October 11, 2012Produced by Hazel Friedman
As journalists we hope that the stories we investigate will make a difference in the lives of those who have trusted us to make their private pain public, long after our credits have rolled. Sometimes we do make an impact for the better, sometimes not…
For example, in February 2012 Special Assignment broadcast the closure of Prison Broadcasting Network (PBN) – which trained Pollsmoor offenders in camerawork, sound, lighting, scriptwriting, editing and presentation – the only rehabilitation programme of its kind in the world. The day after broadcast, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) contacted us to state, on the record, that after watching the programme and consulting stakeholders – the department would not only reinstate the services of PBN, but had mandated the National Commissioner of DCS to partner with PBN in the planning of a national prison television station – another world first!
Eight months later, nothing has developed from this dramatic announcement and our requests for an update from DCS have been met with silence. Was this just a nifty strategy of damage control by the department at the expense of real rehabilitation for offenders?
In this Special Assignment follow-up, we also bring you other stories that have proven that television can be a powerful tool to make a positive impact. Shortly after we broadcast Cape of Wars 1 & 2 – about the traumatic effects of gang wars on communities caught in the crossfire, three gangster suspects were arrested for the murder of 8-year old Junaid McKenzie. This signifies an impressive thumbs-up for effective investigations by SAPS, in partnership with the community.
In Over Her Head, Haadia Williams, a homeless unemployed young mother, has since found both a job and a roof over her head. This has been due to the loving support she has received from an NGO providing shelter to destitute mothers – which is itself struggling to survive due to a national funding crisis. It has also been through the compassion of the Provincial Department of Human Settlements, which heard and heeded Haadia’s cry for help. However, the greatest credit must be given to Haadia herself, for her resilience and determination to provide her child with the life she never had.
The positive developments in these stories serve to underscore how much still needs to be done to secure a sustainable difference particularly in the lives of ordinary people.

– By