Section 2: Source list; brief, scope of the inquiry; historical context; the company culture
Section 3: Inhibitions on functioning as a fully democratic press
Section 4: Victims of apartheid
Section 5: Efforts to fight government-imposed restrictions
Section 6: Different agendas
Section 7: The great divide
Section 8: Collusion with apartheid
Section 9: Conclusions
Independent Newspapers' website - www.inc.co.za
a) Where the company failed in the human rights field
* The commercial nature of the company limited its political role in exposing apartheid abuses.
* Because of a concentration on white political rivalries, black political aspirations and the doings of the liberation movements were insufficiently covered by the company's newspapers.
* Insufficient effort was made to circumvent restrictions imposed by apartheid and other legislation.
* Recruitment of black staff began too late, proceeded too slowly. This was discriminatory.
* White perceptions monopolised news judgements on most of the company's papers. On black newspapers in the group, the reverse applied.
* The contribution of black editorial staff was not recognised and rewarded timeously.
* The Press Council, recognised by the company, was established to prevent government control of the press, but it was unrepresentative of the population.
* Liberal and liberationist journalists followed different agendas and pursued clashing goals. The company failed to resolve this dilemma.
* The company's gradualist anti-apartheid editorial policies caused perceptions of collusion with apartheid.
* The growth of the alternative press showed the company had to some extent lost touch with the oppressed masses.
* In a climate of intensive State propaganda, contacts with liberation movements were insufficient.
* Petty apartheid was practised on company premises. Opposition could have been stronger.
* Discriminatory practises were followed in reporting accidents and crime.
* Black editors were in some cases treated paternalistically. Some black staff were paid less with worse facilities.
* The company's handling of the strike at Post Transvaal was insensitive, causing bitterness.
* Insufficient efforts were made by the company to provide proper training for black staff.
b) The company and its staff as victims of human rights abuses under apartheid
* Restrictive legislation and regulations interfered with the watchdog role of newspapers.
* Access to news sources was impeded by enforced segregation.
* Laws prevented black journalists from practising where white journalists could, and vice versa.
* Journalists were harassed, intimidated, assaulted, detained, arrested and prosecuted.
* Black and white staff attitudes were adversely affected by the racial polarisation of apartheid society, and the intensification of the struggle against apartheid.
To provide an independent and objective overview of the experience of Independent Newspapers (previously the Argus Company) from 1960 to 1993, the period covered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's investigation into the media, with the aim of identifying areas in which the company and its staff were either victims or perpetrators of human rights abuses, or either directly or by default, played some part in allowing human rights violations to occur.
1) Michael Green, retired editor, Daily News, Durban
2) Ian Wyllie, retired editor, Sunday Tribune, Durban
3) Mostert van Schoor, Editor-in-Chief, Natal Newspapers, Durban
4) Dennis Pather, Editor, Daily News, Durban
5) Peter Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief, The Star, Johannesburg
6) Aggrey Klaaste, Editor-in-Chief, Sowetan, Johannesburg
7) Joe Latakgomo, former editor, Sowetan, Johannesburg
8) Andrew Drysdale, retired editor, The Argus, Cape Town
9) Jon Hobday, editor Saturday Argus and Sunday Argus, Cape Town
Others approached for interviews:
1) Thami Mazwai, editor, Enterprise magazine, and former managing editor, Sowetan, who declined to answer questions until an assurance could be given that this report would not be submitted to the Freedom of Expression Institute. When that assurance was forthcoming, he did not return calls.
2) Joe Thloloe, Editor-in-Chief, Television News, SABC, and former deputy editor, Sowetan, who declined to answer questions because he did not support corporate submissions to the TRC. If he wanted to make a submission, he would do so himself.
3) Harvey Tyson, former Editor-in-Chief of The Star, who gave an interview on a non-attributable basis while allowing himself to be quoted from his book, "Editors under Fire". He made it clear that if the commission required information about violations of human rights, censorship within the media from him, he would be more than willing to provide any information which the commission directly sought.
4) Wilf Nussey, retired editor, Pretoria News, who allowed his answers to questions to be used on a non-attributable basis. He wants no further involvement in the inquiry.
1) Gordon Schwormstedt, legal adviser to The Cape Argus, Cape Town.
2) Anthony Sampson, former editor, Drum magazine, Johannesburg, member of the editorial board of Independent Newspapers
Published articles referred to:
1) Mathatha Tsedu in The Star, January 7 1997
2) Jon Qwelane in the Saturday Star, January 11 1997
Scope of the inquiry
My investigation into the company's practices, and into its experiences in projecting to the public the dark years of apartheid, is intended to sketch in broad strokes the culture of its operations, its prevailing philosophies, its problems and its failings during a crucial period of the country's history.
This study has been made by a retired former editor, now outside the company but with 38 years of service to the company embracing the whole period of the TRC investigation.
At the express wish of Independent Newspapers, this report has been commissioned as an independent study, not as a defence of the company.
It is a contribution to assist the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its understanding of the Argus Group's (now Independent Newspapers') role.
Because it is an overview, no attempt has been made in this study to list or comment in comprehensive detail on every one of the multiplicity of incidents affecting all or some of its publications over this lengthy period, though some examples are given.
The study does not preclude the company's management, any of its editors (or former editors) or other employees from making their own submissions to the TRC in connection with the inquiry.
The Argus Company was started last century by home-language English-speakers as a vehicle for information and advertising for their own community and to represent the interests of that community in the larger public life.
While it retained this character over the decades, its newspapers' readerships and advertising bases expanded later into other communities, first picking up support among Afrikaners and later spreading to include substantial readerships among communities of colour.
While controlled for much of this period by leading mining group Anglo American through its associated company JCI, the company came to represent wider interests founded on support for free enterprise and the upholding of liberal Western democratic values, including freedom of speech, the rule of law and justice for all.
Even before the period of this study, South Africa was a country of divided communities - divided by language, culture, way of life, religion, economic involvement and level of wealth, education and experience.
Division in communities was reinforced by a history of conflict, prejudice, discrimination and exploitation.
In spite of these divisions and levels of hostility, which may have made up part of the National Party's justification for the policies of apartheid, economic forces were bringing those communities inexorably together into a situation of mutual dependence.
Especially after the Second World War, with the rapid industrialisation that took place, the prospect of separate futures for the different communities became ever more impossible.
Though former Nationalist Prime Minister Dr Hendrik Verwoerd believed the tide of black migration to the white urbanised and industrialised enclaves would be reversed from 1978 onwards, it was apparent from long before that date that no such reversal would occur.
Efforts at social engineering, designed to achieve separation of communities, were eclipsed by economic forces.
Increasingly inhumane and ruthless moves by the apartheid government to try to impose separation led to confrontation and long years of conflict, finally resolved by all-inclusive negotiation when it became apparent that conflict was tearing the country apart and would lead to irreparable damage.
The company throughout this period opposed the apartheid policies of the government, but was itself subject to the laws of the land.
Though editorial and management policies opposed apartheid, some of the company's employees actually agreed with aspects of apartheid and insisted on social separation between race groups on company premises. This led to some internal friction, but eventually to relaxation of petty apartheid restrictions, even before they were abolished from law.
As the level of conflict in SA society grew, so differences also emerged among staff as to how to react to the conflict, though these did not change the prevailing liberal policies being followed, except in the case of black-orientated newspapers in the group.
Transformation of the company, from being dominated by home-language English-speakers to being more representative of the wider community, took stronger hold in the 1970s and, since the National Party's abandonment of apartheid from 1990, has speeded up considerably in recent years.
The company culture
One former editor of the company says of the company's character: "Going back to the beginning, the fault lies in history - the fault as perceived today, and everyone sees history in hindsight.
"The fault lies in the fact that we were almost exclusively white, male WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant), certainly Western-orientated. That was our heritage, that was our system. That's where the newspapers started. They started, just like all alternative newspapers start, with a purpose, a political purpose, and their purpose was to put the views of the English settlers at that time, I am talking about the English press, and its audience was virtually male, white, English-speaking for a hundred years, perhaps more than a hundred years. In the last 70 years, they became commercial newspapers.
"Why were there no women editors? The simple reason was society dictated it. There were no all-round woman journalists. It wasn't that the newspapers kept them out. There weren't any trained in society. Women didn't work that much. You were again a victim or a lax instrument of history. And my answer on women editors was: because it takes 25 years even to get into line for a major editorship.
"You can start your own newspaper if you want, but if you want to run one of the big ones, it takes 25 years at least before you could be in line for it, because it requires that amount of experience and seniority to be put in charge. Not quite so today, but that was the formula of corporate newspapers.
"So there is no doubt the accusation is true, if there is an accusation, that we were always white male and our audience was white male, but for the last 50 years, because of the weakness of the Afrikaans press, The Star had more Afrikaans readers in the cities than the Transvaler, and more black readers in the city than the Sowetan, and it had a higher proportion of Indian and coloured readers than any other race group. So the paper had a large audience, but its base remained the same. My own view is that our newspapers, compared with any other institutions, were way ahead in catering for other than sectional interests, both in content and staffing.
"Thirty or 25 years ago when I was appointed an editor, the principles were: you were not to pander to any sectional interest. It was the only real briefing you had. These are basics. The next basic is this. The accusation is that we are Western-orientated. It is absolutely natural and I don't think it is anything to apologise for. It happens that the Western liberal press is virtually the only free press in history and on earth. There isn't any other.
"And the principles of the liberal Western press are ones that have moved through to all other societies. We all aspire to those principles of independence and freedom of expression. It is this very press which reports criticisms of themselves. So I think, if there is an accusation that we are liberal, that doesn't require defence. It is a fact of life. And it is probably preferable to any other ideology."
What he said of women editors has applied with equal force to the question why there were no black editors.
Saturday Argus and Sunday Argus editor Jon Hobday looks at another aspect of the company culture: "My impression of the Argus Company was that it was a very conservative company. It paid conservatively. It took to innovation conservatively. It was a slow-moving company. To try to class us in the category of pioneers and pace-setters is a mistake. It was not the nature of the company. It was conservative economically, it was conservative in every way. It was an establishment company run by establishment people. And very successfully over the years. So it would be wrong for us to claim to have set the pace.
"That is not to say we did nothing. We certainly made efforts, many editors were very conscious of it, valiant efforts and quite successful ones. I think many of the journalists you see around at the top of the pile today came through, as white journalists did, through the Argus Company mill and are what they are today because the Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers) trained them."
Jon Hobday highlighted another feature of Argus Company culture, the relationship between management and editors: "There was a definite hands-off approach. Management was management and editorial was editorial, and the twain did not meet. It was a clear line. If management did feel constrained to contribute, it would be done in the most circumspect civil, non-aggressive way. The concept and perception that Oppenheimer phoned up and told editors what to write is absolute b...t. That is the last thing in the world he would have done. He never did it. I am not aware of any manager who ever delivered that kind of dictum, not at all, ever.
"Managements were by nature conservative and sometimes were less than defiant when it came to authority. Their instinct was to be good boys and not to interfere with the business. It was left to editors to cause the trouble. But I think, in fairness to Argus managements, there were some brave managers. I mean Slater and Miller were principled men who stood fairly sternly against apartheid. They understood what the political role of a newspaper was. And they supported editors and let editors get on with the job. And I don't know any editors who did not get on with that job. But I must say managers were not political animals, generally."
Andrew Drysdale, retired editor of The Argus, gives this impression of the company's stance: "Now if the suggestion is that we were party in any way to the apartheid structures or the dictates of the National Party or sympathetic to the National Party in any way, I would refute that in the strongest terms. In fact, it would be a despicable accusation. Not only would it be despicable, it would be totally untrue. I know of not a single Argus/Independent newspaper which had to contend with the tyranny of apartheid - and I use the word tyranny advisedly, because it was a tyranny - not a single title that I am aware of supported the National Party on a single issue that purported to strengthen apartheid or the violation of human rights in any shape or form. I think we were all committed to quite the reverse. In fact, none of us would have been appointed to editorial chairs had we held views that were not contrary to the views of apartheid.
"It is worth recording the mission statement of the Argus Company, which is in black and white what the Argus Company stood for. Apart from the desire to make reasonable profits, I think in the broader context the mission statement recorded that 'we should try to place South Africa's advancement and wellbeing before all else. To this end, to adhere to independent, honest and responsible standards that do not pander to personal or sectional interests, but are concerned solely with the public interest. To further the cause of racial co-operation and to pursue a balanced policy calculated to enhance the welfare and progress of all sections of the population. Aim to avoid discrimination against any members of the public or members of the Argus Company staff on the grounds of race, colour, creed or sex, and to help staff who were disadvantaged by observing the company's code of employment practice.
"Well, elements of that kind I would suggest fly in the face of any view that we consorted with the apostles of apartheid. So I think that, if one examines one's own role in these things over a long period of time - over the decades - we strove as human beings and as journalists and as editors to do the right thing by all the people of this country. And finally the company will be judged by the record.
"The record lies within the bound volumes of our newspapers. The content of those newspapers, the reporting of events based on what we knew at the time and philosophically in terms of what we wrote in our editorials. What it was we believed was right for the country and so on. So I think the record must speak for itself and I don't think an apology is needed and I would not apologise for the efforts we put in under conditions of great travail, of enormous pressures, of great threats and anxiety and anguish, which we all experienced personally, and that was also the hardships endured by very brave staff throughout the country, brave and very young people who were exposed to great danger, not only from the state but from opponents of the state. Life-threatening situations many times. I think that the courage of our journalists, far from being called in question, ought to be commended, saluted."
Profits, readers, advertisers
The fact that at all times during the period reviewed here the company was run as a profit-orientated business meant that commercial considerations of what was possible economically coloured many judgements of executives, both in management and editorial, when considering tricky politically sensitive issues, where aggressive journalism in the cause of justice and freedom could be threatened by government action against the press.
The question often raised in editors' minds was: "How far do we dare to go?" rather than simply deciding to publish something because it was news.
The needs of the newspapers' main customers - its readers and its advertisers - played a significant role in the marketing of the group's newspapers and required that it stay substantially in touch, and not out of sympathy, with those customers, but not to the point of being dictated to by them, being intimidated by them or meekly bowing to every pressure, because the imperative to report the news of the day - whether good or bad - remained throughout.
