Thapelo Mokoatsi and  Phindile Xaba

With over 150 years recorded of Indian Journalism in South Africa, there is a lot to write about thanks to its pioneers. Thapelo Mokoatsi looks at racial segregation in the press, the emergence of the Indian press and the telling circulation figures of alternate voices during a time of repression.

Due to the country’s violent colonial past, segregataion and oppression, the history of the press in South Africa is divided into racial groups, namely the English, Coloured and Black Press. However it is incomplete without the Indian Press, which has a history that spans over 150 years. All of these divisions now form part of what is called the South African press in a post-colonial South Africa.

Forming part of the parcel

Thousands of readers were exposed to missionary newspapers, two prominent papers come to mind. The first is Isigidimi samaXhosa, founded and edited by Reverend Dr. James Stewart in October 1870 (you can read more about him here). The second is Umshayeli Wendaba, said to be one of the first newspapers written for black readers, which was printed at the Grahamstown based Wesleyan Mission Society between 1837 and 1841. These two examples are but a few of the alternative voices that started to arise in Victorian South Africa as far back as the late 19th and early 20th century.

Another prominent political activist and editor springs to mind. John Tengo Jabavu broke away from the stifling atmosphere of missionary newspapers and found a home at Isigidimi samaXhosa, in 1881 he was named editor. Just a few years later, in 1884, he founded his own newspaper, Imvo Zabatsundu (Black Opinion) and opened an office in King Williamstown at the tender age of 24. Mpilo Walter Benson Rubusana and Allan Kirkland Soga on the other hand, were known to have published a far more radical paper, Izwi Labantu.

In Natal, the likes of John Langalibalele Dube rose to prominence in April 1903 when he founded Ilanga lase Natal as a response to the South African mainstream press of that time. Ipepo loHlanga of Mark Radebe and Inkanyiso yase Natal of Solomon Khumalo preceded Dube’s Ilanga.

It is no different from the Indian communities in Natal, who may have read Black newspapers as a way to be enlightened about what was happening around them. At that time, the politics and the press were inextricably linked such that it is through the Natal Indian Congress and its secretary, Mansukhal Hiral Nazar and prominent lawyer, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, affectionately known as Mahatma, that the Indian Opinion was established. The Printing pressman, Madanjit Viyavaharik of International Printing Press, also paved the way for the 58-year spell of the paper.

The Beginning of the Indian Press in Natal

Newspapers that came before the Indian Opinion, especially in the late 19th century, include The Indian World, which was established in 1898. Three years later, in 1901, a Tamil newspaperman, P.S. Aiyar founded a bilingual Tamil-English paper Colonial Indian News, which was published weekly. A year later, in 1902, he founded another publication called The African Chronicle.

Close to four decades later, 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.

The Leader’s first issue stated that it hoped to, “interpret all those facets of the community life and development that should prove of interest to all its readers”, wrote Prashanta Maharaj in his thesis titled ‘A preliminary study of the first decade of The Leader with particular reference to its stance on the Passive Resistance Campaign of 1946’.

The circulation of The Leader grew exponentially over the years of its existence. By 1954 it enjoyed a circulation of 13 000, surpassing the circulation figures of both its competitors the Indian Opinion and the Indian Views; this was around the same time that the anti-Indian tension in Natal was prevalent.

A magazine known as The Graphic was established by K. Pillay in 1950 around the same time The Leader enjoyed the spotlight. The Indian Views’ founding father became M.C. Anglia. The paper was born at the beginning of the First World War and went under in 1972.

In the 1930s, The Guardian emerged as one of the publications that reached a circulation figure of 5 000 in its first 10 years of existence. During its second decade, it changed its name to the New Age. Around the same time The Guardian was first established another newspaper was born by the name The Call. It started as a response to political activism in Natal. Indian, African and white liberation activists threw their weight behind these publications, as the racial oppression grew.

The best-selling tabloid Indian newspaper, Golden City Post, came to life in March 1955 when it recorded its first circulation figures in Durban. The paper blew its readers away at a time when the public yeared for gossip, scandal and expose.