The great media pioneers

By Phindile Xaba , Thapelo Mokoatsi

Since the launch of The Journalist two years ago, its Pioneers section has recorded the lives and times of trailblazers in the Black press in South Africa. The pieces that have appeared covered the period from the mid-1800s through to the 20th century. They have brought to the fore previously unacknowledged contributions of individuals who defied British colonialism and apartheid as they combined their work as activists, journalists and media proprietors.

This year alone we carried a variety of articles that provided insight into the fascinating worlds of the individuals and media platforms operating in the so-called Indian and Coloured communities in KwazuluNatal and the Western Cape. And then we removed the veil that concealed the contributions of women who made their mark in a male-dominated industry.

The Vibrant Indian Media in the 19th and early 20th centuries

The late 19th century, saw the establishment of a very vibrant media aimed at addressing socio-political concerns of people or Indian origin. The first publication The Indian World saw the light of day in 1898, and was followed by the Colonial Indian News (1901) founded by a Tamil newspaperman, P.S. Aiyar, who a year later, brought out another publication called The African Chronicle.

It was the Indian Opinion that would claim a major spot in the sun, launched by Mansukhlal Hiralal Nazar, on June 4, 1903, who was then the secretary of the Natal Indian Congress. His partner in the venture was close friend Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. When MH Nazar suddenly died Gandhi, then a 23 year old lawyer would bank roll the publication until his savings ran out.

The Indian Views was then founded by M.C. Anglia. The paper was born in 1924 and went under in 1972. In 1940, on 30 November, while the Indian Opinion and the Indian Views were still running, another Indian newspaper was born, The Leader. Its founding father was Dhanee Bramdaw, this was around the same time that the anti-Indian tension in Natal was prevalent and that is what drove content.

Then came a magazine known as The Graphic, established by a man only known as K. Pillay son of a printing press owner in 1950. The publication was an entertainment magazine that also shaped political opinions.
In the 1930s, The Guardian emerged, and would later change its name to the New Age. Around the same time another newspaper was born by the name The Call as a response to political activism in Natal. The best-selling tabloid ever was, Golden City Post, which came to life in March 1955. It was a great hit at a time when readers were hungry for gossip, scandal and expose.

Defiant Women Journalists

People such as Tiyo Soga, John Tengo Jabavu, Allan Kirkland Soga, Walter Rubusana, Solomon T Plaatje, Silas Molema, H S Tlale, Pixley Ka Izaka Seme, Alfred Mandena, R.W. Msimang, G.D Montsioa , C Kunene and D S Lentaka , and many others, offered a rich history of socio-political and economic commentary representing African people’s sentiments in the 19th – early 20th centuries, using the media. But women did not feature in the narrative of the early media. However The Journalist found the women’s voices that had been stifled and obscured. These women have significantly contributed.

Joyce Sikhakhane Rankin was the first and only woman journalist at The World as far back as 1963. The newspaper had not employed a woman journalist before. She was later joined by Sophie Tema. Drum and The Post then employed women like Jubie Mayet. Then there were women such as as Alinah Dube who single-handedly ran Pretoria News Bureau and also penetrated Radio Journalism.

The late Joyce Dube, an all-rounder entered the media as a writer and then moved on to sales and marketing. Another woman worth highlighting is writer and journalist Noni Jabavu whose full profile was published in The Journalist. She was a pioneer in many fields. She was the first black South African woman to publish autobiographies. In a remarkable career, she studied music, was a prolific writer, had a stint as a radio personality for the BBC and worked as a film technician and semi-skilled engineer and oxyacetylene welder, working on bomber engine parts during the Second World War. Her grandfather John Tengo Jabavu (1859 –1921) first carved his name as editor of South Africa’s first newspaper to be written in Xhosa Isigidimi samaXhosa as far back as 1876. Her father Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu (1885 -1959), a politician turned journalist, founded and became the editor of the first Black-owned newspaper in 1884, Imvo Zabantsundu (Black Opinion). And so the apple did not fall far from the tree.

In 1961 she became the first African woman to ever edit a British literary magazine– The New Strand, a revived version of The Strand Magazine, which had closed in 1950.

Black Press in the Western Cape

The Citizen, The Clarion, The Sun and The Cape Herald give a picture of the Cape Colony’s chronicles of Africans. The Citizen (different to the current Caxton’s daily) in Kimberley is recorded as the first publication in the 19th century, in 1895. The paper lasted a mere four issues, but had built a foundation for media proprietor Francis Zaccheus Santiago (FZS) who initiated The South African Spectator.

Dr Abdullah Abdurahman leader of the anti-segregationist movement, African Political Organisation (APO), in 1913 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.

Then there was The Clarion launched in March 1919, which lasted just over a year. 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. 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. The newspaper was representative of the policies of the Non-European Unity Movement. After its demise in 1963 a newspaper, The Cape Herald, was founded in 1965 and soon became a leading newspaper. 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.


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.

Dhupelia-Mesthrie, U. 2003. The Significance of Indian Opinion. Address to the Conference on the Alternative Media to Commemorate the Centenary of the Founding of the Indian Opinion, 4 June 2003, Durban. Available at: Accessed on [20 April 2016].

Maharaj, P. 1994. Preliminary Study of the First Decade of The Leader with Particular Reference to its Stance on the Passive Resistance Campaign of 1946. BSocSci Honours Mini Dissertation in the Department of History, University of Natal, Durban, November 1994.

Ulwazi, [s.a.]. Indian Newspapers in KwaZulu Natal. Available at: Accessed on [20 April 2016].

Sarita Ranchod – Her Stories - Celebrating Pioneering Women in South African Journalism - Stories on Karima Brown, Sophie Tema, Ferial Haffajee and Joyce Sikhakhane - Rhodes Journalism Review - Rhodes University Volume 24 retrieved from on 27 July 2016

Joyce Dube – You Go Girl! - Rhodes Journalism Review - Rhodes University Volume 24, retrieved from on 27 July 2016

The Stylish Revolutionary – extract from Maverick – Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past by Lauren Beukes published by Oshun Books, was published in The Journalist Helen Nontando (Noni) Jabavu from South African History Online retrieved from on 27 July 2016


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, […]

Thapelo Mokoatsi

Thapelo Mokoatsi grew up in the small cattle farming town of Hoopstad in the Free State. He studied BA Honours in Africa Studies at the Centre for Africa Studies at the University of the Free State. He recently completed his Africa Studies Masters’ research on the topic: “Caught Between a Ballot and a Bullet: Case-study […]


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