August 28, 2015 Leave a comment
On Tuesday, August 25 2015, the Wits Justice Project (WJP) celebrated the release of Thembekile Molaudzi – a man who spent 11 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
WJP journalist – Carolyn Raphaely – doggedly followed the case of Molaudzi for three years and helped him gain access to his court transcripts and legal assistance to appeal his wrongful conviction. Tuesday evening brought together Molaudzi’s family and those who played a significant role in proving Molaudzi’s innocence.
The WJP uses journalism, research, advocacy, and education to positively contribute to the South African criminal justice system. In a recent opinion piece, which appeared on Business Day on August 27, Anton Harber – Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits University – wrote that the South African public is not always sympathetic to the plight of those behind bars:
“The WJP experiments with using journalism, law and advocacy to investigate problems in the justice system and push for improvements. Journalists investigate and write about the many issues in our policing, courts and jails, including exposing serious problems ranging from the use of torture to prison conditions. They also work with the government, making policy inputs, for example, and with lawyers to use the courts to intervene to right a wrong.
One might hope this would get public support, knowing how easy it is for any of us to get caught in the web of a dysfunctional criminal system. “It could be you,” is the project’s slogan. In fact, anticrime sentiments mean there is little public sympathy for those in the system — other than white celebrities such as Oscar Pistorius — even if they are still awaiting trial.”
According to Harber, “you cannot find solutions without highlighting the problems.” He also highlighted the WJP’s uniqueness in that it is donor-funded enabling it to dedicate a vast amount of time investigating a particular case to find possible solutions.
“Journalism begins with finding the issues, exposing them and trying to get the authorities to pay attention to them. This often involves working with those in opposition, or anyone who will help, including whistle-blowers and “unnamed sources” in the system. Discourage journalists from doing this and you are only encouraging those in authority who want to avoid the problems and have the media focus on their repetitive statements claiming progress and victory.
The WJP is unusual in its capacity, due to philanthropic funding, it is able to spend time on a case and possible solutions. Overstretched newsrooms can seldom do this, but they can do the first part of the task: exposing wrongdoing, identifying problems and causing trouble for those in authority. Journalists’ capacity for finding solutions is limited, but their capacity to draw attention to problems is hugely valuable”.
We will run a series of blog posts to share our photos and podcasts in the coming week.
Read more on Molaudzi’s story here.