It was common knowledge within the company that the rival Rand Daily Mail had been closed not only because of management failings but also because it had lost touch with its advertisers.
Its readership had become increasingly black, but that rise in black readership was not underpinned by advertising needed by those readers.
Traditional advertisers (especially of upmarket goods) found response to their advertisements falling off, which discouraged them from continuing to advertise through that medium.
What happened to the Rand Daily Mail was a warning to all other newspapers in the commercial press, including all the papers in the Argus Group.
Retired Daily News editor Michael Green spoke of editors' awareness of these considerations: "Nobody from head office ever said: 'Please be careful you understand the risks, we've got a valuable property etc.' To be fair, you knew this. When you got appointed, you knew what your responsibilities were. They didn't have to say to you: 'Don't go mad, Don't make the newspaper bankrupt, don't drop the circulation by half. Don't get it closed down and don't get yourself into jail. These are elementary kind of things."
Another former editor, however, put an important additional editorial perspective to this subject. He was asked whether he thought it was sometimes necessary to push publication of the news of the day regardless of whether this would damage the commercial side of the business. He replied: "Yes. I think we were given that right, we were given that duty. That was our role. Our role was spelt out. The manager and the editor were equally responsible for the fate of the newspaper. The editor was directly in charge of the content, the editorial policy and everything else. And the manager was in charge of the commercial concerns of the paper, and of course there were many examples of that, telling the biggest advertiser in your paper to go and jump in the lake, to the horror of management. Those things happened. So we perceived it, I certainly did, as my duty to ignore the commercial consequences of most of the political and other kind of reporting. I mean some of our bigger pressures were not political. They were commercial."
He was asked whether he had experienced direct commercial pressure, not through management. "Yes. It happens now. Rupert says he is going to withdraw his ads. We had Checkers, they said they were going to take R5-million worth of advertising away. I said: 'You do that. We would love to report it. Would you like to put that in writing or shall I just quote you?' He said: 'No, no, I'm not saying that.' We got direct pressure quite often."
South Africa lived in a straitjacket of laws designed to force society to conform with the separation of races as far as possible.While black workers were allowed into industrialised areas, this was true only if they could find work within 72 hours. They could join trade unions, but the unions were not recognised (until the 1970s) so had little economic clout in bargaining with managements. The townships were dormitories for workers, out of bounds to everyone else. Education was separated by race, so too were hospitals, sport, public transport, hotels, restaurants, toilets. All this was enforced by officers of the law.
The Argus Group was on the white side of these official racial barricades. Its access to news across the barricades was limited, often, to official communiques and the complaints of objectors who came to the papers with their troubles.
Life on the other side of the official barricades was not very accessible, and much of it was not covered well because of the obstacles placed in newspapers' way.
Jon Hobday, Saturday Argus and Sunday Argus editor, points to one of the problems: "We should perhaps have recruited, done the process of getting more people of colour into our newsrooms earlier. The fact is I can recall recruitment beginning in the early 1970s, generally in association to boosting soccer coverage. But you must remember black reporters couldn't go anywhere. This was still apartheid. You could hire a black reporter, but you couldn't send him to court. You could send him to a soccer match, but you couldn't send him to court, because the magistrate would throw him out. So there were practical problems."
And those problems extended beyond the courts to many, perhaps most, activities affecting public life - the territory covered by newspapers.
Ian Wyllie, retired editor of the Sunday Tribune, recalls a clash with the Administrator of Natal of the day: "Stoffel Botha phoned me up (we were investigating allegations of fraud against him) and said: "I am the Administrator of this province and you send an Indian reporter to me." I said: "I sent a reporter to you." He said: "But he is an Indian reporter." I said: "That's not relevant". He said: "What do you mean, it's not relevant? I am the Administrator." He was doubly aggravated, not only that we had got onto this very embarrassing fact about him (he actually settled with the insurance company), but the outrage of this man, because we used an Indian reporter. It was worse to face an Indian than to have to face the questions."
Besides laws relating to racial segregation, there were numerous other laws making it difficult for newspapers to report what was going on in the country, and in relation to the country, without relying on official sources either for permission to publish or for information (very often with the right to publish the other side denied).
The laws included limitations on reporting on police activities, Defence Force activities, atomic energy matters, oil purchase and transportation details, national key points, prison conditions, pre-trial detention of prisoners and their appearances at court, even trade figures.
It was said that there were close to 100 acts on the statute book, apart from measures normally inhibiting the media in a Western democratic state (such as the laws of libel), that interfered with media rights to inform the public.
Harassment of journalists
Reporters who ventured into covering the activities of people and movements unpopular with the authorities were subjected to continual harassment. Daily News editor Dennis Pather recalls: "Blacks courted more police attention than white journalists. It was a fact of life. Black journalists were more prone to arrest, house arrest or confiscation of passport or restrictions in travel than most of the white journalists."
He was asked whether it was because of his colour or his activities, and replied: "I think it was a bit of both. More because, especially the special branch, read our by-lines and saw the kind of stories that you tackled. It was more the reporters who reported on politics, on the inequalities of that particular era who were targeted for special attention. I would go and attend a meeting and on my way back it was not unusual to be followed by plainclothes policemen and then be waved down off the road, have all the things confiscated from my car, my notes, whatever I had picked up from the meeting, and then they would help themselves to it, only because they didn't have access to the meeting.It was an easy way of harassing journalists and taking away their notebooks and copies of reports and so on for their own information. There was nothing I could do about it. That happened at least half a dozen times.
"And then also, I was then secretary of Mwasa (Media Workers' Association of South Africa) in Natal, and on more than one occasion I was aroused in the early hours of the morning and had the house searched. This was especially so when the previous group to Mwasa was the Union of Black Journalists, which was banned on October 19 1977. The police had also visited the offices of the Daily News and went through our desks and took whatever they wanted."
Sowetan editor-in-chief Aggrey Klaaste recalls what was behind the government decision to close The World newspaper in 1977: "Jimmy Kruger was the Minister of Justice and he was a nasty guy. And Percy (Qoboza, editor of The World) had massive fights with him all the way. You remember, too, Steve Biko was killed. There was a big staff, and we were all angry. And Bophuthatswana got its independence and we were also against that, you know. And then the thing which probably climaxed it all was that we kind of formed the Committee of Ten in the office of The World. We were kind of responsible." (The Committee of Ten was an advisory group of prominent Soweto residents who tried to assist in the running of the township after the Soweto riots)
Klaaste also spoke of the time the police wanted him to give evidence against an activist: "Then of course the cops used to come into the office. I almost got into very serious trouble when Mkwanazi (who went to Robben Island) was arrested, because they wanted me to give evidence. This is the time I actually ran, I ran for it. I went to Harvard on the Nieman thing. I was actually escaping the clutches of the police.
"They wanted me to go and talk about this young man, and it was touch and go, because I could have done so. I thought there was no reason to arrest him. I thought he was just being a stupid fool and I was going to say that.
"He had helped some people to escape across the border or something."
Question: And you wouldn't have been in a position to give evidence. You would have said: "I won't give evidence."?
"Exactly. That was my problem. I had a very serious debate with myself. I could go there and tell them that this guy is not a revolutionary at all, but that wouldn't help my credibility. Anyway, even if I went and spoke up for him ... I literally bolted. When I came back, he had been sentenced, to 10 years. Can you imagine? I would have been in such a mess. I would have been in a terrible mess. I would have been seen as part of getting him that 10 years. Other than that, cops used to come in to check on stories we wrote. I mean it was normal."
Question - It was a kind of intimidation? - "Absolutely.
All the time.
"Question - Did they just walk in? Or did they make appointments? - "No they just walked in.
"There are many, many more examples of harassment that can be given, for example, editors and their reporters threatened with prosecution under Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act.
Harvey Tyson, whose book "Editors under Fire" makes up a far more comprehensive account of newspapers' tussles with the apartheid government than this document, wrote: "As an editor of a newspaper, I must confess the '205' process certainly frightened me. It gives police the power to demand that a person appear before a magistrate, in secret if necessary and without legal representation, and reveal under oath his or her sources of information. Ostensibly it is legislation aimed at ensuring that citizens do their duty in furnishing the police with all information needed to prosecute a crime ... in South Africa it was used for other purposes as well. It could frighten witnesses into perjuring themselves. It turned people into informers. Most of all, it was used against journalists. If reporters went to interview certain people, the police would want to know what was said at the meeting. They wanted press photographers' pictures as evidence against protesters. They wanted, especially, our sources of information. The '205' became a sinister weapon, not only in hindering accurate reporting - but in preventing the press from investigating allegations against the police.
"In a period of a fortnight in 1984, three editors in the Cape, Andrew Drysdale of The Argus, Tony Heard of the Cape Times and Willem Beukes of Die Burger were all summoned to 'talk - or else'. So were nine Transvaal reporters of the Rand Daily Mail, The Star and the Sunday Express in that same fortnight."
Tyson also mentions the severe effects of Clause 27 (b) of the Police Act. Witnesses threatened by police, denied their stories, but confirmed the stories to The Star, because they were faced with being forced to give evidence under Section 27 (b) "Chris More summed up the dilemma of black journalists: 'Our fate may as well be written today, the "necklace" (burning tyre around the neck) or "three cents" (a petrol bomb) is what we - and our entire families - can expect if we provide statements to the police. The option we have, in fact, is no option. If we give statements, we go all the way to court and give evidence - then the community will exercise its retribution. If we refuse to make statements, we go to court and then to jail.'"
Tyson records also how police used non-co-operation as a pressure on the paper: At the beginning of 1977, the head of the security police, Mike Geldenhuys, said he was breaking off relations with The Star.
The Star faced an almost total information embargo. The consequence was to force reporters to rely on unofficial sources. From these cases, the NPU liaison committee compiled a case that led to changes in the police/press agreement, which Tyson says 'helped not at all'.
The Commissioner of Police, General Prinsloo, announced a total boycott of The Star, because an editorial Tyson wrote suggested police had too much power.
Former Sowetan editor Joe Latakgomo tells of another form of harassment that was quite common: "Sometimes we got telephone calls, people telling us what was happening. But we knew our telephones were being bugged. If we got a call like that and published it, it could be somebody sitting in security headquarters giving the impression he was from Tanzania or Lusaka, giving you disinformation and you would end up publishing what would eventually be untrue information and they would prove that you published false information and therefore discredit you forever. So we were very careful about that. Therefore it inhibited us in terms of what we could publish. Of course, there was also the danger that once somebody called you, I don't know the number of times that, while you were talking to a contact, somebody would interrupt and in a very famous kind of way would say: "Julle praat maar kak, man."
Question - This was the cops listening in?
- "Yes. He would lose it and probably suddenly regret having done this. I don't know how many people have had that kind of experience, and I bet you it will be hundreds of people. It was either arrogance about it or they were particularly dumb."
Question - Or were they just trying to tell you your conversations were being listened to? A hint?
- "Yes. So that was the kind of approach."
Question - You and your staff were you regarded as a whole bunch of activists rather than a whole bunch of journalists?
- "Absolutely. Some people were more of targets because of their political activism."
Former Sunday Tribune editor Ian Wyllie tells of one incident of harassment: "We had, believe it or not, run a supplement on the opening of Richards Bay harbour. Among other things we had got an aerial picture of Richards Bay from the Richards Bay Publicity Association, which we used on the front of the supplement, an aerial of the harbour area. I got a telephone call from Natal Command 'advising you we are taking action against you under the Key Points Act on grounds you have published a photograph.' I said: 'It sounds quite serious.' He read me the section. He was just purring. I said: 'It is going to be very interesting, colonel. We'll see how we go on this.' He said: 'This picture shows that this key point isn't adequately secured. We'll make a lot of this.' I rang off.
"As I put the phone down, in walked my secretary, Joan Puttock, with a telephone directory for the North Coast. I picked it up and it had a beautiful front cover of exactly the same picture. I asked her to get me Natal Command. I asked to speak to the colonel I had just spoken to. I said: 'This is Ian Wyllie here. You will be interested to know I have just got the Natal telephone directory for the North Coast and I am happy to say that I shall be comfortable sharing the dock with Louis Rive, the Postmaster General.' He said: 'What do you mean?' I said: 'Well, have you seen the new Natal North Coast telephone directory?' - 'No.' I said: 'Well it's got exactly the same picture on it.' He said: 'Ah. Christ.' I never heard another word."
This incident serves to show that harassment of newspapers was a deliberate tactic of the authorities, in this case frustrated by the fact that it would have meant having to prosecute a government official as well.
Harassment of journalists, however, was not only a phenomenon of the apartheid authorities.
There was, especially when the campaign was in progress to make the townships ungovernable, in the second half of the 1980s, considerable pressure on black journalists to conform to the wishes of those organising the liberation struggle.
Covering atrocities like necklacings, the activities of the Winnie Mandela soccer club, burning of schools and looting of shops and other such matters were affected both by this form of intimidation and by black journalists' putting commitment to the cause above objective news-gathering.
The Star was visited by a delegation from a particular political pressure group in Soweto and ordered not to send a certain reporter to any more of its meetings.
When the group was told The Star made its own decisions on who it sent to meetings, the group said they would then not take responsibility for the safety of the reporter if he was sent again.
Though the delegation denied this was a threat, it was taken as a threat and a way of intimidating the newspaper into reporting according to that group's wishes.
During these township troubles, also, the newspaper had to deviate from its normal journalistic practice of identifying its sources wherever possible (a practice aimed at giving maximum credibility to reports).
Sources would no longer speak to the newspaper if they were to be identified, because they didn't wish to be seen as part of a revolutionary movement or were fearful of police action against them.
Journalists often deliberately did not ask the name of their sources, so the police would be unable to extract names from them through "205" prosecutions.
The system of not identifying sources had a major weakness in that it could be abused by partisan journalists for presentation of propaganda as news, without the necessary checks and balances being in position to prevent that sort of reporting.
e) political developments
The way the struggle against apartheid escalated into violence in public places raised the emotional climate immensely, and newspapers were not immune from these emotions.
