‘The paper with the guts to tell the truth’

”This is a newspaper that has been banned, has been closed down, has been sued. The Mail & Guardian bears the scars of a difficult childhood. The broad outlines of the history ought to be known to you. And if they are not known to you, you obviously have not been watching Hard Copy on SABC TV every Wednesday night,” said Irwin Manoim, one of the founding editors of the M&G, at the newspaper’s 20th anniversary celebrations on Thursday evening.

”Today is the 20th anniversary of the very day when the tiny but courageous staff of the infant Weekly Mail … noticed for the first time that they pissed away every last cent in their tiny bank account,” he said.give

The newspaper hosted a grand evening birthday bash on the terrace of its new offices in Rosebank, Johannesburg, attended by current and former staff members, politicians, musicians, ex-ministers, business people and other dignitaries.

Manoim said the M&G is the last surviving independent newspaper in South Africa, and recounted a story about an editor he met who told him that the M&G is ”the only real paper in the country with the guts to tell the truth”.

Business mogul Tokyo Sexwale, the guest speaker, waved Friday’s M&G front page at the audience, displaying the headline that read ”Top-secret semen”, a reference to the Jacob Zuma rape allegations.

”Quite rude,” he remarked drily.

”But I think the Mail & Guardian has established a track record. It used to be The Weekly Mail, never sure whether it will survive week to week, but has transcended from then to become the Mail and our Guardian. There is that change, we can feel it,” he said.

He also praised ”the courage [of] people who run this paper from day to day and week to week”.

”Rather get it wrong than not say it all,” he added, recounting how members of the African National Congress have fretted on Thursday nights before the M&G hit the streets the next day.

”Through the challenging and exciting times of transformation … our newspaper has recorded it all, with unseen fervour and the fearless pursuit of the truth,” continued Sexwale.

The M&G sometimes does get things wrong — ”big-time headline wrong, small apology”, he joked.

”That’s the power of owning the pen,” he said. ”It is better to get it wrong — I can live with that — than not to tackle the subject.”

The newspaper has occupied a prime spot in leading South African investigative journalism since June 1985, when the first edition of The Weekly Mail was published.

It has always been one of the smallest newspapers in the country, with its readers demanding in-depth and truthful news coverage that doesn’t toe the government line.

During the apartheid years, the newspaper brought South Africans the news that other papers didn’t. During the 1980s, it often seemed like it was the only publication writing the truth about South Africa’s state of affairs.

At Thursday’s celebrations, singer-songwriter Jennifer Ferguson said: ”When I was living in Sweden, the M&G became a very essential lifeline for me. I read it online and it kept me in touch with the madness in this place of serenity.

”I do miss the outrageous courage in the paper that they used to have. When the first issue came out I was, like, 24 and I am still reading it. But I am frustrated with its relentless pursuit of truth [that seems to be less vigorous than before]. The paper is now in the middle of the road. But I love Ferial’s presence [Ferial Haffajee, the M&G‘s first female editor]. That is something beautiful.”

Mondli Makhanya, former M&G editor and now editor of the Sunday Times, said: ”In 1985, I read the first issue; I read it because my parents used to read the Rand Daily Mail. From day one, I never missed one. I started my very first job as a reporter at The Weekly Mail in 1990. This paper is very close to my heart. It defined what the struggle was about.”

Stephen Gray, author, critic and journalist, said he first picked up the M&G when it was six weeks old.

”It just fell into place in my home. It has had to go all sorts of ways to survive,” he said.

”The M&G means everything to me,” Manoim told the M&G Online after delivering his speech, ”and I can’t explain what everything means, just everything. I am still very proud to be associated with the paper.”

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Riaan Wolmarans
Guest Author
Reesha Chibba
Guest Author
Elvira Van Noort
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