Sipho Masondo: The Story That Shaped Me
Sitting across a measured and unruffled Sipho Masondo, one would never guess that throughout his 18-year career exposing wrongdoing and uncovering the truth, he has been offered millions of rands’ worth of bribes, found himself on the receiving end of death threats and had to have round-the-clock protection.
Masondo’s byline will forever be synonymous with the Department of Water and Sanitation after he unearthed corruption and maladministration, which earned him the 2017 Nat Nakasa Award for bravery in journalism – and a target on his back.
“That story became so big that I was even threatened with death. I remember it was a Friday morning, and I got a call from a source who came to the City Press offices [where Masondo worked at the time] and told me that the previous day he was at a meeting where senior politicians were discussing what to do with me because I was causing them so many problems.
One of the people at the meeting suggested that they should make me disappear. The guy came and told me that guy was a scumbag himself, but he said he could not be a party to such a thing,” he says candidly.
When threats didn’t put a stop to a string of hard-hitting exposes, he was famously offered a R3 million bribe, which he turned down.
“A politician, through a proxy, offered me R3 million and a job at the Department of Water and Sanitation so I could stop writing about the politician.”
Now a seasoned investigative journalist, Masondo casually says he has gotten used to death threats.
“I am an investigator, and I really want to get to the bottom of a story. Once I realise that there is something, I don’t let go. I don’t know where I get my inspiration from, but I think I want to see justice. I want to see people treated with fairness. If you look at the water and sanitation story, billions were squandered by politicians, and people are still sitting in Limpopo without water. That is what motivates me, the need to see justice and people being treated fairly, especially by politicians,” he explains.
He admits he didn’t always want to be a journalist and had initially tried his hand at public relations, which he soon realized wasn’t for him.
“Growing up in the township, you just went to school because it was time to go to school. We didn’t have access to career counselling. I didn’t know that I wanted to be a journalist. I figured that out when I was in matric. When I was in matric, I figured out that I wanted to do something related to communications, but I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a journalist or not,” he says.
To deal with the pressures of the job, Masondo turns to a good book. When asked if he would ever write about his adventures, he smiled and said, “I want to write a book, but I don’t want to write a book for the sake of it. I want to write a book that will have a serious impact and leave a legacy. I will write a book at some point when the time is right.”
30: The number of books he tries to read a year
Favourite book: Apartheid Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit by Hennie van Vuuren
Current read: The King of Oil: The Secret Lives of Marc Rich by Daniel Ammann
When the day comes for Masondo to put down his pen and notebook, many will remember him for his dogged determination, but he would like to be remembered as “just a guy who spoke truth to power.”
“I want to be remembered as a journalist who didn’t beat around the bush, who told it like it is. I want to be remembered as the guy who spoke truth to power and is not afraid to step on the toes of the powerful,” he says.