Most of the company's newspapers were on the white side of the political divide, and though anti-apartheid in policy and philosophy, were nevertheless targeted with white society by liberation struggle strategies.
The result was, for a long time, increasing hostility also within the newspapers to these strategies.
Actions which had the most negative effect were bombs placed in public places like streets, shopping centres and fast-food outlets, with land mines on country roads being equally strongly condemned as acts of cowardly terrorism.
But other measures also raised anger in white society - the sport boycott, sabotage of electricity supplies, the arms boycott, the oil boycott, the disinvestment campaign, boycotts against shops in certain towns etc.
While these were all reported on, and the company's culture required that they be reported on factually and as objectively as possible, including getting the views of "the other side", there is no doubt that the mood among most white newspaper staffs was heavily against the liberation struggle methods.
The sister of a member of the printing staff of the Pretoria News was killed by the Church Street bomb in 1983, which added considerably to emotional reaction within that newspaper.
Staff in the printing works and in the commercial departments were overwhelmingly hostile to these strategies, but even in the journalist newsrooms and sub-editors' rooms (where the strategies were understood and where the culture of even-handedness was believed in individually as a treasured principle to a greater extent than in other departments) there was disgust and vehement disagreement expressed.
I can myself remember reporting a meeting of Prime Minister John Vorster in the vast hall at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein during the late 1970s, where a journalist colleague (from The Friend, a sister Argus Company publication sharing the company's liberal norms) got so inspired by the Prime Minister's defiant rhetoric that he jumped to his feet shouting ecstatic applause as the Nationalist audience gave Vorster a standing ovation.
This incident seriously embarrassed the whole press corps attending the meeting, because it had long been a practice among all journalists to show their independence by avoiding participatory involvement in public meetings.
Nevertheless, it showed something of the mood among many whites at the time, a mood shared to some extent by whites on newspaper staffs.
This mood must have played some part in the fact that newspapers in the group were generally lacking in good contacts among the liberation movements.
Activists were often seen as "the enemy" (in fact, some members of staff were called up for conscription duty to fight against the liberation forces), and they in turn must have regarded reporters from these mainstream newspapers as unsympathetic to their cause and therefore not to be entrusted with sensitive information.
By the same token, black journalists who were becoming increasingly common in newsrooms of the company, were staunchly supportive of liberation struggle strategies, and many of the journalists were activists in that cause.
This political polarisation within newsrooms actually caused very little overt friction between staff members.
In spite of personal emotions, there was a mutual understanding of the reasons for the different emotions involved.
But, where white journalists lacked enthusiasm for many liberation struggle strategies and actions, and suffered from too few contacts, the reverse was the case with black journalists. They were, perhaps through the circumstances within the townships, even more emotionally partisan than their white counterparts on the other side. Many of them were actually involved actively in the struggle (whereas most white journalists were consciously non-participants on any side). Some would report only the atrocities of the police, not the atrocities against the police. Some would use activist contacts, but ignored police as news sources.
Sowetan editor Aggrey Klaaste recalls the mood among black journalists: "In the 1970s the anger became very, very bad. The anger from the people."
Question - And you were affected by it yourself?
- "Of course, I mean I lived there. I lived with it. In 1976 I was doing a course at The Star and I just heard the news (of the Soweto riots), that this place was on fire. We all left whatever we were doing and rushed into Soweto. The place was literally on fire. So we also joined and burnt down ... I mean it was just like madness. Like the French Revolution. Just burning down halls and stuff. For days on end it happened."
f) staff failings
Although alignment of political views was to a minor extent a factor in the approach to news coverage among journalists, perhaps the most significant internal factor inhibiting the Argus Company newspapers from telling the full story of what was going on in South Africa (across all racial groups) - certainly in the years leading up to the Soweto riots in 1976, and in spite of the earlier warning signs from Sharpeville and the sabotage campaigns of the initial armed struggle - was an inherited lack of consciousness by whites of the full plight of blacks under apartheid and a certain lack of interest on their part in finding out.
There was also a lack of commercial incentive to pursue certain black interest subjects, because there was no advertising to back up the editorial space for such stories, and low black readership to justify the placing of such stories.
While government measures to enforce apartheid were fairly fully reported, the drastic extent of the effect of these measures on the daily lives of blacks was not vigorously pursued.
Instead, considerable effort was devoted to detailed reporting of the activities and rivalries of the white community.
This was done at the expense of involving themselves as fully as they might in the whole cross-racial scene.
White politics (hingeing as it did on what the white approach should be to political rights for different population groups) was itself for a long time a cause of considerable tension and emotional division, only later giving way to the realisation that it was a sideshow compared with the need to deal and negotiate directly with the majority population of the country in a transfer of power to a full democracy.
While that was the generalised failing of white staffs, black staff members were employed very late in the day (except on the black newspapers) and were themselves seriously affected by being the victims of oppressive apartheid policies.
It was only later that they emerged from the minor role of reporting sport and crime in their own communities to becoming advocacy journalists against apartheid.
They then went from incomplete involvement in the game of independent, arms-length reporting, to enthusiastic participation in full-involvement advocacy journalism for the liberation cause.
Latakgomo says: "I think we saw political development going through various stages. There was that political lull after Sharpeville, and newspapers like The World were literally thriving on sports, women and wine coverage ... not political coverage at all. It was fairly neutral kind of coverage. Whether that was by design or because of the climate of the time, I don't know."
Interviewer's comment - The Nationalist government was very much on top at that time.
- "Yes and there was that euphoria that they had overcome. If you remember, there was capital flight after Sharpeveille. Then things started getting better towards the end of the 1960s, even when Afrikaans writers were beginning to question things. You will remember the Sestigers. They were beginning to question things, question the policies of apartheid, question the government. There wasn't the same kind of keenness to push it on the black side, because resistance had been crushed, literally, post-Sharpeville, so there wasn't much happening on the news front then, but I think there was a new wave of black consciousness following the American experience, people like Steve Biko beginning to emerge at the black universities. Students were beginning to assert themselves as people.
"There were major strikes around 1973. The biggest one was at Frame in Natal. It was fairly interesting, because there was a feeling ... there was a gap in soccer because of some administrative problems in the soccer world. So there wasn't any soccer activity. People were beginning to say the reason you are having these strikes is because there is no soccer. Some publications were actually punting that view, when in fact people were legitimately beginning to question whether they were being treated fairly."
Klaaste remembers it this way: "The action started in 1974. If you remember The World was a kind of a bit of a rag in those days, quite frankly. I don't think we made any money. Percy Qoboza was the editor. I am talking about the times from the independence of Mozambique in 1974. The black journalists began to assume a position of relatively more importance than heretofore. I mean in the past we used to do a lot of crime and sports and stuff like that, but this time we were thrust into the political milieu, also because of guys like Steve Biko coming to the fore and all the black consciousness things. Then we formed the Union of Black Journalists, if you remember, which was a time when you were black before you were a journalist. Percy's editorship was very interesting because of the bunch of interesting periods, because after 1974 came 1976, which was the Soweto thing. And then of course the black journalists came..."
To a considerable extent, newspapers became victims of human rights abuses in their own right - a different range of violations compared with those in which activists were victims when being tortured and killed by the police, or innocent by-standers were when they were "killed in the cross-fire" during Defence Force cross-border raids or killed by "third-force" operations on board a commuter train, or when innocent by-standers were killed by liberationists' bombs, or when suspected police informers were burnt to death by "necklaces".
Newspapers and their staffs were victims of human rights abuses in that the media have a special place in a democratic society.
They are the fourth estate whose job it is to reflect events, to dig up the truth about bad government, maladministration, crimes, abuses.
And in that extremely important function, the media in South Africa were endlessly harried and obstructed by the Nationalist government from doing their job.
This took the form of hiding relevant public information from the media, actively obstructing the media in their efforts to get at the truth, harassing and intimidating journalists and newspapers in numerous ways, including the threat of prosecution, arresting and prosecuting individual journalists, detaining journalists without trial, torturing them while in detention, and closing down or suspending newspapers.
They suffered considerable harassment and intimidation also from activists in the liberation struggle who didn't want their excesses publicised or themselves identified as culprits.
Though a valiant fight was put up by sections of the press against these measures, there can be no doubt whatever that press freedom was seriously affected and seriously diminished - at times almost obliterated.
Tyson says in his book "Editors under Fire" that newspapers, in countering restrictions against them, were "winning minor battles but losing the war".
For a long time that was true, though other editors in the company have also pointed out that the war was eventually won.
a) arrests and prosecutions
The most infamous of examples of journalists being arrested occurred on October 19 1977, when editorial executives on the staff of The World were detained and held without trial in Modderbee Prison on the Reef. Klaaste was one of them. He recalls that he and editor Percy Qoboza were held.
He adds: "The others weren't detained that day, some of them were even detained before that, but quite a few other guys. In 1977 that day The World was banned, the government picked up a whole lot of people, over 100, you remember, the black leaders. We were there, and of course, although it was very unhappy, it also made us pretty well known, because of that."
They were detained for "six or seven months", as he recalls. "It was terrible. We thought we were going to be out in a couple of weeks."
Conditions were not too bad within the prison. "We were a group together. It wasn't too bad. We were not like Section 6 (of the Terrorism Act) detainees. We were not tortured or anything. We were just kept there. We didn't know why or for how long. By Christmas time, they started building things and we thought we were going to be there for years. It was very worrisome."
Question - Could your families visit you?
- "Yes they did. But getting a visit from the family was most traumatic, because when they leave, you all start weeping. It was really terrible." But, while that was the best known incident of arrest, there was another that sent ripples through white society in 1974.
Retired Daily News editor Michael Green remembers it well: "I was the deputy editor and (John) O'Malley (the editor) happened to be away that day. At the time of the Frelimo victory in Mozambique, a pro-Frelimo rally was organised, banned by the Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger, in terms of the Riotous Assemblies Act. We had a report submitted to me for approval to say that, in spite of the banning order, the meeting would go on. The meeting was scheduled at Currie's Fountain near residential parts of Durban. I knew the law did not allow us to advertise a banned meeting, nevertheless I felt it was essential to inform the people of Durban, in case of trouble or whatever, that the organisers intended to hold the meeting. So a very carefully phrased report, without giving the time, was published, saying the organisers intended to carry on with the meeting.
"The upshot was that O'Malley and I were arrested at a function we were attending that night, kept in a police station until the early hours of the morning, had to produce the original copy from the printing works. By some strange chance, we found the last printer there. We were prosecuted in terms of the Riotous Assemblies Act, were defended at great cost by Sydney Kentridge and, after a trial that lasted intermittently for three or four months, O'Malley was acquitted, because he wasn't in the office that day, and I was cautioned and discharged."
Besides the most publicised of arrests of journalists, there were numerous others. Klaaste says simply: "A lot of our guys got detained, really. It was like half the staff was detained at some time."
The case of The Star's reporter, Harry Mashabela, is worth recording from Tyson's book: "After the 1976 Soweto riots, he was on leave, but in the newsroom when the police came for him. They simply took him away. Somebody rushed into my office and told me 'they've got him under Section Six' (of the Terrorism Act). I telephoned the lawyers."
He went on to write: "Harry's troubles came immediately. He was assaulted even before he was officially admitted into custody. He was interrogated in the detectives' office about a pamphlet bomb exploded in distant Cape Town."
Then he quotes Mashabela telling what happened: " 'Where are the pamphlets?' 'What pamphlets, sir? I don't . . .' He slapped me on the side of the face and, as my spectacles flew off, followed with a stiff punch to the chest. And, as I staggered back, Morsdood, standing on the side, chopped me with a solid karate punch on the back of the neck. I folded up instantly."
Tyson records: "Harry's neck was dislocated and the injury was with him for years - almost as long as it took to try to get compensation from Minister of Justice Jimmy Kruger."
It is unnecessary in this overview to mention every case of arrest, detention or prosecution of journalists, but several of them are recorded in Tyson's book.
Besides the detentions without prosecution, there were the "205" cases, where prosecutions were most often threatened without materialising, there was the prosecution of former Star editor John Jordi under the Defence Act (the first such case), which eventually fizzled out with the charges dropped.
He had published a report that Defence Minister Frans Erasmus was in Lisbon and which repeated speculation that South Africa might be about to purchase frigates from Portugal.
And there was the prosecution and conviction of Star reporter Patrick Laurence in the 1970s under the Suppression of Communism Act.
He had, as a freelance contributor to the London Sunday paper, The Observer, interviewed the banned and restricted PAC leader Robert Sobukwe.
His report, which he posted surreptitiously to a colleague in The Star's London office, for on-passing to The Observer, was intercepted by the security police, providing the evidence for the prosecution.
Laurence was also more than once the subject of "205" prosecutions.
b) threats, abuse and intimidation
There is hardly an editor or political journalist who has not at some time during this apartheid period been pressured unduly, personally intimidated or seriously threatened either for what he/she had written or to coerce him/her into writing or publishing what was desired.
English press reporters covering Nationalist public meetings were regularly subjected to crowd pressure, and were often made the targets of audience derision by remarks from the platform speakers.
Black reporters in the township troubles of the 1980s were under heavy pressure from activists to report as they required, with very real threats of "necklacing" and burning of houses or harming families as the punishment for defiance.
This was in addition to the intimidation and arrests they experienced from the police.
Editors had numerous threatening telephone calls and letters. Wyllie remembers a National Intelligence Service operative, Martin Dolincek, making a pest of himself by just walking into the office at any time and trying to pal up to reporters. He remembers, too, the veiled threats of a man such as Duncan du Bois, later a right-wing Durban city councillor.
"He didn't actually threaten me, but he used to argue that I was putting myself into a position - rather like Buthelezi does - where it would be inevitable that the newspaper would burn down. Buthelezi says this kind of action will lead to..."
Question - It was supposed to intimidate?
- "It was designed to tell me to stop. But it didn't matter, because your judgement was from one story to the next. A lot of people don't understand that newspapers don't operate on a long-term kind of plan. We're dealing with the events of the day."
