Hennie Serfontein died two weeks ago, isolated and forgotten. That a leading investigative journalist of the 1960s to 1980s should end his life this way was a reminder of the vulnerability and lack of recognition of our bravest muckrakers.
Serfontein took over the exposé of the Afrikaner Broederbond after the journalist who broke the story in the Sunday Times, Charles Bloomberg, fled the country in 1963. Bloomberg died a few years ago, also unrecognised and in near poverty. Week after week for more than a decade, these two produced front-page coverage of one of the most important stories of the day: the role the secretive Broederbond was playing in the apartheid government and how key appointments and decisions were being made by this covert organisation.
Interestingly, their work was based on masses of documents that originated from a whistle-blower, whose motivation and credibility was questioned in the same way that the source of the Gupta-leaks documents is being doubted by those who don’t like what we are learning from them. It emerged later that the Broederbond documents originated with Beyers Naude, now considered a national hero.