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The Weekly Mail was started in mid-1985 by a group of journalists who had been recently retrenched from the Rand Daily Mail and the Sunday Express, which had both closed down. The paper was run on a shoestring, but made possible by the revolution in “desktop publishing” of the 1980s.
The space for contestation of the apartheid regime was closing down, and these journalists felt there should be a publication that kept that space open. It would report news that the South African public was technically not allowed to know, particularly the news of township “unrest” and police repression that was restricted under the State of Emergency laws promulgated by then-president PW Botha in 1985.
The Weekly Mail often sailed close to the legal wind, trying to dodge these emergency laws and inform the public about what was really going on in South Africa. The country was in a state of barely suppressed civil war as more and more people challenged the authority of the apartheid government. The paper revealed the white rulers’ support for Renamo in Mozambique and kept a tally of activists in detention. Eventually, in 1988, the state succeeded in shutting down The Weekly Mail for three months, but support for the paper was rallied and it reopened in late 1988 and kept going.
“The paper for a changing South Africa” was the motto given with the paper’s masthead, and in the years from the unbanning of the liberation movements to the first fully democratic election in 1994 it detailed a fast-changing South Africa for its readers. One explosive exposé was the paper’s revelation of the apartheid state’s funding and training of Inkatha death squads. But the paper also covered less explosive issues, such as a developing multiracial culture and the vibrant music and art of the time. It introduced many vital new voices to readers and set up a training programme for a new generation of South African journalists.
In the mid-1990s, a deal with the British paper The Guardian integrated that publication’s international content with the Mail’s South African coverage, beginning the process that would see The Weekly Mail become the Mail & Guardian. It would keep that name, now a well-established brand in the Southern African media landscape, after 2002, when Zimbabwean media entrepreneur Trevor Ncube took over ownership of the company. In that time, the paper had launched South Africa’s first internet news site, as well as uncovering major scandals in the oil industry (“Oilgate”) and exposing commissioner of police Jackie Selebi’s corrupt relationship with a gangster.
Today, the Mail & Guardian is still South Africa’s leading investigative publication, a forum for debate about the country and its politics, and a provider of the top arts and culture coverage. It operates across several websites, including M&G Online, Thought Leader and M&G Africa.
M&G has received numerous accolades and awards for its online work, often scooping the inaugural digital awards in various competitions. It was the first to win the multi-platform award at the 2013 Sikuvile awards. The M&G scooped the CNN Multichoice Africa Journalism Award for digital journalism in 2012 and the online multimedia award at the 2012 Standard Bank Sikuvile Journalism Awards.
The M&G's website won three Bookmarks awards in 2010 and 2011, one of which was a gold award for its Nelson Mandela tribute site. It received three Webby Honourable Mentions in 2008 for its Thought Leader blogging platform and in 2001, the site was voted one of the world's top 175 websites by Forbes.com.
The publication belongs to M&G Media Limited, which is majority owned by the international non-profit Media Development Investment Fund, together with CEO Hoosain Karjieker as the local empowerment partner. A 10% share is held by the M&G Staff Share Trust, and the remaining stakes are shared by minority shareholders.
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