Klaaste, as reported above, mentioned the way the police often just walked into the Sowetan office, an obvious intimidation. In addition, the paper was caught in the middle of disputes and rivalries between black political groups. The Sowetan was subjected to boycott action, because - as Klaaste says - "we didn't support the formation of Cosatu. Then they picked up the feeling that we were more PAC, black consciousness, than ANC." So the Sowetan was punished with a boycott to persuade it to fall in line.
One former editor says he was the target of many threats.
"I had a drawerful. I took my telephone, my home phone, out of the book, because of filthy calls my wife had, threats. Yes, but I had a drawerful of death threats. You didn't take them very seriously. You really didn't. Some of them were Portuguese. I don't know what that was about, but the Portuguese were always going to kill you. There were lots. I just used to take them and stick them in a drawer. It wasn't a major worry. What do you take seriously? You look at them and say this one could be more serious than that one. You can tell the nutty ones. I don't see that as a major pressure. I see it as part of the job. Also in this country, which is emotionally extreme, so we got much more of it than most places in the world."
Drysdale recalls an incident while he was still editor of the Pretoria News in the 1970s: "At the time of the World Bowls Championship, the year Watson won, we got up to a story. In Atteridgeville, there was woman's bowling club that was formed, and the local authorities promised these people that they would lay a bowling green. Well, the bowling green never got beyond a kind of excavation. So we had a picture of all these women, black women in white bowling clothes, standing inside the excavation. We ran the story on the front page and we didn't make direct reference to the World Bowling Championships, which was at that time. I've got to tell you that night I had several threatening phone calls, of the kind that said: "We know where you live."
"And in fact it was very easy to know, because my number was listed, as was my address. 'We will get you, and we don't have to worry about getting you, we will get your family. How could you possibly draw attention to this thing while the World Bowls Championships were in progress?' That was not funny. Things like that happened over the years. During the emergencies, from white and black. I always kept my telephone listed, because I always believed people should have access to me, until later, after the threats became that heavy, I instructed the post office to remove my address. So my name was there and my phone number was there, but not my address. For myself I didn't worry unduly, but for my family I worried. The kids would pick up the phone and get these heavy threats and obscenities. We could do without that. It was mostly anonymous. That is how those sort of people work. It was the old story. I always considered myself to be a middle-of-the-road journalist. I insisted on balance as far as one was able to. We reported accurately and objectively without side, people could make up their own minds. I felt strongly about that. I still do. The trouble about being in the middle of the road is you get knocked down by traffic passing on both sides, so that is an uncomfortable place to be. Some people call it fence-sitting. Not quite."
Even in the 1990s, when the transition to democracy was in process, threats were common.
I can remember as editor of The Mercury, with a readership previously accustomed to fairly conservative commentary, having a rebellion from right-wing readers when I moved the policy of the paper to a liberal stance. Besides numerous abusive letters, I also received an anonymous call from a man who said "I know were you live. I know what car you drive. I know which routes you take. We will get you or your family."
As I believed the country was coming out of this era of intimidation, I did not have my telephone number removed from the directory, or my address, and the upshot of that was that I often received calls deep into the night from threatening and abusive callers.
One particular caller phoned repeatedly, well after midnight - at intervals of about 15 minutes (just time enough to go back to sleep) - and he kept up these calls two or three times a week for almost two months.
A bullet was also fired into my office, ricocheting off the window frame behind my desk and burying itself in the wall on the other side of the room. If I had been at my desk at that moment, it would have gone through my head. I never managed to establish whether this was a random attempt to intimidate me, or whether my office had by chance been hit by a stray bullet from a taxi war exchange of fire (which happened from time to time at a taxi rank about 100 metres away).
The Nationalist government, for almost all of the period under review, kept the press under constant threat of action being taken against it. The Press Commission sat for many years investigating the press, so that the editors of the time were kept in a constant state of having a Sword of Damocles dangled over their heads. When the commission's work was finished, and little action was taken, there was no cause for rejoicing, because the warnings continued.
Prime Minister John Vorster repeatedly warned the press to "put its house in order", and his Information Minister, Dr Connie Mulder, as often claimed he "put a high premium on press freedom, but ..."
The pressure was kept up in the 1980s by Dr Stoffel Botha, with threats of new press legislation, which was actually published but not enacted, providing for a register of journalists, but it was later withdrawn.
Over all the years, the government - apart from threats - took no legislative action against the press, but simply kept newspapers in constant fear of measures being taken.
When it came to action, the government used such acts as the Terrorism Act, the Criminal Procedure Act, the Defence Act, the Suppression of Communism Act, the Riotous Assemblies Act and, of course, a series of ever-tougher state of emergency regulations to force the critical press into toning down its coverage or commentary.
a) Press council
Faced with this constant rumble of intimidation against the industry as a whole, newspaper proprietors decided to take defensive action against state intervention - voluntary steps some would have called it, but steps actually taken under government duress in an attempt to diminish the likelihood of further restrictive press legislation.
The electronic media were in the monopoly hands of the government, and were used for heavy pro-government propaganda, so were unaffected by these threats.
The Newspaper Press Union set up a Press Board of Reference, later called the Press Council or the Media Council, to provide a body outside government control that could discipline the press for any misdemeanours that breached its press code.
The council did occasionally rap newspapers for breaches, but actually received few serious complaints over the years.
This led to pressure from the government to ensure it had more teeth, because the government remained dissatisfied with the tone of the press in relation to its policies.
One slight benefit that did eventuate for the press was that signatories to the Press Council were exempted from the controls contained in the Publications Control Act.
Among editorial staffs, the Press Council was not well received. Though it was accepted that it was better for the industry to regulate itself than that the government should do so, it was also felt that the industry was being forced under government pressure to do its dirty work for it.
I served on two Argus Group papers which were found guilty by the Press Council of breaches of the code, and in each case the editor concerned, though publishing the council's finding (as was required), also saw fit to write an editorial attacking the council's ruling.
The council itself had all the failings of the old South Africa, being in no way representative of the whole population or even of the newspaper reading public among its public representatives and being represented only by whites among its press representatives.
In latter years, editors from all groups became so dissatisfied with the council that they no longer wished to recognise it (even though obliged to do so by their managements).
It is now in the process of being replaced by an ombudsman and appeal committee.
The Press Council, though formed as a counter to Nationalist government pressure to contain anti-apartheid publicity, was itself an example of unconscious discrimination against blacks, and something the industry should be apologetic about.
b) Finding loopholes in the law, and breaking the law
The problem editors faced with so many laws affecting the press, and with the emergency regulations, was a non-acceptance of these laws, for being unfair and unjust. But the laws were there, and editors had to decide what to do about them.
One former editor said: "In hindsight it is very easy to say: 'We defy you.' It wasn't like that. I said more than once what a wonderful, tempting thing it would be to say: 'I defy you.' Whether management backed me or not, I would have had a major golden handshake, freedom and fame, and a guaranteed job elsewhere. It is very tempting. The trick was not to do that. The trick was to keep your newspaper going, so that you could get the messages out. That was our job and our function."
Natal Newspapers editor-in-chief Mostert van Schoor, who edited the Pretoria News during part of the emergency, said: "We tried to operate within the law, but often we sought legal counsel on how far to go on the interpretation of the law, and we became pretty expert at interpreting the law ourselves. There was a time during the state of emergency when we began avoiding taking legal opinion, because the lawyers were taking decisions on the law that were more conservative than we wanted to take, politically or editorially. We preferred our own interpretations, because we found their interpretations restrictive."
Question - You were prepared to take a greater risk?
- "We were prepared to take a greater risk than our lawyers felt should be taken. We were all cowed by the emergency regulations when they first came out. You sat with the emergency regulations on your desk, but we learnt how to get around them. We learnt what we could get away with and we learnt to interpret them, and that lawyers' interpretations were too restrictive. The sole purpose was to give as much information to the public as possible. We were fully aware of the fact there were many areas where we weren't getting sufficient information.
"There were times when we knew more than we could publish. It was a very uncomfortable feeling, but our guiding principle was to publish as much as we could without getting ourselves shut down."
Editor-in-chief of The Star, Peter Sullivan, who edited the Saturday Star while Harvey Tyson was editor-in-chief, said Tyson always looked for loopholes in the law, "all the time. He didn't necessarily put his life on the line, but he put his career and his newspaper on the line, almost daily. When I was there, we were breaking the law four times a day. Harvey said: 'Keep it at around four times a day and don't move it up to too many.' "
Sullivan also recounts how, when he was The Star's political correspondent, he and Helen Suzman MP conspired to get something published which parliamentary rules actually did not allow.
"Helen Suzman and I conspired against Parliament, and we were then accused by Parliament. We had this letter from Neil Aggett (who died in jail after being assaulted), and we weren't allowed to publish it. I said to her: 'Well, read it into the record. I'll publish it for you.' She said: 'They will scrap it from the record and they won't allow me to read it.' So I said: 'Well, don't say it is from Neil Aggett then. Say: "I have a letter from a prisoner" and then read the whole letter. And then at the end, you say: "The prisoner who wrote that letter was Neil Aggett."'
"Helen said she would do that, but they would then scrap it from the record. So I said: 'Helen, I will put it into the second edition of The Star.
It will be in the paper.' And, I mean, the way it happened...You could not have written it better. At the end of the speech ... 'I saw the man being beaten...' and she said the person was Neil Aggett. Up jumped the Nats and said: 'We object. That matter is sub judice.' Then in walked the messengers with copies of The Argus with the headline. It went to P W Botha. It was a speech she had finished making ten seconds before. I said clearly it now doesn't help to take it out of the records of Parliament. The Speaker started the next morning to say it grieved him to say the honourable member for Houghton, an honoured member of this establishment, 'appears to have conspired against the wishes of Parliament'. I think we did those kind of things every day."
One former editor said in an interview recently: "It would be very comfortable to dodge taxes because your taxes were paying for tanks. Again it comes to principles, which laws do you break? Once you have broken the law, where do you stand in terms of your own principles? I personally wrestled with that all my life, but I never quite solved it. I started off not breaking any law and in the end I openly declared we were breaking the law. I went from one thing to another. The principle kind of decays. But it is still a major jump, to say I will break laws, because I disagree with them. I'm saying I paid my taxes. I obeyed the laws."
Question - So you didn't break the law unless there was a point to breaking the law?
- "Yes. I could have broken the apartheid laws, but it didn't seem of much effect to me."
Green says: "Without directly breaking the law, which might have led to prosecutions, one would try - as far as I was concerned - to push the law as far as possible to give those people some right of expression and to look after their interests.
"The kind of thing I'm thinking of, I can't give you the exact date but it would probably have been in the early 1980s, our reporters in Durban had information about gross police abuses in Umlazi township, no, Lamontville township. The police had raided various people, kicked their doors in, knocked them around, forced their way into their houses in the middle of the night and so forth looking for political suspects, and a report was compiled that I was satisfied was accurate. The police had got wind of the fact that our reporters had interested themselves, and our police reporter, Greg Dardagan, came to me to say the police had told him if the Daily News uses this, the police will use the Police Act. If you publish this, it will be a contravention. You have to refer it to the police, obviously, and the police will simply deny it. I was faced there with a dilemma. What I did, after a certain amount of thought, was to get in touch with Harry Pitman, a Progressive MP, and we got him to raise the full document in Parliament the next day, which we could then report. So furious was the government, I'm not sure who the minister was at the time, that they threatened to extend the Police Act to statements made in Parliament. That didn't go very far. But I merely cite that as an example of the lengths one went to try to circumvent the law, to break down the laws that prohibited publication.
"If I might cite another one, a man who is now quite an important ANC member of Parliament and chairman of committees, Pravin Gordhan, was detained without trial. This was probably in the late 1980s. We had wind that, after he had been kept in solitary confinement for several weeks, he had been taken to a hospital in Durban for psychiatric treatment suffering from long periods of solitary confinement, and we checked this out. In fact, two of our reporters who knew him saw him through the hospital window and waved. He waved back. We knew he was there. We approached the local police officer, couldn't make any headway, nothing was to be reported about this, but we informed Mrs Gordhan, who knew nothing about this. With our help, she got to the head of security police in Natal and he said yes, her husband was in hospital, wasn't seriously ill and she couldn't see him. And she told us this and we put it in the paper. We had a regulation visit from two senior officers and a captain of the security police saying they were investigating a charge against us. And I said: 'This information is confirmed by your own chief of security police.' 'Ah,' he said, 'did he confirm it to you?' Well, eventually that threatened prosecution was dropped. It was part of police harassment. It was another example of the lengths which newspapers went to try to protect the interests of people who were not in a position to do so themselves. It hasn't stopped Mr Gordhan, I may say, from criticising us quite severely from Parliament."
Tyson, in his book "Editors under Fire", recalls how The Star first reported that South African troops were fighting in Angola: "On August 9 1975 SA forces invaded Angola at Ruacana. Government delayed confirmation of the invasion. On August 11, Defence Minister P W Botha banned reports of military movements on the Angolan border. The first SA soldier killed had a death notice in the Rand Daily Mail put on front page just below an SADF denial that SA soldiers were at war in Angola.
"Then on September 9, P W Botha sent a confidential message to editors confirming the incursion into Angola. It had been withheld, because of negotiations with the Portuguese. However, the press had already side-stepped the Defence and Official Secrets Acts ban by slipping through a technical loophole. The BBC and overseas media, unable to confirm official SA involvement, reported 'SA elements' and 'SA mercenaries' in armoured convoys deep in Angola. These reports made front page lead reports in some papers, and Botha could do nothing about them."
Almost all Argus Group editors at that time whom I interviewed have admitted trying to go as far as they could to tell the public what was happening, in spite of the restrictive laws. Some went considerably further than others in actively seeking loopholes in the law, and in actually breaching the law.
Tyson, in his book, put the problem in context: "But during those 40-odd years we operated on continually shifting sands. Some newspaper people, even in the mainstream press, responded by turning to advocacy journalism to promote the anti-apartheid cause. At the other end of the scale, some 'old-fashioned' editors who aspired to balance and objectivity became the easiest to manipulate. Some editors never understood that the 'rules' were continually changing.
"After 1985, for instance, one of the 'new rules' was: 'Never ask a censor for a ruling. Never ask even your own lawyer for a legal guideline on a restricting measure.
