Going to press: black newspapers in South Africa

By Phindile Xaba

Tim Couzen’s paper, titled History of the Black Press in South Africa 1836-1960 presented at the University of the Witwatersrand Institute for Advanced Social Research, discusses the characters and newspapers that contributed to the black press, including The Citizen, The Clarion, The Sun and The Cape Herald.

The Citizen

The late 19th century saw the publishing of The Citizen (different to the current Caxton’s daily) – in Kimberley. The Citizen was a three column, four-page paper that carried reports of various community meetings and concerts that were held in the area, as well as cultural news. A little rough around the edges, the publication was described as poorly laid out – a jumble of shapes and sizes across its pages – and was very often seen as an example of how not to print a newspaper.

According to Couzens, The Citizen was nothing but a praise singer of various American institutions, pretty much a representation of its founders since it was started in 1895 by a member of the American Jubilee singers troupe, who had been on tour in South Africa. The paper lasted a mere four issues.

Early 1900s

Around 1900, a fascinating and colourful character by the name of Francis Zaccheus Santiago (FZS) Peregrino, also known as the mastermind of Pan African and black journalism, landed on the shores of what is now known as the Western Cape where he established and published The South African Spectator. Peregrino’s goal was to instil a sense of pride in black South Africans and used the paper to advance this cause.

The young man was worldly. Born in Accra, Ghana, he had been travelling the world prior to settling in South Africa. He had lived and worked in a steel foundry before moving to the USA, where he laboured in a steel mill in Atlanta, Georgia, before landing in South Africa to set up The Spectator. “Within a few weeks of his arrival he had established The South African Spectator, full of amazing American-worded advertisements,” wrote Couzens.

Dr. Abdullah Abdurahman was another important figure of the time. He was a politician and physician, who became the first black person to be elected to the Cape Town City Council, as well as the leader of the anti-segregationist movement, African Political Organisation (APO), which was established in 1902. The party lasted into the 1920s. Under Abdurahman’s leadership, APO gained thousands of members, with over 100 branches, which made it the country’s largest black political organisation during that time. In 1913, Dr. Abdurahman launched The S.A. Referee, a newspaper that contained political articles and helped the founding of the Teachers League of South Africa (TLSA) in Cape Town in 1913 along with civil rights activist and teacher Harold Cressy and a group of teachers from APO.

The Clarion

In March 1919, the South African Clarion was started to support the South African National Party, with APO putting its weight behind the party. It was generally believed ‘that this publication which was well-written and circulated throughout the length and breadth of South Africa, was the means of bringing the Pact Government (Nationalists and Labour) into power’, wrote Couzens. The Clarion lasted just over a year.

The Sun, The Torch, The Cape Herald

The very year that The Clarion folded, The Sun was launched. Much of The Sun‘s popularity and success at the time was due to the space devoted to social news. It was something new to see one’s name in the paper … For the first time the progress of our people was being chronicled,” wrote Couzens.

The Sun, founded by A.S. Hayes and C.L. Stewart in 1932, and taken over by Samuel Griffiths in 1936 (the United Party owned it between 1947 and 1950) carried on until 1956. By 1954 its circulation was 2 000.

Its rival in that year was The Torch, with a circulation of 4,000. This paper was started by a group of black people who “felt the need for an independent, non-party newspaper caring for the interest of, primarily, the non-white peoples of the Union”, Couzens wrote. The newspaper was representative of the policies of the Non-European Unity Movement. After its demise in 1963 a new newspaper, The Cape Herald, was founded in 1965 and soon became a leading newspaper.

The Cape Standard

In May 1936, The Cape Standard first appeared in newsstands. The Cape Standard agenda was to make it a mighty weapon of a unified people fighting for equality, justice and freedom. The Cape Standard died soon after the Anglo-Boer war.


References

Couzens, T. (1984). History of the Black Press in South Africa 1836-1960 - University of the Witwatersrand Institute for Advanced Social Research

Switzer, L. and Switzer, D. (1979). The Black Press in South Africa and Lesotho - A descriptive bibliographic guide
to African, Coloured and Indian newspapers, newsletters and magazines 1836-1976, G.K.Hall & Co.
 70 Lincoln Street, Boston, Mass.

Contributors

Phindile Xaba

She is a seasoned journalist and media practitioner across multiple platforms. She began her career in print media at age 17; and then moved on to explore the TV industry where she worked as a television production manager, scriptwriter, publicist, producer/director, language advisor/trainer and researcher, with some of her work being showcased on SABC, M-Net, […]

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