewing me and the one that ended up in the script that that was published so if you'll just indulge me for one second because I have to get this off my chest I was asked by a journalist about how my parents felt about my appointment I was a bit taken aback by the question but I reckon that given that I hadn't actually done anything you know they're going to just focus on tabloids tap questions but I felt it's my responsibility not to be flippant and to answer every question as accurate as honestly and as with sufficient reflection so I thought carefully about how I wanted to answer the question in my head I said okay there two things I want to get across one my relationship with my mother is complex and the one thing I wanted to convey is that it's not fair to hold me responsible for what she does that was the one thing and the other thing I wanted to convey is that I'm older and wise and so is she so you know things are not what they used to be what ended up in the newspaper and I quote and she was asked how her mother felt about her appointment and she said I really I quote oh she was probably too busy being glamorous to even call to congratulate er that is kind of what I said but not exactly what I mean and so it was there for my whole extended family and group of friends to read and they were all quite horrified so what I learned from that brief little experience in the limelight and was that be fair be brief but you know not every question needs to be answered with this deep level of introspection and candor and honesty because quite frankly there's just not the bandwidth or the space in the newspaper so keep it simple I'm told and if you want to get across and report it exactly what you feel but I think it also brought to me that no matter how you try and dress up a complicated issue no matter how you sugarcoat it at the end of the day the journalist is going to take that break it down and lay it bare and you're gonna have to deal so yes I'm trying to mend that relationship with my mother so but to demonstrate that I've tried to learn I'm gonna try to stay on script read the script stay on it don't deviate but just to demonstrate that I did learn from that experience I was gonna say something about the fact that I was quite bemused by the media coverage and the positivity in the media about my appointment because I keep thinking I haven't done anything yet so you know what is the first all about and I was saying to a friend it's kind of like the Nobel Peace Prize Committee awarding Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize at the beginning of his presidency but I thought best not to say that because what's going to be the headline hernion crania compares herself with Barack Obama so I'm learning I'm still terrified though so let me get back to the topic I was asked to talk about the importance of a courageous free media in exposing and holding power to account now that is what my twelve-year-old would call a no-brainer of course it is important for the media to hold the powerful to account and more often than not it takes tremendous courage for them to do so but thanks to journalists like yourselves and especially the ones being nominated this evening our democracy has grown and has been enriched by your contribution you have exposed information and scandals involving the powerful and the connected one of the biggest scoops exposed by the long arm of investigative journalism than right was what we today call then congregate which the prosecution is still working on bringing some accountability to the consistent crescendo the noise and a barrage of unrelenting questions from the media in 2011 galvanized other sections of society activists and political players converge towards a single greater objective to protect this country from the corrupt there are many other significant examples of expertise over the years which have not gone without recognition in past media award ceremonies such as this I imagine today we have the state capture Commission known to the media as the zonder Commission but much to the annoyance of judge Sandow the PSE Commission where we hear revelations on a daily basis of how those who occupied positions of power and influence broke people's trust same the Nugent Commission but particularly close to home for us in the NPA the more Horror Commission and its it's to you I think that we owe these Commission's of inquiry these exposes these additional focus on what happened so it's difficult to imagine that what would have where we would have been without your digging your exposure of the deep dark secrets and important institutions of state and your expertise of the plunder and the personal enrichment and the political machinations Stein of BBS pasa is compras the transmit all of these investigation all of these files that have passed over my desk in the last few weeks started with a journalist shining a lights asking questions probing refusing to be scared off so the work that you have done is substantial and a few months ago a leader of an opposition party whose name we won't mention delivered a book authored by a journalist who we won't identify about the plunder of state funds through political patronage in a province we don't need to identify to the NPA head offices in Pretoria he presented the book to us as evidence and he said explain to me why they are not in orange overalls so that's where where you've left me you've done all this exposing you've created your efforts have resulted in the creation of these Commission's of inquiry and and there's been an announcement in the media that they will be an investigating Directorate who will now address state capture what the announcement neglected to mention is that such a thing doesn't yet exist so I was I was appointed as a director of a Directorate that has yet to be established and while I am creating that Directorate can I please as soon as possible ensure