"The reason is that, if you ask that silly question, you will receive a restricting answer. Yet, even towards the end, some newspapers were still relying on 'official' news, and 'official' checks on news, which had been gathered at considerable risk by other newspapers. The 'unofficial' - and of necessity unsourced - news would be put to a government spokesman, who would not merely deny the report, but condemn it and produce some fiction of his own. In following this safe and 'responsible' course, a number of journalists failed dismally to reflect reality - or at least that portion of reality which it was possible by devious means to publish."
My experience recently, in interviewing editors of those days, was that all admitted they could possibly have gone further than they did in testing the limits of what they could get away with. The great problem was that they were dealing with an invisible line, so they did not know what would be regarded by the authorities as overstepping the mark to the point of facing a prosecution.
To the extent that editors may have failed to push these news-publishing risks to the absolute limit, they could be said to have failed the South African public in an area often covering human rights.
It was certainly not a failure by intention, quite the opposite, but there were areas of failure in this area of news coverage.
In the earlier years before the 1980s emergency, there was less searching through regulations and laws with the intention of finding ways to breach them, so the degree of omission was greater earlier in those apartheid years than it was later.
For instance, it was believed for many years that the press was not able to quote prisoners or publish their pictures. This was based on the understanding that it was unjust to prisoners for the press to keep harping on their previous crimes while they were still serving their sentences. A law was actually interpreted as preventing the press from such reporting or from publication of pictures.
But later on, when the campaign was on for the release of Nelson Mandela, it was suddenly discovered that he could be quoted from jail and the press could even publish his picture. There was a great scramble to try to find pictures of him, because press library files generally didn't have any from so long before.
Similarly, it was thought that the press could not publish ANC statements, because it was a banned organisation and because its main spokesmen were listed banned persons. Only later was it discovered that, though the organisation was banned, its statements were not, provided they were not issued by a banned person. The press then took to publishing ANC statements without attribution to spokesmen (so avoiding the need to establish whether the spokesman was banned or not), and the government took no action.
It is in this area, of not being aware just how far the press could go, and of not taking the trouble to explore these opportunities until news coverage very close to base was seriously impeded by the emergency regulations, that the press, including Argus company newspapers, omitted news coverage affecting many human rights issues.
I believe it is of key significance in considering this report to take note of the main two vantage points from which the issue of human rights abuses under apartheid is being viewed from within Independent Newspapers and in press circles.
So fundamental is the division of opinion based on these separate agendas that it can colour the whole field of assessing arguments presented, from both sides, in this report.
Unfortunately, there is little common ground between them in the handling of apartheid issues (though the liberals' view may be quite widely accepted by black journalists under a full democracy), resulting in a so-far unbridged chasm between the two schools of thought when looking back at many of the fraught issues of those times.
The differences can be summarised briefly as the liberals' view versus the liberationists' view. The liberals' view is held generally by white editors and many of their white staff. The liberationists' view is held generally by black journalists, so it has the added disadvantage of representing a racial split in the company.
a) The Liberals' View
In terms of this outlook, the newspaper's role is seen as requiring journalists to seek maximum objectivity in news coverage, to seek to reflect balance between different viewpoints, to eliminate where possible allowing personal feelings to place a bias on coverage given, and to be fair to every point of view, even while the newspaper in its editorials might take a strong stand on one side or another.
One white editor after another expressed complete commitment to these principles. They felt this justified them in sending reporters on assignments with government spokesmen, even when the purpose of the assignment might have been to generate propaganda for apartheid. This was done as part of representing one side of the unfolding drama of apartheid, and suggestions that these practices could be seen as collusion with apartheid, or with the perpetration of human rights violations, were firmly rejected.
Here is a sample of how editors expressed this approach:
Green: "The role we saw ourselves in was to try to print the truth and as much of the truth as was possible and in particular to try to protect the people who were rendered to some degree defenceless by the laws of the time."
A former editor of the Pretoria News and earlier of the Argus Africa News Service (who does not wish his name to be recorded here): "The purpose of a newspaper is to survive to inform. If it casts aside the fundamental principle of objective journalism and is seen to be one-sided, it would lose its readership base and its revenue and die. This is what happened when the Rand Dail Mail's ordinary news pages became so heavily political and soaked with subjectivity it lost its base. It is a fact that most readers of any racial or political coloration respect a medium which is factual, honest and comprehensive irrespective of its political stance as stated in its editorials. Proof of this is the wide spectrums of readership of such disparate papers as the Mail and Guardian and The Citizen."
Tyson, in his book, said: "When the Rand Daily Mail folded, Allister Sparks said of The Star: 'It is desperately trying to remain a dull neutral and not assume the leading role of the Rand Daily Mail.' Our own view was more prosaic. The Mail had failed for managerial reasons, but it had also failed in its own editorial mission - its message was reaching only the converted. The Star cherished its image of "grey" dependability, authority and credibility. The dispassionate reporting of both sides of every issue is the culture, as well as the strength, of a dominant mainstream newspaper. We were desperately trying to be an effective agent of change.
"Many times readers thought The Star was losing its balance and was 'giving too much exposure to allegations against the police and to the people with grievances'. My fear is not that The Star will be unable to maintain a reasonable balance in the future, but that our society itself will become so unbalanced as to make the middle of the road irrelevant."
Van Schoor: "Africa has not been kind to its liberals. But liberals and liberal democratics have nonetheless played a critical role in keeping alive the concepts of freedom of speech and democracy, human rights and equality before the law... I also believe we played a pivotal role in keeping alive in the public mind concepts that the massive machinery of government repression and propaganda were trying to suppress. I refer to the democratic liberal principles of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, human rights and equality before the law."
Drysdale: "The argument that if you are not for a political party, then you are against it, is not true. What it does show is that you wish to be independent. The core of my thinking as a journalist was that I did not want to belong to a party. I did not want to be seen on the platforms of any political party. And there were many journalists black and white who did. There are many journalists black and white who identify with political organisations. That is their right. I have no quarrel with that. I am saying those of us who believe that we should stand independently, and independent of political movements, serve the interests of the readers better, because what happens when the party goes down the tubes, then the journalists abandon the cause. Ah, that's great. What kind of morality is that? That is infamous. That's not morality. What we are talking about for independent, accurate journalism is actually to stand aside from political interests, vested interests. That is the sort of approach we certainly tried to take. That is not to say that at various elections and referendums, when they came to the fore as political issues, that we did not declare for political parties. But we were not party-politically affiliated on a day-to-day basis, as were some of the Nationalist papers. Most of them were party organs. That could not be said of most English language newspapers."
Hobday: "What should be understood about Argus newspapers was that even in these extraordinary circumstances, unreal abnormal circumstances, we tried to stick to the principles of newspapering in which we were founded. The principles were essentially summed up in the word objectivity, balance, accuracy, fair, free flow of information and even through those bad years, it is fair to say we tried our best to maintain balance and to get both sides of the story. It caused a clash. We knew it in our own newspapers. You would get reporters, not necessarily only black reporters, but white reporters as well, who saw their role in a militant and one-dimensional function. They were there to promote one angle, totally anti-government, a totally liberationist role. This is not how we were trained. Those principles of professional journalism were part of the mix of our approach we adopted. It was the culture of our profession at the time. It clashed with the liberationist's culture, which said you are a militant journalist, you were their propagandist. We eschewed propaganda. We were not propagandists. We were reporters. That was the fundamental difference. It did lead to a clash. And to disappointments among reporters who were trying to present propaganda.
"We said: 'This is not balanced. You have got to get the other side of the story.' I think today that culture remains an overriding culture in the Argus Company, now Independent Newspapers. It is the Western traditional method of reporting."
New Nation, a black newspaper committed to the liberation struggle, refused to publish an advertisement of the Natal KwaZulu Indaba.Green wrote: "... it is singularly unfortunate if bishops and journalists committed to the cause of freedom, have much to say about it and are internationally honoured for their efforts, are reluctant to publish things they don't agree with.
"The only other papers I know of in South Africa that adopt a similar attitude in rejecting advertisements of political opponents are the government-supporting Afrikaans papers. Odd bedfellows in this instance, aren't they, the Nats, the bishops and the radicals?
"As I noted earlier, it is not always easy for liberals to stick to democratic principles in South Africa. But stick to them we must, even when they go slightly sour on us."
Tyson, who recorded this article in his book "Editors under Fire", commented: "That column reflects a small sample of the differences, often the tensions, between 'committed' journalists and those striving for 'objectivity'."
b) the liberationists' view
Tyson explained the attitude of Zwelakhe Sisulu, now chief executive of the SABC, but earlier the editor of New Nation, more fully: "Zwelakhe Sisulu rejected co-operation with the state," Tyson wrote.
"He was committed to the cause of liberation, and said there was no place for neutrality or 'objectivity' in South Africa. Neutrality meant co-option, he believed. After he launched the New Nation, following periods of detention and going on a Nieman Fellowship, he said his philosophy as editor was 'not whether one is propagandist or not, but whether one is a collaborationist propagandist or a revolutionary propagandist ... If committed is an alternative to non-committed, then surely we are propagandist.' This is a viewpoint shared by many black journalists, but by no means all, and was particularly true of black journalists in relation to the liberation struggle against apartheid. Today there are more black journalists who are happy to be independent and objective (some recently ran foul of President Mandela for that stance), but they were not independent or objective about apartheid. After the Soweto riots, the liberation cause was their cause as much as it was the cause of ANC, PAC, UDF, BCM, Azapo or any other black political movement. From this attitude has come the view that journalists and newspapers following the liberal philosophy were "collaborationist propagandists", colluders with apartheid, part of the apartheid system, bearing some of the responsibility for the sufferings of blacks under apartheid.
The alternative press, seeking a niche as champions of the liberation struggle, tended to reinforce this view of the mainstream press to make legitimised space for itself in the market, but this smear has been rejected by mainstream anti-apartheid newspapers inside and outside the Argus Group. Pather was asked whether there were tensions between white and black journalists in the Daily News newsroom when he was a reporter.
"Yes there were. We came out of different experiences. And we viewed things through different perspectives, especially you take the question of apartheid in sport. If the South African selectors decided to include a token black in their rugby team, the black members of staff would have said so and that this was totally unacceptable. We actually needed a situation where everyone had equal opportunity to get into a totally non-racial side. And there would sometimes be very fierce arguments in the newsroom. Some whites accused us of being over-sensitive, singing the same old story whenever we were consistently critical of whatever was being done by government. They did not go through the same sort of experience as blacks did. Blacks courted more police attention than white journalists. It was a fact of life. Black journalists were more prone to arrest, house arrest or confiscation of passport or restrictions in travel than most of the white journalists."
Pather, as has been recorded above, was repeatedly harassed by police in trying to do his job as a reporter. He was asked whether his newspaper took the matter up with the authorities.
"I must say at that stage I did not even expect anybody on the newspaper to take up the cudgels on my behalf. I'm not saying there were not people who were concerned. There were people quite high up in the newspaper I know would come to me and sympathise and express anger at what had happened to me and some of my colleagues. Nothing more than that was done about it, so over time it was something you did not expect, that anybody would take it any further. There would have been an editorial expressing criticism of bans on organisations and so on, but not down to the behaviour of policemen searching your homes. I also think that while some editors at that stage did a sterling job in opposing apartheid, in opposing the entire policy, others believed that editorials criticising that obnoxious system would suffice. I believe there was more for them to do."
The difference of attitude to liberation struggle methods was contrasted in a conversation I had with Pather. He said: "It was understandable that black people under the conditions in which they lived in many instances couldn't tell the difference between what was right from what was wrong. Many things fell into the area of criminality when they were just the makings of the government. Just the carrying of a passbook was a requirement of the government of that time and non-compliance meant he was guilty of a crime.
"I remember saying to my white colleagues on the Daily News that I had once lied under oath, and I did not think it was wrong. And they were aghast. I said if you were in my shoes you would have done the same, because the police had called me into the police station and said to me that a person who had been banned had come in to see me at the newspaper office.
"I do not regard that as something wrong. I actually regard that person as a respected member of society and he had come in to see me. He wasn't preaching terrorism or anything of the sort. To me the law was wrong. When he asked me whether my friend had come into the office, I said no.
I was prepared to take an oath and say no. I had not done anything wrong. In different circumstances, I would probably have acted differently."
I have quoted Klaaste as saying that during the activism of the late 1970s and during the 1980s black journalists were black before they were journalists. He also said: "I think it was almost like a high people were on. And that is how they reported too. They reported with an advocacy which was plainly out there. You must remember we had rather a suspicion of all whites. All South African whites. We were very suspicious of them. Sometimes there was downright hatred of them."
But while that was the mood, black journalists on the Sowetan had to respond to one huge threat to them. Two newspapers had been closed by the government under them already.
"When the World was banned, the company lost a lot of money and there was always this sword hanging over our heads. You guys have got to watch out because you can't get another paper banned like this. And that was like a Sword of Damocles."
Questioner - Your jobs were at stake?
- "Absolutely, and not only our jobs, but it was quite plain everybody else would be without a job if we got into trouble."
Questioner - So you had to feel your way pretty carefully?
- "Absolutely. And in the 1980s and 90s it got bad, you know. We also got into trouble with the ANC, with Cosatu, and the paper was boycotted. It was a terrible time for us."
a) socialism, communism and the total onslaught
The South African liberation movements, in advancing their struggle against apartheid, had no compunction in forming alliances and receiving financial and military aid from communist or socialist countries, and from countries spurned in the West because of their support for international terrorist actions.
This "alliance with the devil" (as seen through liberal eyes) increased the tension not only between liberation movements and the government, but also caused them to be opposed by the mainstream opposition press, including Argus newspapers.
Communism and even milder forms of socialism have generally been opposed by the majority of whites in South Africa, whether within the Nationalist government or inside opposition parties, and Argus Company editors generally took a liberal position opposed to communist/socialist expansion into South Africa.
