Why Wits is wrong.

Why Wits is wrong

By Daniela Q. Lépiz

I always thought the first story I would write in a personal blog would be about data analysis, my work experiences across different continents or the amazing ways in which visiting other countries and cultures could change you from within.

But no. Here I am, driven by a feeling of astonishment: the decision from the organizers of the African Investigative Journalism Conference to drop Roxanne Joseph as a speaker.


The first time I saw Roxanne it was in Johannesburg, she was “dying from cancer”. The next time it was in Cape Town, she wasn’t faking it anymore but this time it was like she was truly dying. She was broken with guilt, sadness, and confusion.

I invited her to be my flatmate. Roxanne was diagnosed with a type of mental illness and spoiler alert: it wasn’t easy for any of us.

I received an avalanche of calls and talks and coffee-talks and emails and facebook messages telling me not to deal with her. To be aware of her lies. I could hear broken people on the other side of the phone, the other victims in the story. But I also could see Roxanne going through exactly the same.

For a bit of a story I am a Costa Rican, I worked in Cape Town from 2015–2017, run with -then Code for South Africa- a data journalism school and worked tirelessly with media houses, journalists, civil society and a variety of actors.

I myself have been a speaker and trainer at AIJC. And if you have to know something about me is I like data and facts. And the facts are:

  • Joseph’s fake illness have no justification. She caused damage to her friends, colleagues, and family and to herself and her bright career.
  • Joseph fake cancer, but she did battle with a big and untouchable illness: a mental one. That external symptom was the highest representation from what was happening inside.
  • Roxanne situation had NOTHING to do with her work ethics. She did not breach journalism ethics because her situation was not related to the work she does.
  • No one has ever proved she lied, twisted, fake anything related to her work (in which sadly for some, she is still quite good at).
  • Falacia Ad Hominem is one of the world’s favorite ways to argument, en bref: “ a strategy whereby genuine discussion of the topic at hand is avoided by instead attacking the character, motive, or other attributes of the person making the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself”. Same thing here:

NO one can attack Joseph’s work, skills, preparation or capacity so when they see her in the speakers list the only thing left is her mental illness.

  • Roxanne has paid the price, whether you like it or not, you feel is enough or not: isolated from her life, friends, and -for so long- her career, a burden of guilt she will probably carry her entire life.

Let me go through some review some of the tweets (and my responses), some could qualify for a prize of hate speech so I didn’t want to include them.

@Good on Wits Vuvuzela for exposing mistakes of their parents org, @Journ_SA, full names, and statements. This is journalism and also responsibility at its finest. I thought journalism had to do with the public interest, so far I can’t see the public interest in the story…

@ “Seems people who plagiarise have a harder time getting back into journalism?” That’s not necessarily true, I would like to see the cases you are taking into consideration for making that statement, she has battled to go back to journalism, the proof: you have pushed her out of a conference. In any case, plagiarise is RELATED to journalism activity itself. Is not comparable.

@”gijn why is @rox_joseph still on a panel at #GIJC19 when she was removed as a speaker from #AIJC19. @OxCIEJ she is in breach of fundamental journ ethics, what does say for the integrity of your org to have her as your representative? @tanyapampalone do you know about this?” No, she did not breach fundamental journalism ethics. Go and find ONE article where Roxanne lied so she has no moral authority.

@ “That apology didn’t come across as sincere to me at all. “ Well bro… that doesn’t mean is not sincere. She can’t do more for you.

@ “Say “she apologized, what else must happen, Take the first left at White Privilege, you won’t miss it.” Not going into the race argument. Only one thing, as you tweet, Roxanne has been publicly humiliated since 2016 (hence we are all talking about an EXTREMELY personal situation) and has struggled with her career ever since. She won’t pay forever.

Everybody has a chance to rebuild themselves again. She commits no crime. She did not fail to journalism ethics. She was going to be a speaker because she is brilliant and she has skills almost NO ONE in South Africa has.

Anybody is allowed not to talk to her, work with her, breath the same air. But you cannot online shame someone for years and keep on damaging her career for something NOT related to work at all. This portrait the deep misunderstanding of what mental illness really is and how Twitter is a tool to spread hate.

To all those who were hurt by Roxanne’s behavior. I get it… when you get hurt you want that person will never ever succeed in life, will never ever has its chance again to do well. And when he/she does, you feel betrayed by the system… how dare them to recognize her/his work?! She/he should never succeed again…

But you know what? that feeling is called hate and even if you have no-fault on what and why you feel it, you have the responsibility to deal with it. Same as we all. So stop it now.

Sorry to the organizers that I admire and respect, but you made a mistake. They asked for her head and you brought it in what seems to respond to an uncontainable feel of eternal revenge and deep hate from a group of ex-colleagues.

You know what Roxanne, only you can create your own path, mistakes we all make, but we are also entitled to re-start again. Go girl, and after so many years, it would be nice to see you again :)

Written by

Costa Rican #DataJournalist

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