that warrants of arrest sir issued an indictment sir file and preferably the top echelon of the political class that has been the most corrupt stand in the dock so and and what like three months is that going to be enough so so when when shamila botchoy was asked at a press conference a few weeks ago how did she find the NPA there was a long pregnant pause and she said much worse than I had expected now Jamila was out of the country for four ten years or so and I've been out of the NPA for about the same amount of time and I thought that I kept in touch and I kept abreast of what was going on in the institution and but even I have to say that the situation is a lot worse than even I anticipated but I I don't want to say that as an expression of doom and gloom I want to say that it's important for us to look at these institutions because journalists and to some extent judges and and organizations NGOs have had to bear the brunt of carrying this democracy through the last ten years and that should not have been the case we have constitutional institutions that had should have ought to have protected us from what happened and so I think we really do need to reflect quite deeply on how it is and why it is is it these institutions failed so spectacularly so it's not just that there isn't at the right director in place for me to head and do all the simple important work the truth is the institutions State who had to do this job whose responsibility it was to do this job like the intelligence agencies who were supposed to alert us to the threat of state capture the threads of the looting that's going on so crime intelligence the state security agencies with no way in fact as many of you are aware they're spending their time monitoring journalists to try and prevent journalists from exposing what they ought to have been exposing in the police the state of affairs is is I would say very similar to that in the NPA and and luckily you don't have to take my word for it the more horror Commission lays Bay what happened at the upper echelon of institutions like the NPA and the police they were I don't use the word capture because some people feel like they don't understand what that means they were these institutions the police the Hawks the NPA were compromised and in two ways compromised in that they were just looted more the police in it then then they in Pierre would say and the SSA was also looted and they also you don't have to take my word for it it's well documented in an investigation conducted into the state security agency but in the criminal justice system there was a deliberate attempt to put people in place to ensure that those who are guilty of crimes avoid accountability now so what Mahara did is made recommendations about to people advocate G burn of advocate in Krabi but what about the rest of the organization what about the police and I think that for us to rebuild our institutions and was to get them to play the role they were expected to play but failed spectacularly to play we need to ask how could this happen how could large institutions be diverted in this way and I think if I were to throw some other work back to you that you are all of thrown this way kidding South Africa to understand what happened and why it happened is important yes there's a story about just straights criminality that is our responsibility to address but I think there's a bigger story and and a more important story or an equally important story about how the way South African society is organized is is structured we are a deeply unequal society and growing more and more an equal rather than less and we we are an equal on many fronts find income inequality educational access educational opportunity and all sorts of everyday common inequalities and divisions particularly still around race and I think we underestimate the role that those divisions played in getting us to where we are so yes the Guptas the Watsons and all these other names that get bandied about in the media are important to to hold to account but but when I look at the NPA and I look at ordinary people in the in da my old colleagues my former colleagues and I ask how did you let this happen how did it get to a point where we the politically connected did not get indicted and and the what I am finding I think is that it's the same thing I think that happens in all other parts of our society the state-owned enterprises journalists what happens is there are those who see the wrongdoing and decide actually it makes a lot of sense to jump on this bandwagon because you know there'll be no accountability then there those who resisted and and suffered greatly for it the consequences were dire for them but a larger group of people decided to keep their heads below the radar not to make too much noise I think someone at the at the state capture Commission a few days ago said I knew this was wrong I went to two of my colleagues and I asked them you know this is wrong what are we going to do and two out of the three said I have a family I have responsibilities I need to earn my living so a lot more people opted to not take on the those who were doing wrong but I would say that an even bigger Kader of people were not high enough to actually have an impact on what they saw was going on and ended up feeling powerless to do and what they thought should be done and those people are the people I am excited to still work with because they they had their little passive resistance and but they did the jobs that they could do in the sphere that was opening to them to do it in but I think we need to understand the state of the NPA today is affected by all of that so it's not just about removing one or two people at the top or three and thinking that the organisation is now ready to do business it's now going to turn around and there is a culture that is is very difficult and and an interesting thing I find about the culture