The last issue of the New Nation weekly newspaper appeared today, ending the 11-year career of one of the few South African newspapers to be black owned, black edited, and almost entirely staffed by blacks.
New Nation was launched in early 1986 by the SA Catholic Bishops Conference, and quickly rose to prominence as one of the most outspoken voices of the anti-apartheid “alternative” press. The early New Nation was edited by Zwelakhe Sisulu, now chief of the SABC, who was repeatedly house-arrested and detained during the eighties, becoming a martyr to the cause of press freedom.
Unyielding in its principles as the voice of black workers, New Nation quickly made enemies in government, and was the first of the alternative newspapers to be suspended — for three months — in 1988.
An earnest tone, a reputation as an ANC mouthpiece and a distaste for frivolity prevented New Nation widening its readership beyond activist circles, and its militancy alienated potential advertisers. Constantly in financial trouble, New Nation was sold to Nthatho Motlana, who also owns the Sowetan — and who reportedly bought the paper under instruction from Nelson Mandela, who had a soft spot for it.
The revamped New Nation was more attractive and broke some strong stories, revealing the existence of mass graves of slain activists, and the mystery circumstances of the Chris Hani murder. But it was unable to overcome its own reputation, and circulation steadily declined, ending at little more than 22 000.
New Nation was the only prominent South African newspaper to consistently support the trade union movement, the left wing of the ANC, and the Winnie Mandela faction in the ANC. With its passing, closed down by a black company, diversity of media opinion has shrunk a little more.