Though they were themselves often accused by Nationalist propagandists of being "pinkos" and "communist fellow-travellers" for opposing apartheid, Argus editors did not hesitate to distance themselves from communist/socialist aims, mainly because liberal philosophies are inherently at odds with those of socialism and communism. PW Botha's government in the 1980s used this common opposition among whites to socialist policies and alliances to build a huge propaganda campaign and "total strategy" against the "total onslaught" which it claimed was being waged against the country by communist and liberation forces.
The degree of common ground between the Argus newspapers' policies and the government's total strategy were, however, extremely limited.
A former editor of the Argus Africa News Service (who chooses not to have his name recorded here) had considerable experience of reporting wars in Africa where a communist element was involved. He had a very definite view on Botha's propaganda campaign. He said Botha had been inspired by a book "Total War" written by Gaullist French general Andre Beaufre advocating a total response to a total onslaught, but in the context of a classical conflict like World War Two. In such a situation, he argued, a nation should use every conceivable resource, including the media, to fight off an enemy intent on conquest. The editor said Botha "seized upon this philosophy hugely to inflate the image of the ANC attack on South Africa, backed by the looming might of the Communist Bloc, into a monstrous threat far beyond reality."
The editor conceded that the campaign served to scare the Nats and many other whites and Parliament into voting Defence ever larger budgets. He said the communist threat was "minimal" and "the ANC never came close to the military capacity to threaten South Africa seriously."
He said United States experts on communism confirmed to him that Russia did not want a full-scale southern African war, but merely wanted a regional stand-off as an irritation in the American side.
Interviews with a string of Argus editors and former editors confirmed to me that none of them was convinced by the "total onslaught" propaganda.
Wyllie put the communist threat at no more than 30%, but said the threat of the liberation movements was more like 70%.
Van Schoor, who as editor of the Pretoria News sat on the press/defence liaison committee, said: "We all knew that total onslaught was the government's political device to justify its continued use of racism. The threat of communism was believed by many people, probably sincerely held by some members of government, but the communist threat and the total onslaught were a strategy designed to protect the government and entrench a racist policy and white privilege, and none of us believed it.
Nor did our paper believe it ever. We reported what the government said about it, but we reported it with a balance of other views. It is very difficult to ignore what the government is talking about from every platform. What the government did was take a distant threat and turned it into a justification for apartheid. We never believed it."
b) attitude to political rights for blacks
Throughout the period under review, Argus Company newspapers supported increased political rights for disfranchised groups of colour. It is probable, if individual editors had been asked during much of that period for their view on what political rights blacks should have, that a variety of answers would have been given.
It is also probable that most would not have expressed support for a simple transfer of power from whites to blacks. But the question would have been somewhat academic, in that their editorial policies were determined by practical issues of the day. The National Party was in power, propagating separate political rights for different races groups, and those in opposition were proposing alternative plans that could possibly gain support when put to an all-white electorate.
A simple transfer of power would definitely not have been supported by the white electorate, so more incremental or gradualist proposals that could possibly persuade the electorate into accepting an eventual broad democracy for all races were put forward. The details of these proposals varied from one election to the next over the 33-year period of this review, eventually giving way to a realisation that the country's politics had changed so far that parliamentary opposition parties were becoming irrelevant to the main political agenda, and that it was black-led liberation movements who offered alternative policies the country had to take note of. White opposition partners had been sidelined by events. So a division between black and white on this constitutional issue was real.
There must have been few blacks indeed who wanted anything less than full democratic rights NOW throughout that period. While white Argus editors were prepared to move in that direction, they all opted for a gradual extension of political rights for most of the period under review, moving in later years ever more strongly to urging constitutional solutions not through party blueprints, but through direct negotiations with the liberation movements.
c) attitude to liberation struggle methods
One of the greatest bones of contention between blacks and whites generally, and it was equally true among black and white journalists, was over the methods adopted by the liberation movements to advance their ambitions to overthrow apartheid.
Most blacks felt, even if they did not actively participate, that liberation struggle methods were fully justified, because the prospects of achieving a negotiated settlement without it seemed minimal.
White liberal editors throughout never abandoned their call for peaceful change and negotiation rather than violence. They openly opposed the use of bombs and land mines against the civilian public, and even against military targets, and they were against isolation policies, disinvestment, economic sanctions, sport boycotts, internal commercial boycotts, making the townships ungovernable, liberation before education and any other slogan tactics of that ilk.
One former editor said: "The point I come from is this one: you can be an activist member of the struggle or you can be like the majority of South Africans black and white and many good people who were not for violence. And I was never for violence. I was against the institutionalised violence of the government. I didn't see what a terrorist or liberation struggle of attacking human targets in this country was going to achieve except total bitterness. We would have had a Northern Ireland on our hands for another 40 years, in my view. The business of staying within the law was difficult, because the law itself was questionable if not illegal. Some of us moved from refusing to break the law to actively breaking the law, but not to perpetrate violence. Again I don't feel I have to defend myself against anyone for human rights or anything else to say I will not take to violence to put things right. I still think that is wrong. Those are the basic issues.
"Now if you are working within the system, is that a crime? That is something that bothered me for years. I had two worries: the precedent of Germany and of several other fascist states like Argentina and of Rhodesia. And the Rhodesian newspapers fought a very honourable campaign against sectional racist government until civil war occurred. We never had a civil war. And then they became captive of the government. My worry always was: would we become captive of the government? And that is one of several reasons why I called a conference called Conflict of the Press and brought in experts from around the world to examine issues such as this. I would commend to you ... it was Baroness Durnhoff of Die Zeit she specifically addressed this point ... she said she lived under the Nazis and worked under the Nazis, and ran from them. She said there comes a point when you cannot run a newspaper honourably. And she said you are nowhere near that point. That was in 1987. We all had worries: were we propping up the apartheid regime? There was a report in Business Day recently, saying editors agreed that they allowed apartheid. I disagree with that totally. I don't believe there is any point in being a newspaperman if you are actually part of holding up the system. That is the crux of our business, whether by working within the system and not taking to the streets, because there was no choice, you either fought it by fleeing the country or going underground, or you worked within the system. I repudiate totally and with vehemence anyone who suggests that those who fought within the system affected other people's human rights. In fact there are very few - very, very few - South Africans who actively fought outside the system. Many supported it, but very few actively did it. And some of them perpetrated offences against human rights, those who fought against apartheid, by the very nature of their violence, so I think again that it doesn't require to be defended that one worked within the system."
Hobday had this to say on liberation struggle methods: " I don't think we were fooled into believing in the total onslaught, but there was no doubt that the liberationists' war was an onslaught. So were sanctions. But who was responsible for sanctions? We saw the onslaught as the just deserts of that government.
"I as an editor never supported sanctions. I cannot say I supported the liberation movement. What we supported was reasoned negotiation. And, as it turned out, it was reasoned negotiation that won the day. Violence did not do it, and never would. It would have replaced one form of political terrorism with another. One tyranny with another tyranny. As it was, throughout the years, consistently, we argued for negotiation, reason, compromise. That is what we got. I think we can look back as editors on those four decades with some justification and satisfaction in that the thing we argued for right in the beginning came to pass. I think if we had to look back to summarise what the Argus papers were doing: 'What did you do during the war daddy?'- We did our job. That's what we did, and we did it as best we could. You can quibble with this and you can quibble with that, but at the end of the day we did our job. And if you want the proof of the pudding, it's in the eating, where we are today. That's what we wanted.
That's what we fought for and that's what we got."
d) the alternative press
The alternative press developed in the 1980s with such publications as the Weekly Mail, South and Work in Progress entering the political arena as media which supported the liberation cause and specialised in exposing the wrongdoings of the Nationalist administration.
These publications differed from the mainstream opposition press in more ways than the emphasis of their politics. They were not dependent on advertising or readership levels to pay their costs, but were lavishly sponsored by mainly foreign organisations wishing to strengthen the pressures for change inside South Africa.
This difference in their economic make-up enabled them to keep publishing, and keep getting their message across, in circumstances which would have been quite impossible for the commercial press. They were highly political, published shock reports that satisfied the masses' mood though they had low circulations and did not attract advertisers with such material. But they showed the government up for the ruthless and corrupt machine it had become.
Tyson commented in his book "Editors under Fire": "Into the gap left by the RDM came the alternative press, which attacked the opposition press for failing in its duty to bring down the National Party and for failing to express the views of 'the people'. Most believed that things like balance, 'objectivity' and all those other old-fashioned values were not only irrelevant, but a hindrance in the war against a total onslaught on freedom.
"It was necessary for them to denigrate the mainstream opposition press to justify their own existence and to garner overseas funding."
He noted that the 'commercial press' (a sneer from academics, students and alternative journalists) adopted a pained silence, and admitted that some of the criticism of the new wave was true of much of the mainstream press.
"Many newspapers, battered by economics as well as racial politics, were finding it impossible to cope with their normal role of bridging the prejudices of their divided communities. Many had lost touch with 'the radicals' and indeed with the oppressed masses."
The government moved against these alternative papers, giving them added status among those for whom they wrote. More journalists were thrown in jail, more journals were threatened, confiscated or temporarily closed.
The effect of the arrival of the alternative press on the media scene was to provide the mass democratic movement, the UDF and later the unbanned organisations with friendlier coverage, allowing them to obtain some of the best political news breaks of the time.
The Argus Group and other mainstream opposition media were made to look more reactionary than they were in the political arena, for a time, but as democratic transition got into its stride, overseas subsidisation of the alternative press began to dry up, and the Argus Group took steps to improve its contacts into the rapidly emerging new power group.
The Weekly Mail tried to launch a commercial daily against The Star, but was driven under in a matter of weeks. It has retained a viable weekly spot in the market, supported commercially and with the backing of The Guardian in London.
The rest of the alternative press has largely fallen by the wayside.
On January 7 1997, ex-Sowetan senior journalist Mathatha Tsedu wrote an article in The Star which demonstrates the differences liberationist journalists have had with the liberal mainstream newspapers.
Referring to a previous article written by Raymond Louw, chairman of the Freedom of Expression Institute and former editor of the Rand Daily Mail and manager of Saan, Tsedu wrote: "While Louw is right in saying that the Afrikaans press had supported the NP wholeheartedly, basically the same can be said of the English press if one was to do a close investigation of their stand. For example, when Louw was editor of the Rand Daily Mail, the paper supported the then Progressive Party, which called for a qualified franchise, which would have left all whites with the vote but only a few blacks (those with more than R50 000 immovable property or a matric certificate) able to vote.
"He claimed the editorial policies of these newspapers "could be relied upon to kowtow to the NP when the chips were down, such as when SADF commandos raided countries such as Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho and Zimbabwe, killing innocent civilians in the name of the defence of Western civilisation."
Saturday Star columnist Jon Qwelane, previously an assistant editor on the Sunday Star, wrote in a column on January 11 1997 that he had called for South Africa's media bosses to be brought before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to explain "their naked collusion with apartheid".
He went on to argue that "it is not only the manner in which our bosses failed us as journalists which must be investigated and exposed, but also the hopelessly indefensible treatment which they gave the news. Perhaps the most indefensible part of collaboration with the apartheid regime by media bosses was the secret pact which they sealed with the dictator P W Botha, a pact which gave the so-called 'total strategy' madness undue respectability.
"Mr Botha got together the media moguls through the Newspaper Press Union and at an unpublicised gathering, it was agreed by all concerned that there was a 'communist-inspired total onslaught' against South Africa and it required a 'total strategy' to counter it. A state of emergency was declared and the army and police were given the go-ahead to do as they pleased with our lives on grounds of acting in 'good faith'."
He claimed later in the article that the press were an "active party" to the total strategy which had caused press censorship. He also alleged that, while the English press railed loudly against the iniquities of apartheid, actions in dealings with black personnel took the opposite direction, "supporting and enforcing apartheid to the hilt".
These allegations by Tsedu and Qwelane help to underline the problem I have already drawn to your attention of black and white journalists, even within the same company, having different agendas.
The black agenda finds the mainstream opposition newspapers (necessarily including the Argus group) guilty of collusion with apartheid for supporting a qualified franchise at a certain stage in the period under review and of conniving with P.W. Botha in his "total onslaught" campaign. There is no doubt these opinions are genuinely held, and from their outlook, could seem justified.
But they seem like a serious and mischievous distortion if looked at from the vantage point of liberal journalism. The qualified franchise was not support for separate development, seen from the liberal point of view. Quite the contrary. It was regarded as a stepping stone to the eventual full enfranchisement of black South Africa within one political system, as opposed to the NP's separate racial states formula.
The qualified franchise was a formula adopted in an attempt to woo white South African voters into accepting eventually a common future in one country with black South Africans. It was abandoned as a policy as the national political equation changed to the point where it was no longer relevant to look to white opposition parties to develop policies to change separate development. Black South Africans had developed so much political muscle that the ruling party saw it was inevitable that it abandon apartheid through negotiations with the ANC, other members of the liberation movement, and all other political groups.
The charge against the opposition press would thus seem unfair viewed from the liberal perspective, but viewed from the perspective of black political aspirations, it is not so far-fetched. The adoption of a qualified franchise would in effect have reinforced white power and undermined black aspirations of rapid political advancement for a considerable period. It would have made black political advancement dependent on educational advancement and personal wealth, criteria that are not essential elements of a working democracy. Even the poorest and least educated may know which political party will advance their interests best. Seen that way, the white mainstream liberal press was praising apartheid with faint damns, and was conniving with apartheid for the sake of perpetuating white privilege into an indefinite future.
I believe it is difficult to judge the merits of these two sides without accepting either the liberationists' or the liberals' premises. Both have a case to make which is valid within those frameworks.
a) participation in news conferences, briefings, tours etc
Black journalists have noted the way the mainstream opposition press continued to participate in police and defence agreements with the government, to attend press conferences and confidential political briefings, go on tours with ministers and with the Prime Minister and later the State President, and go on inspection tours of the military situation on the Angola-SWA border.
All this, to liberationist thinking, smacks strongly of collusion with apartheid, especially as the government's purpose with so many of these media events was to use them for heavy propaganda purposes.
Virtually no balancing briefings or tours with the liberation movements were possible, so the propaganda advantage was heavily stacked in favour of the government.