which which I'd be interested to hear how journalists deal with this is that the old race divide is still very much what characterizes what went on so there was they were narratives about it's the blacks versus the whites the whites are keeping us out so we need to fight to get promotions because they would never recognize our ability that kind of narrative made it easier for people to say well that's there's a ring of truth to that I'll throw my lot in because I've been around you're working my backside off but but no promotion so I think those kinds of things will continue to bedevil our efforts to both institutions and as I'm trying to build capacity to do the work that needs to be done it's unavoidable to engage with it so those of you who are hoping I was going to tell you about all the other stuff that's going on you know who's first in line and what are the charges and what's the sequencing and all that you'll have to wait for the the next installments because what I am doing is grappling with exactly where we are I know I don't have forever so that's it I'm done now I'm done now looking at what am I dealing with what is the nature of the beast I've also started looking at how we're going to fix it and I just want to give you two heads ups about that one yes I do have money there is money for the Directorate in fact there is no shortage of money in both the public and the private sector to support the work of the Directorate but it's a lot trickier to figure out how to spend the money you know all those rules and policies and procedures that were put in place to avoid corruption that completely disregarded by the corrupt hamstrings those of us who want to act quickly in the public service and so while there is money we are working on ways to rapidly spend the money when you're told in the public service that it's going to take about a year to fill a vacancy so if I advertise tomorrow I might get a person appointed a year from today clearly another plan needs to be made and and we have been trying to work on those plans but you know building a competent and credible building competent and credible state institutions require leaders who can answer questions like that make sure that they remains fairness that they remains accountability but still get the job done and not do what what we've been doing in in certain in state institutions and certainly institutions like the NPA where we have been fantastic on compliance we have complied with every rule set for ourselves as you know we have the best conviction rate almost any way in the world and 97 percent conviction rate I think so why is the public not very satisfied because what we're not measuring is and what we're not asking ourselves is what is what we're doing and what we're measuring actually having an impact so the I'll end off now because I see my flags are going up and I still have a speech that I must give but what I wanted to end off with saying is that I am NOT pessimistic I think Mandy is in the room she was one of the first people to call me and ask or put it to me that I've been appointed in this position and I gave a nervous love and she said oh thanks that's what I wanted to know not quite that but she she asked I said to her do you mean will I be the sacrificial lamb to the slaughter if that's not mixing metaphors and then she asked me the other day in a whatsapp message after the announcement of the appointment she said still think you're a sacrificial lamb and I misread that thinking she was saying that she thinks I'm a sacrificial lamb and I I stood over it all day thinking the cheek and the nerve eventually I read the whole thing in context as you should do when you not just the journalist but everybody else and I read and she said no no no that's what you said not what not what I'm saying and I said to her well I would not have taken this job if I didn't think we have a fighting chance I think we have more than a fighting chance thanks to you guys you've done the bulk of the work my job is actually it's a difficult job it's not an easy job but it's the job of trying to strategize trying to steer path identify processes and procedures that'll get us to where we need to be but what you've done is laid bare the picture you've laid babe what is the work mine is just to see how to get us there but I didn't say it was easy so what I do expect is that in addition to your important job of holding powerful people to account there's also the job of taking people with you and in our unequal society that means not just the educated the wealthy the chattering classes but everybody everybody needs to be part of this conversation and this evaluation of how we ended up because we all know that while there was this clear picture in the priests about what was going wrong in this country the electorate's who voted didn't quite engage with that picture and I think that's where the work for all of us is going to be going forward because we're not going to in corruption by a few prosecutions only we're going to in corruption with all of South Africa feeling that that is not something we tolerate as a society and so we all have a role to play in achieving that thank you very much come on econia giving a speech there the Nauticus award speaking about the importance of journalism done right celebrating the work that journalists have done saying that for the past decade or so journalists judges and in jurors have done the heavy lifting of carrying africa's democracy and imploring journalists to not just tell one side of the story but take all of the country with them when they're talking about why there's corruption or why they're issues saying it's not just the educator attending so forth chattering class that need to be involved but to the Africa's general public that needs to be taken with thanks so much for joining us on the full view good night

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