I’D BEEN thinking about how to say goodbye for days – and I had gone through periods of bristling anger and weepy sadness as I gathered my thoughts.
Across the floor from my desk, colleagues were sifting through the thousands of photographs that were strewn across the newsroom floor, collecting their own special memories of what had been a special newspaper for all of us.
It was March 24, 1986 – and in less than 24 hours the final edition of the Cape Herald would be on the streets.
I looked at the blank screen of my antiquated Atex desktop computer for a few seconds – and then I began typing the most difficult lead story I’d ever written: a front-page farewell.
I knew what my introduction was going to say….
“For more than 22 years we claimed to be the ‘Paper that Cares. And we did [care], every day and every week in written word and deed.
“And now it’s time to say farewell – forever.”
I was less sure though about what to include afterwards.
There was so much I wanted to write about, but so little space in which to tell it. I was close to a state of panic.
In breaks between writing, I thought of my arrival at the Cape Herald, how painfully shy I’d been – the antithesis of a newspaper reporter, whose job it is to interview anyone from a president to a farm labourer.
I remembered how I had persevered and why my confidence had been boosted in a very short time.
I reminded myself of how, over the years, I’d come to realise the importance of mentorship – and how fortunate so many of us at the Cape Herald were to have had the best mentors anyone could ever hope for.
Herman Arendse, the news editor for many years, was a fountain of knowledge for a young journalist like me to sip from. Sylvia Vollenhoven took no shit from anyone long before taking no shit from anyone became accepted practice in newsrooms. Then there was the brash, brave and very good Jimmy Atkins, who I wanted to be like.
All newspapers had to have newspaper axemen. Ours was Colin Dedricks, an excellent sub-editor, who made sure deadlines were met.
Warren Ludski, ‘Hipcat’ to thousands of fans across the Cape Flats, brought a sense of fun to journalism.
All of them were generous in teaching me. They allowed me to ‘steal’ techniques from them. They instilled me with confidence. They helped feed my ambitions.
In a short time, I had no problem interviewing a bullying apartheid rugby boss such as Danie Craven, questioning far-from-friendly police liaison officers about protest-related arrests, and even marching into the office of the Cape Argus editor, John O’Malley, to question him about apartheid rugby advertisements in his newspaper.
I wanted to – but couldn’t – write in much greater detail about some of the journalists I worked with.
There was Brendon Roberts, for instance, who covered life in informal settlements such as Unibel, Werkgenot and Vrygrond in a highly innovative way. He spent weekends there, living with families in their shacks, and then writing moving articles about what it really meant to live under such conditions.
Also deserving of tribute were colleagues who covered protests with me – Tyrone Seale, Michael Doman, Gary van Dyk and our driver, Jack Mahlangu.
It wasn’t easy….
Almost every day, police threatened us with guns and whips. At one point, security police subpoenaed us to answer questions in court that would have implicated people in the struggle.
We made up our minds to rather go to jail than to answer questions in court.
We were scared shitless by this – and by what we saw every day in the townships.
But invariably we’d shake off our fears, and go out again. We wanted people to know what was happening. We believed we understood the issues. We could feel their pain. We could understand their anger because we were part of a province and country in crisis.
We took our chances – risking injury and even death – like the rest of the disaffected population. Yet we were able to record some of the most poignant accounts of that time.
And that was something to feel proud of.
The Cape Herald went on sale for the last time on March 25, 1986.
Footnote: This is the last chapter in this series. I always had an uneasy feeling writing this. I know it is easy for people to see these musings as egotistical rantings. And I don’t blame them for thinking this. But for those who do, please don’t be too hard on me. My only intention was to tell a story of what I thought was an eventful part of my life.