South Africa

Op-Ed: What made Brain Porn alive?

By Branko Brkic 2 December 2014

Many of you have by now noticed that the book chronicling Daily Maverick's first five years, Brain Porn, has now hit the shelves at the quality shop near you. Here's but a small peek into the story behind the making of Daily Maverick. By BRANKO BRKIC.

Many people ask me what the turning point was for Daily Maverick; what was that special moment in the last five years when we knew we’d made our lasting mark that would not fade any time soon, the moment when the fledgling news operation graduated into the world of established media. And while we had by then spent a few years publishing ever-better and more authoritative stories, the response to that question always comes up as a simple combo: Marikana/Mangaung.

BrainPorn photo inside

When I heard the rumblings of trouble in that god-forsaken, dust-caked corner of the North West late on Friday night, 10 August 2012, the reaction was standard. Call the most agile of our young reporters, Greg Nicolson, and send him to the place of trouble first thing in the morning. He came back with a disturbing picture of a mine in fear, where no-one wanted to talk and everyone was afraid of what tomorrow would bring. But Nicolson had a massive overseas trip to undertake and that was his last touch with Marikana for a while. The following days brought more chaos, more troubles, more isolated deaths. On Wednesday 15 August, our most seasoned reporter, Pulitzer-prize winner Greg Marinovich, managed to infiltrate the miners sitting in protest on Wonderkop, a hill next to the Marikana mine. While he was taking the now historic images, he also spoke to the miners and reported on a steadily growing feeling of trouble coming and strikers’ commitment to resolving the issues only through direct negotiations with the Lonmin management and not the police surrounding them.

As fate would have it, no Daily Maverick writers were actually present during the massacre on 16th – Marinovich was at home processing his images from the previous day. And all of us were glued to our TVs, looking on in shock as the new South Africa lost its soul.

Marinovich, Mandy de Waal, Ranjeni Munusamy, Brooks Spector and Khadija Patel were immediately summoned into a higher gear, and by the end of the day, Daily Maverick covered every possible angle.

A few hours after the horror, I received a call from another of our senior reporters, Mandy de Waal, who shared information that there was much more to the massacre then the TV cameras had shown. The reports came about police Nyalas being purposely driven over people running for their lives. About shots in the back. That was seriously disturbing.

Marinovich was back to the scene before dawn on the 17th, and then remained in Marikana for most of the next two weeks. Together with Sipho Hlongwane, on the 18th he watched the surviving and as-yet-not-arrested miners and their families break down during Julius Malema’s visit. When De Waal also had to depart on a trip of her own, she connected us to Prof Peter Alexander, who was, together with his researcher Thapelo Lekgowa, doing ground-breaking work on uncovering the unseen scenes of massacre. Marinovich and Lekgowa went on to peel back layer by layer of obfuscation and blow away the smoke that was deliberately created by the police and government. Where the rest of the media was content to report from the police press conferences, they went searching for witnesses. Where Sapa and the SABC stayed on the fringes of Nkaneng, they went deep into the township. Where others were re-printing Sapa’s releases, they questioned everything. They combed the area, discovered the second ‘killing koppie’, found their way into the investigators’ logs, established close relationships with the survivors and the entire community of Nkaneng, a shantytown right next to Wonderkop. And as they watched the soulless yellow marks on the second koppie’s burnt soil, they started telling them the terrifying truth: 18 miners were dead there, all of them were murdered from a close range, almost certainly in cold blood.

Now, while every editor’s dream is to tell the big story, the human inside wants the horrible facts not to be the truth. The human inside doesn’t want to live in a country where police, our police, spray-shoots unarmed people and then proceeds to murder many more in an even more horrifying display of ultimate disregard for life and human rights.

And I waited, for a full two days, before publishing Marinovich’s expose (which contained additional reporting from Mandy de Waal), until there was no shadow of doubt in my mind. The truth, as horrible as it was, had to be exposed. It was 3:00 am by the time I pressed the LIVE button. By the time I woke up, South Africa was buzzing about it, by late morning the world was buzzing about it.

In the following days, Daily Maverick became the centre of Marikana’s gravitational truth field. More witnesses came out of hiding, experts wanted to talk to us, spin-doctors tried to lure us away, somebody even defaced the IPID forensic markings on the second koppie, a clearly illegal act; every day, Marinovich, Munusamy, Lekgowa, Hlongwane, Patel, de Waal, Nicolson and many others reported on what really was going on in this tragic part of godforsaken province. Some media competitors initially tried to ridicule our coverage, but the strength and forcefulness of good and honest journalism simply outshone every one of those attempts. The Farlam commission came, and Daily Maverick journalists were there, to report incisively about it, to point in the directions that were missed, to lift the lid on miners and their families’ continuing struggles, to frequent incidents of police torture and intimidation. And as the Farlam commission drew to its end, only the most ardent police supporters still did not believe Daily Maverick’s reports from 2012.

A few months later, at the ANC’s Mangaung conference, the Daily Maverick team moved in its entirety to Bloemfontein. What we started in Marikana, we finished in Mangaung. A 12- strong team, lead by the incomparable Ranjeni Munusamy, managed to break every single news item during the seven days we spent there. With the rumour mill in manic overdrive, not reporting stories fed to media as part of agenda-seeking motives was as important as breaking the valid ones.

Our rented home away from work saw us throw the entire Daily Maverick effort behind the conference where effectively, South Africa’s leaders and its fate for the next five years were determined. Looking back, that time was blur of early starts and late nights, sometimes indistinct, fuelled by a cocktail of camaraderie and energy drinks (we spent way too much money on them in that week, mostly because we failed to read the warning labels on the back of the cans); we managed to properly catch the adrenaline that just seemed to ooze from the ANC national elective conference’s pores. Its funny how the most strenuous of examinations that life can throw at you, can also fill you with content when you come out the other side (provided you’re still alive, of course). During that incredible Mangaung week, the quality of our work and productivity reached new highs. But even more, we truly felt a part of something much bigger, more important, and more meaningful.

Note: Daily Maverick owes a great deal of its initial personality to Phillip de Wet, our founding Deputy Editor. We also owe the title of this book, Brain Porn, to his brilliant, and not very, uhm, orthodox imagination.

So we hope you enjoy reading Brain Porn. In it, you will find some of the best writing you will ever sample, by the journalists who covered it all. Today, we feel Daily Maverick is a fundamental part of SA’s mainstream media market. In five short years, we came, we broke news, we reported, we photographed, we examined, we explained. We did our job, and more than this, we did it our way. We hope you travelled with us all the way up to here, and that you’ll stay with us for a long, long time. DM

PS: Want to read/own/buy the book? Click HERE!

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