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What is a journalist?

A journalist is the annoying person asking all the wrong questions, digging where they should not be digging, opening doors that are best left tightly shut. They hound and they harass, constantly on the prowl; looking for a juicy scoop. The events they report on are mercilessly butchered in the newspapers and the good names of the people they cover are left in tatters. Here comes a journalist, looking for sensation. Cover up, cover up.

Not so? Not so.

Over the past few years the people of South Africa were confronted with a peculiar beast named State Capture. It fed on hard earned tax money (obscene amounts of it) and deposited its refuse in the wallets of a small number of individuals. A dangerous creature indeed. Much more so because, for a long time, it was invisible. South Africans now know about this monster. They can follow its trail of smeary footprints where they stain the very institutions that were put in place to guard democracy: the public protector, the National Prosecuting Authority and, as we now know, the State Security Agency.

Who then were the watchdogs following the stench of large-scale corruption? What made up the last line of defence between the little people and those who would unremittingly steal from them?

Easy. Journalism at its very finest.

Journalists at their finest are people of immense integrity.

They are people who relentlessly pursue the truth and would see it prevail, no matter the cost. They reach towards the far off ideal of objectivity but ensure fair reporting where it can not be obtained. Their sources are the lifeblood of their work and they treat them with pains-taking sensitivity and the utmost care. Together, journalists make up what we call a “pillar” of democracy. They are part of the very fabric into which the lives of all South Africans are woven. Democracy does not exist without them.

This too is the case with democracy in a microcosm like Stellenbosch University (SU). There are those that preside over the goings on at SU, who make the decisions that affect the little people who populate the lecture rooms and open spaces of the university; its students. Who protects these people from those who would bring them to harm?

An independent team of committed watchdogs; owned by no one, answering only to their readers and a code of ethical journalism.

In its Vision 2040, SU clearly states its commitment to democracy. SU needs journalists. Those journalists are here, and they are serious.

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