/ 1 April 2021

What connects the M to the G?

André 3000, Outkast Reunion Tour 2014 Theo Wargo/ Getty Images
The past is another country: André 3 000 was on to something when he said if you “focus on the past your ass’ll be a has but” – something we try to keep in mind as the M&G evolves. Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

We’ve had a lot of challenges to deal with this past year. With a new threat thrown at it, the human race scurried in a fruitless effort to do what it has always done: try and make sense of everything. The predictable result? An unmitigated proliferation of quacks, hogwash-peddlers, deranged leaders, ill-meaning holy men, fly-by-tweet soothsayers and pseudo-doctors playing a deadly game with the word “expert”.

It’s been a lot to take in. And, let’s admit it, at one stage or another just about all of us have probably been swayed to some extent by these people. How could we not be? It’s in our nature to seek answers. Most of us alive today have spent our lives in a global society that has always provided them. There is almost nothing that Mr Google — as a recent consultant we engaged with called it — can’t tell us.

As if smashed over the head with a nightstick we had to abandon every­thing we thought we knew. 

All of a sudden there were new rules … but what were they? Who was making them? Would life return to what it was before? Did we want it to?

For us, your authors, not exactly being regulars at Sunday service or well-versed in the liturgical calendar we also didn’t have the benefit of turning to any doctrine for existential answers.

In this haze, we were faced with two options. Surrender to being shepherded by the litany of fools we mentioned; or take in as much information as possible and decide for ourselves what to do with it.

Here’s a free tip: if you ever want to understand something, try to write about it. 

And so we did just that. The Ampersand was born — a daily newsletter on everything from current events to the most abstract relics of literature and mythology. Most importantly, it gave us a platform to digest and engage with our colleagues’ fantastic work.

The Mail & Guardian, for the many who have passed through its doors, is often the subject of the kind of delirious nostalgia that hinders more than it helps. 

We used to have money! The paper was much thicker! So-and-so used to write a column. With former columnists insulting the people who often leave dignity and sense at the door to produce it weekly, one is hard-pressed to explain why they work here. The juniorisation of the newsroom is a threat, we are told, and it has lost institutional knowledge. True. 

Reminiscing is free but solutions are costly. Visions of the future are in short supply so it’s best to find comfort in firing off Facebook screeds.  

As we mentioned before, we were last seen in confessional booths when we were mandated to do so. What has shaped and offered our direction more than the threat of eternal damnation or the end of the M&G, were the people in this newsroom. 

The losses we each sustained can’t be quantified. But in this crisis we each have a choice: feed grievance or nurture growth. 

The Ampersand was always a team effort. Something irreverent but enough to inform while offering a reprieve from the staid and depressing. The name came from the Africa editor, the subs desk, all esteemed pros. Those who used to sit in our newsroom lend a hand. Eskom? Call Skiti. What would Tromp say if you filed this? Rabkin can explain why a person in divorce proceedings can’t be named. Ask Malan what Rx means. 

They no longer work here but they are kind enough to be on hand. They don’t have to. 

Those juniors who are often the subject of sneering derision wrote articles that inspired our writing. What is fostered in this newsroom has often been a balm and refuge. 

Back around this time last year when then editor-in-chief Khadija Patel told readers we were in financial trouble, indicating there was a possibility we could close permanently, we found the light in our colleagues. 

The M&G is a name. It’s only as good as the integrity of those whose bylines it carries. Like Andre 3 000 said so presciently in Rosa Parks (1998): “Baby boy you only funky as your last cut/Focus on the past your ass’ll be a has but.” 

The past is just that — past. No frills. No big celebrity. What we have now is the means to focus on what we do best: journalism. 

So, if you want to help us do that, please consider taking out a subscription — you won’t regret it. Sign up for the Ampersand here.