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The story that almost changed my life

By Jackie Mapiloko

For the last two months I’ve been working on a story that was going to change my life.

It should have been published weeks ago, but I remember saying to my boss: “There’s something missing, I need more time.”

If this story’s aim was to make every humanitarians stomach turn with anger, then it deserved all the time and energy I was putting into it.

The headline flashing in my head was “The Prison Of Death.”

The initial tip-off was that prison officials had killed over 500 prisoners in the last couple of years using lethal injections.

“If a prisoner is terminally ill, prison officials give orders to the doctors to kill them instead of taking them home,” said the man on the other line of the phone.

Since that conversation, I’ve received documents that could end people’s careers, drove over 1 200km, met with dangerous looking people in dangerous places and received countless early morning calls from prisoners.

It was all worth it! “Finally I have a story that defines what investigative journalism is all about,” I thought to myself.

But my dreams and hard work came crashing down this week.

After sending questions to all relevant departments, I was confronted with the truth that brought tears to my eyes and a horrible chill down my spine — IT WAS ALL A LIE!!

Half of the documents in my possession had been fabricated. A fine art of cut-and-paste if I’ve ever seen one.

I was a pawn in some sick game, and I followed every instruction to the tee. I was told who to speak to, where to meet them, what documents they would provide and at the end of every conversation, I was reminded of the good job I was doing.

I think that’s where I went wrong. My emotional attachment to the story and the victory dances I was doing in my head clouded my judgement.

Looking back, there are some very very small details that could have given their game plan away.

But I guess when someone dangles a big juicy steak in front of you, it’s hard to ignore the smell.

As disappointed as I am, I’m kind of glad that I went through this so early in my career. What has come out of this mess is a much focused journalists who won’t fall for lame tricks.

But the thought that I still can’t shake off is: “What if all these lies were published?” … Oh shucks!!

Author

  • amaBhungane

    amaBhungane are the investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit, public interest initiative to produce better investigative stories and plough back through internships and advocacy. On this blog, amaBhungane -- seasoned and award-winning journalists -- will penetrate the world of smoke and mirrors to bring you the story behind the story. www.amabhungane.co.za