Lessons in using PAIA to get information from the state

So, this morning Dr Mafu Rakometsi, the CEO of the Umalusi Council, stood up at a press conference in Pretoria to reveal some answers to some pressing questions about the 2010 matric results and how the results in various subjects were changed.

For myself and team mates in the Media24 Investigations team and colleagues at the Sunday titles, Rapport and City Press, this marked the end of a fascinating chapter in which we had brought the power of South Africa’s access to information laws to bear on this body.

Dr Rakometsi told everyone gathered there that the exam quality watchdog had taken this unprecedented step because of the intense interest in the “standardisation” process and after extensive consultations with relevant stakeholders and other interested parties.

But the truth behind this decison is rather more textured, as I will explain. The story behind it, I believe, holds an important lesson for South African journalists and, in fact, for any citizen wanting to ensure that those in authority do not withold from us information to which we are entitled.

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