Argus Group editors interviewed on this question were unanimous in saying it was their duty to send reporters to these press conferences, briefings, tours etc, because what the government was doing in South Africa over the period under review was "more than half the story" and no newspaper could be properly informed without being present.
They strongly denied that government propaganda was meekly and naively swallowed by their reporters or by the editors themselves.
Sullivan, who was political correspondent during part of those times, says: "Most of the time we came back and wrote things that horrified the people who had taken us on the tours. They said: why could we not be good like the Afrikaans press or some of the tamer newspapers like The Citizen? I came back from a Koevoet tour and wrote that it was a ruthless killing force. And Lothar Neethling threatened to shoot me. He said: 'How can you call it a ruthless killing force?' I said: 'Well, what is it?' He said: 'We are protecting the people in the area.' I said: 'Rubbish.
"I wrote it was a ruthless killing force and General de Witt called me up and said: how could I say that? That was exactly what it was. And most of those trips, if you looked at how The Star journalists came back, it was always at odds with a lot of others. I went to Taiwan with PWBotha on a state visit. And everybody wrote Taiwan was so happy and didn't want to be a separate state. And I wrote that they were unhappy and wanted to be a separate state. I have always believed you need a very short spoon to sup with the devil. If we didn't go on those trips, Beeld would have come back and painted such a wonderfully rosy picture of what was going on and there would be nobody to give the opposite side."
Green had this to say: "To some extent you had to rely on official statements. For example, the Defence Act as you well know, laid a cloak over all information, and if we didn't use statements from the Defence Force, we wouldn't have known anything. Where we had information from other sources, we were legally obliged to check it out. Where we felt it was official propaganda, we often said so by way of leaders or by interviewing other party politicians. As far as media tours are concerned, I went on three tours of the border. Now, was that participation? I suppose it was, but at the same time you could see what was going on and it was better to have some information than no information. Also, the fact that we travelled in a fairly large group, if I remember it was about 20 editors at a time, it is not so easy to brainwash you when you've got all your colleagues there. On at least one tour, some of us got into quite acrimonious discussions with senior officers, where they accused us of not caring if they got killed and we said we did care. They were under no illusions that we were just fellow travellers."
Question - Did you feel that a lot of their statements were propagandistic?
- Yes. I think they were propagandistic. It depended who they were. Then you get a chap like Jannie Geldenhuys, he was chief of the army for a time, he was a lot more reasonable. He actually saw we were not necessarily going to agree with him."
Van Schoor, who was Pretoria News editor during part of the 1980s, said: "You have to remember that the propaganda machine was pervasive. You couldn't 'not go' on assignments, because the government's was at least half the story and you had to use all contacts possible. Yes, people went on them."
Question - Did you feel by going on them that you were part of the apartheid machine?
- "You must think what it was like in those circumstances. You couldn't close your eyes and ears to what they were saying, but it is how you received it and how you used it. Yes you had to have contact with them. You had to have contacts with them. Just as you had to try all you could to have contacts with the underground, so to speak. All the time when dealing with the government, you knew you were dealing with a huge propaganda machine. And if it was not straight propaganda, it was selected information aimed at promoting the government's interests. Everything you got from those sources you got knowing whence it came.
"You would have to be very naive to believe we swallowed everything the government fed us. The government saw our very presence as part of their machine, because they were the ones who took us into the border areas, but we never bought into that philosophy, never. In fact, through the Conference of Editors, I was the one who had to attend the military briefings, against my better judgement, because they were utterly useless exchanges in which the military was telling exactly what they wanted to and avoiding the tougher questions that we asked. We ended our association with the Defence liaison body, because we knew it was being abused by them and we wanted no part in it. But while it existed, yes, we did go with our eyes wide open. We weren't used, I don't believe."
All other white editors in the group spoke along similar lines, and the only question to ask is whether, even accepting that Argus editors and their reporters were on their guard against propaganda, a full and fair picture emerged in Argus newspapers as a result of attending these briefings and going on these tours.
My own view is that, while propaganda was often shown as propaganda, there were huge difficulties in balancing the propaganda by getting the other side, so some of the distortion did stick. There were times, such as with cross-border raids, where the initial government propaganda of hitting nests of activists waiting to attack South Africa was published as fact, but very often within a day or two other reports would come to hand suggesting that - far from being a successful raid on trained liberation forces - many innocents unconnected with the conflict had been killed in these attacks. So, to some extent the balance was restored, though I doubt that complete balance was achieved. Of course, it must be remembered that it was not just the SADF that was killing unfortunate innocents. Many of the people killed by liberation forces' bombs and land mines were complete innocents. In some respects, that was even worse than SADF mistakes in killing innocents, because ANC cadres knew before the bombs, land mines and grenades went off that their victims would be innocents ... yet they still went ahead and did it.
b) racial discrimination practices within the company, and black disadvantages
Several examples of discriminatory practice have been brought to my attention during this inquiry.
Pather has a clear recollection of incidents he experienced personally: "I was called in for an interview and told I was the best candidate available, but I had to come in in a couple of days. They needed to check on my background. When I came back, they said they were given to believe that I was a political hothead, that I had been in trouble with the special branch, that I had associated with people like Steve Biko and Strini Moodley and Saths Cooper, something I thought would have been of benefit to my application. I asked them whether they thought I was going to get subversive material into their columns surreptitiously.
"I was told it was a large company and they couldn't afford to take chances and that I should wait for my letter of acceptance. Up to today the letter has not come.
"They took on Subri Govender. Two years later Subri phoned me and said the Daily News was going to take on a second black journalist. I applied and I was asked the same question by the same person. I said my answer was the same as two years ago. I think by then they had matured sufficiently to accept that. My own political views were not relevant here. We are talking about 1974 and then the end of 1975 and they then gave me the job. I started at the beginning of 1976. It was only about a year ago that I spoke to the person who interviewed me and it was not the editor. It turned out they had consulted the special branch. Roy Barnard, the crime reporter, went to the news editor and said: 'Do you want to know about that guy's background, I'll find out.' It turned out he went to the special branch."
Pather had other experiences too. He said: "I believe I helped the company to change its mind about segregated canteens, because we just defied regulations. The first day I joined, I got hungry and went to the canteen. They told me I couldn't be served. I said I was paying for my meal, so what was the problem? I wasn't bucking the system, because I didn't know the system. I showed the guy I was a member of the staff and showed my staff card and he said: 'Sorry these are the regulations.' He pointed me to another room that was darkened and had a shelf and pigeonhole through which they served blacks after they had exhausted the white queue. I bought my meal and sat down at one of the tables and then got rude insults from staff members of the works department, (I knew they were from the works) because they were all wearing overalls.
"I had a choice of avoiding this and taking my meal to a table or just insisting on my rights. I carried on eating at these tables. It was lonely at the beginning, but a few years later there were others like Quraysh Patel, Kuswayo also used the canteen facilities and stood up to these guys who passed racial insults. The company then divided the canteen into two, with the strategic placing of pot plants. One was whites only and the other was international, which was totally unacceptable. We sat where we liked and a number of whites joined us in defying the regulations. There was one instance where a staff member standing next to me said: 'If you want your curry, why don't you go to your coolie canteen upstairs?' They used to have a separate canteen that only produced curry. And so I went up to my news editor and said: 'You are going to have to do something about this or you can have my resignation.' That was taken up with the editor and the works department, and I pointed out the person to the works manager. There was an inquiry and I think eventually the editor called me in and said they took the matter quite seriously and asked whether the guy should be fired. The editor took the view that it was the chap's first offence and just warned him and got the assurance it would not happen again. The works chapel father came to see me and asked whether the guy should be made to apologise, and I said only if he wanted to, but not if he had to have his arm twisted.
"Those were the times. We were living at a time a lot of white people refused to associate with black people and were victims of racial stereotypes. They knew nothing of other groups, so based all their thinking on stereotypes. They were actually victims of propaganda."
Question - Were the toilets separated?
Question - When did that break down?
- "I don't think too much attention was paid to that. While the law said one thing, people ignored the law generally. Slowly toilet apartheid became a thing of the past."
Drysdale recalls an experience when he was editor of the Pretoria News: "I had no experience of any black journalist who complained. Perhaps I was fortunate. I will tell you one interesting little anecdote, which came from my early Pretoria News years, and I was the first guy to hire the first black on the Pretoria News. One of the guys popped his head round my office door and said: 'We have got our new black colleague with us. Tell me, I feel awkward asking about this, which toilet should he use?' Remember those were the years of strict segregation. I said to him: 'The nearest one.' End of story."
What emerges from these examples, and was typical, is that white journalists were the most ready to accept black colleagues among them, while resistance to the presence of black reporters being treated equally with white employees was strongest in other departments. I recall a Christmas party wetstone at The Star in the early 1970s, at which the works department were the traditional hosts.
That year, because black reporters were now in the newsroom, individual invitations to members of the editorial staff were introduced for the first time, where previously there was an open invitation to all departments (with the assumption that it was only for whites). A separate Christmas party was held for black works staff. When the invitations had been issued, and the editorial department had analysed what was going on, it was found that all white members of the editorial staff had been invited, and the black members left out. The editorial department then decided to boycott the wetstone in sympathy with their black colleagues who had not been invited. This was a snub of considerable consequence within the newspaper, because journalists relied heavily on the works department's co-operation to get news breaks into the paper ... sometimes at the very last moment. The editor, John Jordi, was seriously embarrassed, though he accepted the reasons for the boycott. Another side to discrimination then came into play. The white reporters, having done themselves out of a party by making a stand on principle for their black colleagues, decided to hold a party of their own at the hotel across the road. Only when the party was well under way was it discovered that no black journalists were present.
The reason? The hotel did not allow black guests. White journalists had not given that a thought, which showed the extent to which apartheid had become so much a part of people's lives that even rocking the boat with apartheid did not sound alarm bells of what was involved. The following year, management insisted a blanket invitation be sent to the editorial department, but only a few blacks attended the wetstone. They were ostentatiously snubbed by some white employees from other departments, and the only people the black reporters could talk to were their own black or white editorial colleagues. At the end of the evening, one of the white reporters who had befriended black reporters at the function was assaulted by a member of the works staff as he left the premises.
Klaaste said two things irked black journalists very greatly about the "white" papers in the group. The first was that they referred to liberation movement cadres as "terrorists". He said that was a very sore point. Some white journalists, on the other hand, felt quite strongly that they should have been called "terrorists", because they committed acts of terror against innocent people.
But on Klaaste's other point, white journalists readily admit fault. Klaaste said: "Traditionally, because they were white newspapers, they reported white names but only black statistics. There were no people who were black who were made of flesh and blood. We put a face to the guys. Even if it was an ordinary man. And it was extraordinary, because even in matters that were not political, like a mine blast, (the white papers would report) so many white men were killed and their names were there, but no names of blacks."
Latakgomo says: "Much of the debate has been muddied in a manner of speaking by people talking about whether the companies employed black journalists full time, whether they had separate toilets, whether they were promoted or weren't promoted. We must first of all accept that, in the political situation of the time, most companies were guilty of that kind of discrimination against black people. So it is not as if journalists were selected for that kind of abuse."
But there was a problem at the top on black papers in the company, which Latakgomo put his finger on: "I think it was part of the policy of the company at the time, it was significant that the two black newspapers in the company had what was called editorial directors. Ilanga had an editorial director in Arthur Konigkramer and the World had Charles Still. It was clear that the black editors did not have the kind of control of the content of the publications that they should have had. I said I was not sure whether the publications were running on sport, women and crime by design or whether it was because of a dearth of real political activity, but I rather suspect it was by design. We had to steer clear of the contentious things, steer clear of political things.
"I was acting editor and I recall very well a strategic planning meeting which was held at Kyalami. One of the points I made at that meeting was that black executives were in fact toothless on The World, even within The World, because one would have thought having a black publication and having a black editor that at least the black editor would have the authority to give direction in terms of policy. That wasn't in fact so, and I found that out, well we all knew that, but I found that out personally. During the time I was editor, if I had to write a leader, it had to go to Charles Still. And if he didn't like it, it didn't go in. So whose voice was the newspaper actually representing? Percy (Qoboza, who was away overseas) would have had to go through the exactly same thing, It wasn't just because I was acting editor. When we were dealing with that issue, we resolved that I be called what I actually was, assistant editor. And to acknowledge it. Even a guy like Ewold Nene, who was a great soccer guy. He knew he was half illiterate. He would come into my office and say to me, can he do this?
"If he didn't like my response, he said he would go and talk to my boss, Charles Still. And he would go to Charles Still and get it done. It was a very awkward situation. So I think I am relating this, because it seemed to me a conscious policy to keep the paper out of trouble. Throughout that period either they had no confidence in their black editors or ... I mean, M.T. Moerane who was editor before Percy was simply a figurehead editor. I vividly recall his farewell speech in which he for the first time spoke out and actually said: 'I hope things will turn out better for you guys (Percy and myself).' But clearly he must have felt very uncomfortable with the manner."
Question - Did you feel uncomfortable?
- "Things were beginning to move and I was not able to reflect it in the paper. Any time we needed to do that, there were these tensions between myself and Charlie Still. He was a newspaper man determined to make the newspaper work, determined to keep the newspaper out of trouble. He was too cautious. I recall, after The World closed, he was moved to the Daily News and I went down to Durban and I went to make a courtesy call. He said: 'Listen my boy,' that is how he used to speak, 'Listen my boy, I'll tell you something. I warned the company that unless we were careful, this newspaper would be closed down. And he pulled out a piece of paper and said: 'Here. I actually wrote this memo...' And he said he had warned the company that black editors were going ... the way the paper was going to be closed down.
"I said to him: 'What was it that made you uncomfortable?'. He said: 'Listen, leave politics alone.' As far as he was concerned, if he had been there, The World would not have suffered that fate. I think The World would have succeeded, but I don't think at the time the newspaper was given the resources a paper of its level and status should have had. In money spent. We were sitting in the worst environment. When we went to The Star, it was like heaven. Our salaries were lower. It was absolutely shoestring. Still, I don't think enough was done to make The World a viable newspaper."
Question - When Post Transvaal replaced The World, was anything changed?
