Naspers and City Press' lessons in the art of togetherness

The publication of former City Press editor Len Kalane’s book, The Chapter We Wrote: The City Press story, was a great excuse for us to get our iconic paper’s previous editors – or as many as we could find – together to discuss the defining stories of their time.

On the panel, facilitated by current editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya, were Kalane, Khulu Sibiya, Mathatha Tsedu, Khathu Mamaila and Ferial Haffajee.

Joining City Press’ leaders current and past were guests from across the spectrum – fellow editors such as Daily Sun’s Reggy Moalusi, friends of the paper such as former journalist and minister Charles Nqakula, Deon Wiggett of Fairly Famous, Shekeshe Mokgosi of The Other Foundation, as well as valued readers and former employees.

Kalane explained how City Press, launched by iconic Drum publisher Jim Bailey as Golden City Post, was bought by Naspers in the 1980s, creating an unlikely relationship at the time.

Kalane said: "In 2013, when City Press was celebrating 21 years of existence, Ton Vosloo, then Naspers managing director, said there were many observers who were startled by this unlikely association of black and Afrikaner. He said the City Press 'experiment' taught Naspers valuable lessons in the art of togetherness."

City Press editor Mondli Makhanya and former City Press editor and journalist Ferial Haffajee talk with members of the public during the launch of the book, The Chapter We Wrote: The City Press story.

When each editor was invited to share their insights and favourite news moments, it was little surprise Sibiya chose the terrible Saturday morning when Chris Hani was assassinated. He spoke about how the decision was made to use the gory photograph of his body.

Tsedu went for a celebratory moment in South Africa’s post-democratic history, when we learnt we’d won the bid to host the 2010 World Cup. He said the newsroom put together two special editions for the Saturday afternoon – one with "we got it" as the headline and one saying "we nearly got it".

Mamaila chose Thabo Mbeki’s recall, joking that if it had not happened perhaps South Africa would now be a one-party state.

Haffajee selected what she referred to as one of the most difficult moments in democratic South Africa, namely its first massacre, at Marikana.

The edition featured the faces and stories of every person killed in the massacre. Haffajee recalled that the sale of the edition tanked because no one wanted to read it.

The editors’ discussion soon turned to iconic City Press editor Percy Qoboza. Anecdotes about his time at the paper had the room laughing and nodding in agreement, with Makhanya admitting that it was his desire to be like Qoboza that led him to journalism.

Makhanya said of the event: "This was a celebration of City Press, one of South Africa’s most iconic institutions, one which was at the forefront of the fight to attain liberation, and one which is now a major pillar of the democratic infrastructure."

For guests, hanging out with eminent storytellers who recorded our history for City Press was a delight that ended with dinner, a lemon and black pepper-infused gin, and book signing.

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