WJP journalist wins 2016 Nieman Fellowship

Paul McNally with CJN paralegal journalists during a media training workshop hosted at Wits Journalism in November 2015.

Congratulations to Paul McNally, radio journalist at the Wits Justice Project and Wits Radio Academy, and founder of the Citizen Justice Network (CJN), who was selected as a Knight Visiting Nieman Fellow at Harvard University for 2016.

The fellowship, which will run for six week later this year, provides short term research opportunities to journalists working on innovative and original projects committed to fostering progress in the field of international journalism.

Paul will be developing an online tool which will function as a virtual newsroom. The tool speaks directly to his work with South African paralegal journalists at the Citizen Justice Network, who are often separated by large distances. The tool is intended to bridge the gap between community journalists thus enabling them to conduct better investigations.

“One of the challenges CJN faces is distance between the different offices, but also how much information and meat for stories can be lost in the process of creating a story remotely,” says Paul, “The tool will help with the process of being a reporter but allow the CJN community to connect and importantly share and search each other’s journalism experiences.”

We are so proud of Paul who is one of only eight visiting fellows this year and whose idea was chosen from an impressive pool of over 300 applicants, including those focused on programming, research, financial strategies and design.

Learn more about the great work the Citizen Justice Network does training community paralegals to be radio journalists here.

Read more about the Knight Visiting Nieman Fellowship here.

How Pollsmoor can kill you

Sonke Gender Justice and Lawyers for Human Rights challenged the life-threatening conditions in the prison last week before the high court in Cape Town. In their application for a supervisory interdict, they claimed the overcrowding in the remand section is a violation of constitutional standards.

If granted, the interdict will compel the government to remedy prison conditions that have been described by Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron as “profoundly disturbing”. The prison head will have a month to submit a report on the remedial action taken.

Eight current and former inmates and those working in the correctional system have deposed supporting affidavits, which paint a dismal picture of the awaiting-trial section of the heavily overcrowded prison.

The latest piece by senior WJP journalist Ruth Hopkins details the deplorable and often deadly conditions faced by detainees in the awaiting-trial section of Pollsmoor Prison in the Western Cape. It also highlights the work of Sonke Gender Justice and Lawyers for Human Rights who have taken legal action against the Department of Correctional Services, calling for the department to immediately address issues of overcrowding and human rights violations in the facility.

Download the PDF of Ruth’s article as it appeared in the print edition of this week’s Mail and Guardian, here.

Related links:

WJP media training for NGOs a hit


Last Thursday the Wits Justice Project (WJP) had the pleasure of hosting 25 communications officers from Detention Justice Forum (DJF) member-organisations and Citizen Justice Network (CJN) paralegals for a full day of exciting workshops and insightful discussions.

Assembling at the Wits School of Journalism, delegates tackled important issues facing NGO communicators ranging from implementing effective communication strategies and how to handle crisis situations, down to the very basics of writing and editing press releases.

All workshops were presented by experts in various fields including Anton Harber, Head of Wits Journalism, who led an interesting discussion on Media Theory, Indra De Lanerolle, who taught the group about planning an effective communications campaign, and the WJP’s very own Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi who facilitated a stimulating and interactive workshop on crisis communication.

The training was a response to a need expressed by several DJF-affiliated NGOs and CSOs to learn more about the South African media landscape. Throughout the day attendees highlighted that some of the challenges facing them, like obtaining funding or garnering public support for their causes, are often because of a lack of understanding of what media practitioners are actually looking for.

Only so much can be covered in a single day but the workshops proved highly successful with one participant commenting, “I found all of the topics presented intriguing, informative and I’ve learned a lot. All of them were well presented but strategic communication and emergency communication stood out. I would definitely come back again to learn more. ”

The day of training was certainly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning about effective communication methods. Nonetheless, ventures like these are a step in the right direction and the WJP is proud to have been able to offer its partner organisations a safe space for networking, skills attainment and professional development.

The Detention Justice Forum is a group NGOs and individuals who work towards ensuring the rights of detainees in South African prisons are not infringed upon. Read more about the important work they do here.


St Albans prison: Torture and violence behind the gates, back in court soon

Photo: Daily Maverick

Photo: Daily Maverick


Having represented the torture-survivors for ten years with no remuneration, he [Egon Oswald]  has now lodged an application for leave to appeal Judge Dyalan Chetty’s decision to dismiss claims by Xolani Siko and Simphiwe Mbena – the first of 231 potential St Albans plaintiffs.

One thing is certain: If the plaintiffs’ application is successful, it could pave the way for one of the largest damages claims ever instituted against the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services. On the other hand, Chetty’s judgement was more than damning in its criticism of both the claimants and the defence witnesses …

Today, with no compensation for either the Marikana or St Albans survivors in sight, Oswald remains driven by “a complete antipathy to the abuse of power and the culture of impunity increasingly prevalent in SA institutions. This claim is about total disregard for human rights in a system where brutality is the order of the day,” he says. “It is about much more than money. I believe the rule of law must be upheld and public officials held accountable. It’s a matter of principle….”