- "I was not put in charge. A guy named Miskelly was put in charge. He was effectively the editor. Again it was a matter of making sure we don't get out of step. I think it was a conscious step by management. Their attitude was that the government had warned the Post: 'One step out of line, and you will be closed down as well.'"
Another issue which caused bad feeling between black journalists and Argus management arose over what started as a sympathy strike at Post Transvaal for journalists at the Cape Herald, and ended with Post Transvaal being closed down.
Klaaste remembers: "No, it was not about politics, although the leaders of the strike tried to give it a political slant, because it was black guys and white management. And Percy and I and Thami Mazwai were not on strike until the management guy made a mistake then, because Percy didn't know what to do, quite frankly. The management guy said he was going to call the police. Percy in huff got mad and angry and walked out, and we all walked out and we joined the strike.
"And that is when we were down there (pointing down the road). There were presses there and everything. And the reason we were moved there was also another blunder by management, because the reason from the staff was that they had moved us from there because they were worried about those presses. The workers were going to come and sabotage the presses. This is why we came here. But that was a very low time for us. It was very low if I must tell the whole truth."
Latakgomo remembers other details of the strike: "When these guys went on strike for whatever they went on strike, we went on a sympathy strike that created a whole number of problems. These Cape guys then went back to work, but the sympathy strike continued. I had meetings with the MD. I went to Hal Miller. I said to Hal: 'Even taking into consideration the difficulty of bowing to union demands, I believe there are legitimate areas that need to be addressed.' All the sympathy strike did was actually to bring to the fore a whole number of other grievances and created the opportunity for people to say in addition to the sympathy strike that there were also these issues. It required a response and I actually said this to Hal Miller. I remember clearly when he said: 'What makes you think I will give in to these guys?' I said: 'I am not suggesting you give in. I am suggesting there may be a way of resolving this.' It was the first time the company had experienced this kind of thing. I had kept the paper going single-handedly. The last edition of Post I produced singlehandedly. A 48 page paper. It was just me. I subbed it and put it out. We had to publish one edition every 14 days or your licence expired.
"In trying to save that, I actually produced a pamphlet with Post Transvaal written on it, because there was no definition of what it should look like. I produced it just to save the title. I was aware that if that was closed down, because with the moderate approach, people said if The World was closed and they allow this, it must be watered down. There was a perception it was a watered down version of The World. I actually produced the pamphlet. Then the government closed it down. We went to court and the court found that the pamphlet could not reasonably be construed as an edition of Post Transvaal. The government said: 'If you try to start it up, we will close it down.' Then the Sowetan came."
Besides instances of discrimination and disputes with management, black journalists felt themselves to be in many cases at a disadvantage. Pather explains: "For a black person to be noticed, you had to outshine any white man. In my own case, when I was nominated to take over as political reporter. It was to cover the political parties. One had to cover the provincial parliament and conventional politics. It took the editor a long time to decide on my appointment. For the first time in the province, a black political reporter would have to work with white politicians. And also whether a black political reporter would be able to work effectively with essentially white politicians. Whether white politicians would feel comfortable. These were political aspects the editor had to put his mind to. I take my hat off to him that he eventually did agree to it, because for the first time a newspaper in Natal had decided to take this step.
"In the beginning it was difficult. I had to deal on a daily basis. I also noticed that some of the politicians felt uncomfortable. They trusted a white person more easily than a black person. I think what was to my advantage was that, whereas a white political reporter would have leanings to one party or another, as a black person I had no sympathy for any of those parties. So perhaps I was more impartial than the others."
Training is another sore point with black journalists. They feel not nearly enough was done to assist them, especially as many had to make their way in what was not their home language.
Latakgomo describes the problem: "I think the mainstream papers accepted too easily the police version and it always left publications like The World, the Sowetan, out on a limb, because they looked the odd man out, and therefore there must be something wrong with their reporters. And in addition to that, everyone spoke about the incompetence of black reporters, their advocacy and their..."
Question - Were they incompetent?
- "I don't think incompetent in the gathering of news. They were good news hounds and I would vouch for them. They would get the facts and the information. I was news editor for a considerable time and I did a lot of re-writing of some of the stuff that they brought in. English was their second language."
Question - Was it because they were not properly trained?
- "I think it was because they weren't ... I was the first black journalist to get on to the journalist cadet course. I can't remember what year it was. I had been a journalist for seven years before I got onto the programme and the reason I actually persisted was that I wanted to make the point that I can cope with the programme. The truth of the matter is that black journalists were never given the kind of training they should have had. They were considered to be not up to scratch for the cadet course, but at the same time no alternative programmes were arranged. There was a programme that was subsequently run by Denis Sutcliffe for the black guys only, but it wasn't the same type of thing. Poor training, lack of training."
Question - Was there quite a serious problem within the company on the whole attitude to black journalists?
- "I think so."
Question - Was it that the company was a white company and the black side of it was only secondary?
- "Yeah, we were sort of poor cousins out there."
Question - With the Soweto riots, when the black journalists were getting the good stories and white journalists weren't?
- "Even then what was happening was the black guys would get the stories and feed in to some white journalist who would write the story. The Allister Sparkses of this world sent these stories out to London, New York, Tokyo under their by-lines. These international agencies employed white guys to report on the story on Soweto and often they would report that black journalists couldn't be objective because they were too close to the story, which quite frankly was a lot of bull, because if they wanted to slant the story in any way, they would slant it in the way in which they gave it to the person who was going to write the story anyway.
"Because those white chaps were not going to get into the townships. So it is really a matter of whether they trusted us. I think black journalists suffered all ways. Poor training on the one side, pressures from the community on the other side, pressures from the police on the third front, so it wasn't as if they weren't trying to tell the story."
c) separate black editions
Separate black editions of papers were another sore point with certain black journalists, although it created a number of jobs for black journalists that they would not otherwise have had, and some black journalists were actually quite happy with them.
Mathatha Tsedu, in his article in The Star on January 7 1997 supporting a TRC investigation of the media, specifically mentions separate black editions. He said the Rand Daily Mail had a black edition called Extra, "meaning by inference that blacks were the extra readers".
The Sunday Times also had an Extra "which concentrated on lightning strikes and witchcraft stories".
The Pretoria News had an extra edition, which was abolished with my support, by then editor Wilf Nussey, but Mostert van Schoor reintroduced a separate "Soccer" edition years later, which just changed the sport pages to reflect blacks' greater interest in soccer, while the other edition placed the emphasis on rugby to suit white readers.
I myself introduced a Metro edition to The Mercury during the 1990s as an attempt to provide a paper in Natal that catered to black readers wanting to read English.
The idea was that the Metro edition would try to establish a market for black readers, and that the edition could possibly be hived off later as a separate newspaper catering specifically for black interests. A change of ownership at that time (1993) then led to the repositioning of The Mercury as an upmarket newspaper, and the Metro edition was abandoned as inappropriate for that market. It was decided then to expand the Sowetan's circulation in Natal to cater for black readers wanting a paper in English.
From this it is apparent that there are two ways of looking at special editions for blacks. Some journalists, like Tsedu, regarded them as apartheid editions, but in management and among other journalists they were seen essentially as zoned editions aiming at specialist readerships. There was no suggestion of inferiority or discrimination in news selection, only special provision for specific reader interests in certain sections of the paper.
Wylllie long resisted a special edition for Indian readers in the Sunday Tribune, but changed his mind when the Sunday Times's metro edition in Natal started making inroads into the Sunday Tribune's readership in Chatsworth.This seemed to show that, besides the controversy in journalistic ranks over whether or not special editions were apartheid editions, targeted readers actually supported these editions and sought them out. The argument rages on, with the Sunday Tribune more recently again abandoning a special edition for Indian readers, and The Star abandoning its extra edition under the editorship of Peter Sullivan.
Though differences of opinion are very evident, I do not see any human rights abuse in the practice, merely a difference in marketing strategy.
No insult to any race was ever intended by these editions.
1) Considerations of the commercial viability of the company - the need to make profits, to relate especially to core market readers and to attract advertisers - placed limitations on how far the Argus Company could go in being a campaign implement against apartheid. It remained first and foremost a newspaper chain and did not see its role as primarily political. This may have blunted its cutting edge in exposing all the wrongs of apartheid, including some human rights violations.
2) Apartheid, security and media laws and regulations proscribed or restricted free news coverage of newsworthy, but politically sensitive, subjects. This interfered with the function of a newspaper as a watchdog of the people in an open democracy, making the Argus Company and their staffs victims of human rights abuses in that respect.
3) Laws enforcing separation of different racial groups in many spheres of life made free access to a full range of news sources more difficult. The laws as such were an interference with human rights, making the company a victim, but the company also made insufficient effort - particularly in the earlier years of the period under review - to overcome this obstacle.
4) Newspaper staffs were generally too white in most departments, and in the critical editorial area, black staff began to be introduced on any scale only during the 1970s. This was discriminatory in the staff selection process, particularly as the company did not try to make the target market for its newspapers the white community exclusively - in spite of its historical roots.
5) Laws prevented black reporters from practising freely in large areas of public life. This was a disincentive to newspapers employing them. In this respect, both the company and black journalists were victims of government-generated human rights abuses.
6) Besides apartheid, security and media laws, other legislation affecting subjects that became politically sensitive seriously inhibited the company's newspapers in generating relevant news. The laws included nuclear matters, fuel supplies and transportation, defence matters, police matters, prisons, key points and even the publication of trade figures with certain countries. These obstacles amounted to a human rights abuse affecting the general public and the newspapers that served them.
7) Journalists were harassed and intimidated, arrested, detained and sometimes prosecuted by police and other agents acting for the government. Harassment and intimidation were also applied by agents of the liberation struggle, to a degree where property damage, physical injury and even lives were threatened. These actions by participants in the political struggle for the control of power in South Africa were a gross human rights violation on journalists. The violations even overflowed into harassment and threats from individuals in the general public.
8) Though objectivity was the aim of most of the company's newspapers, proper balance to coverage of the political events was not achieved. Imbalance in the racial complements of editorial staffs, judgements made on white perceptions in news identification and newsgathering, and a white monopoly of news selection in most sub-editors' rooms, caused some distortion. In the company's black newspapers, a reverse situation applied, made more obvious by the open commitment of staffs to the liberation cause.
9) Political developments polarised emotions in society, and some of this rubbed off on journalists, even though they tried to be objective. Black journalists were affected by the many acts of oppression and brutality applied to the black communities of the country. White journalists were affected by the effects of liberation struggle strategies, which included bombs in streets, shops, parking areas and restaurants, land mines on country roads, sport and commercial boycotts, economic sanctions and disinvestment campaigns etc. All these factors led to human rights abuses on a such a scale that journalists themselves were victims of those abuses.
10) The inherited situation of racial separation and separate communities led to both black and white journalists being less interested in other communities than in their own. With most of the company's papers being mainly white, the concentration of news coverage was on white political rivalries. Issues affecting blacks were at the heart of many of these rivalries, causing them to be covered, but from the angle of white decision-making. It was only late in the day that the imbalance in this respect was rectified, as liberation movements became centre stage players in the political drama. To the extent that the newspapers cultivated attention to white political rivalries and overlooked full coverage of black political aspirations and activities, the company should regret the imbalance that occurred.
11) Black editorial staff members were employed on any scale only from the 1970s, so were relatively junior just at the time when political events made them the vital cogs in the newsgathering machine. They did not immediately get promotion to recognise the vital role they were filling. It is a matter the company should regret.
12) There was a lack of commercial incentive to pursue certain black-interest subjects. Advertising support was more evident where white interests were involved. Black readerships generally lagged white readership, giving blacks a minority status in the company's main newspapers. While this reflected market conditions, it was a distortion of the overall national picture, and the newspapers perpetuated that distortion.
13) Though the Press Council was established to prevent government control of the press, it was set up under duress in the face of government threats. It was often viewed as doing the government's dirty work for it, making the industry partly responsible for its own endangered plight, compromised by association with the oppressive government. Not only was it disliked for this role, but it was not representative of the whole South African population.
14) When editors eventually put their minds to avoiding and evading the restrictions embodied in laws and regulations, many loopholes were found enabling the press to do its job better. Efforts in this respect were only made on any scale during the emergency regulations applied during the second half of the 1980s. This meant the press languished under laws it could possibly have evaded if efforts had been made earlier. Some editors were less willing than others to test the limits of legal restrictions the government imposed on the media. This situation meant some human rights abuses were not addressed when they might have been.
15) A major problem in assessing culpability on human rights abuses arises from the different agendas of liberal journalists as opposed to liberationists.
16) There is friction over what were considered realistic political rights for disfranchised groups. Argus company newspapers, while steadfastly opposing apartheid, pursued gradualist goals within white politics for many years before opting for constitutional settlement through negotiation with all representative groups. This has led to accusations that it kowtowed to apartheid.
17) The alternative press showed the Argus Company had to some extent lost touch with the oppressed masses.
18) Participation in government news conferences, briefings, tours etc subjected the company's newsgatherers to naked propaganda. Though this was identified and countered to some extent, it was not always possible to counter-balance such propaganda equally, because of lack of sufficient access and contacts with liberation movements.
19) The company applied the government's petty apartheid laws on its premises, and this was broken down in some cases only by black disobedience action in the face of abuse from other company employees.
20) The company's newspapers for many years followed the practice of publishing the names only of white accident victims, while mentioning black accident victims as statistics. This was discriminatory.
21) Argus management appeared not to trust black editors with full editorial responsibility for their newspapers. While this appears to have been done to protect the business from threat of government closure (and closure did occur more than once), it was a paternalistic practice that caused bitterness among black journalists, who did not feel they were being treated fairly.
22) Salaries of black journalists were for some time lower than for white journalists doing the same level of work, and facilities on black newspapers were inferior to those at the company's "white" newspapers. While these facts may have stemmed from commercial considerations, they gave rise to a feeling that black journalists were treated as "poor cousins".
23) Management handling of the strike on Post Transvaal - the threat to call in the police, and refusal to consider concessions - caused much bitterness among black staff, which rankles to this day.
24) Blacks feel insufficient efforts were made by the company to improve their performance through proper training.