Senior journalist, Carolyn Raphaely’s latest piece details testimonies of torture, assaults, and mass-beatings inflicted by prison officials on inmates at St. Alban’s prison in Port Elizabeth and one man’s tenacious pursuit for a damages claim for these gross violations of human rights.

Listen to Raphaely on the Power Update with Jeremy Maggs, as she backtracks to 2005 and gives to context of how the St. Albans prison scandal broke

Related readings

St Albans prison torture: A conspiracy of silence

Bring back accountability: How prison torture underlines SA’s crisis of leadership

St Albans: Tales of torture and intimidation

Raped inmate sues prison service

Tortured Mangaung prisoners seek justice

Photo: Mail & Guardian

Photo: Mail & Guardian


British security firm G4S, which runs Bloemfontein’s Mangaung prison, has denied lawyers access to a prisoner who claims to have been shot in the head with a rubber bullet by a warder.

The reason given by the prison is that the inmate, BM (he cannot be named), doesn’t know the lawyers who work for the Legal Resources Centre (LRC).

Several months ago, prisoner Captain Rampa contacted the Wits Justice Project about the plight of his friend and cellmate, BM.

Rampa wrote that on September 16 2013, BM had lost sight in his left eye as a result of being shot in the head with a rubber bullet. The Wits Justice Project has seen medical files and internal prison communications confirming these injuries …

Sayi Nindi, an LRC attorney, said: “Our clients have compelling cases of torture against G4S and the DCS. The harm they suffered completely goes against our Constitution. We hope the courts can grant them justice.”

In the case of prisoner BM, it is the third time G4S has barred prisoners from accessing legal counsel.


Click here to read senior journalist – Ruth Hopkins’ – article about recurring refusal of legal representation to inmates serving their sentences at the notorious G4S-run Mangaung prison in Bloemfontein. The piece also writes about lack of accountability for routine assaults, torture, lengthy isolation, and antipsychotic medication experienced by inmates at the hands of the prison’s emergency security team. Download the PDF version as it appeared in the print edition of the Mail & Guardian.


Related Readings:

Lawyers refused prison access to tortured inmates

G4S abuses in South African prison still ignored

G4S accused of ‘torturing inmates to death’ in South Africa

Mangaung Prison is a Private Hell

Privatisation of prisons has ‘failed’

[GALLERY] JfB series culminates in bold & innovative ideas

Robust, audacious, and daring ideas, on fixing South Africa’s criminal justice system, concluded this year’s Justice for Breakfast (JfB) roundtable series. The event was hosted, on November 25, by the Wits Justice Project in partnership with the Wits School of Governance and the Embassy of Switzerland in South Africa. People with an interest in the criminal justice system shared their different perspectives and ideas on how to create social cohesion. An outcomes document for this event will be available soon, and an anthology for all of 2015’s four JfB roundtable events early next year. In the meanwhile, click on each picture to view the slideshow of some of the pictures from the event.














Clogged court rolls addressed at first ever case flow conference

Simoniah 2

The Wits Justice Project’s Simoniah Mashangoane was asked to speak at the inaugural Court and Case Flow Management Africa Conference held in Johannesburg last week.

Simoniah, representing the WJP, was one of the only speakers focussing on issues faced by inmates and detainees on the ground. Her presentation highlighted the cases of four former inmates, Dudley Lee, Thembekile Molaudzi, Thuba Sithole and David Mkhwanazi, who were all victims of inefficiency in the court system.

Speaking of the WJP’s investigation into these cases, and many others of this nature, Simoniah urged conference attendees to concentrate not only on statistics but also on the faces behind stories of injustice.

“I would encourage participants to really look at these case studies and keep them in mind during the conference. If we are truly interested in seeing changes in the criminal justice system then we cannot look at numbers or policy in the abstract. We will only see real change when we start with the people affected by the system.”

The aim of the two-day conference was to discuss methods of addressing the serious problem of overloaded court rolls, with specific reference to remand detainees, and to make room for discussion about corruption in South Africa’s criminal justice system.

According to a National Efficiency Enhancement Committee (NEEC) report presented by Advocate Sibongile Mzinyathi of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), 77% of time lost at courts is because of unavailable parties. This includes the accused, legal representative or witness not showing up, and even missing or unavailable court documents.

All of these factors contribute to people like Dudley, Thembikile, Thuba, David and many more remaining behind bars for unnecessarily lengthy periods of time, sometimes for crimes they did not commit.

Advocate Mzinyathi noted that while many gains have been made to combat both congestion and corruption, there is still much work to be done, by all parties, to ensure the system works in the best interests of the country.


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