On my Watch

Behind the News ~ Book I

Reading Time: 38 minutes

Cross-reference from the Prologue and Chapter 8.

News coverage of the entire history of the South African nation and some of  the history of the Western World must of necessity require more of your attention and time than any of the other Cross-References on a multitude of subjects and issues that follow in these books.

Yet this first example – in relative terms –  covers its subject in a proverbial flash.

It demands a brief explanation, however, as to why newspapers provide possibly the best records of recent history as it flows down the great river of Time.

Too often historians ignore contemporary public opinion, community attitudes and the social pressures of their era. Too often academics use hindsight to re-arrange history. Too often modern prejudices distort judgements on actions of previous generations.
In compiling these headlines from the stories in the files of The Star we are fortunate in being able to combine hindsight with the spontaneity of the moments in history.

But what about the accuracy of the contemporary record? If it is flawed, everything is false.

It is not for me, as the 19th and last editor of The Star in its initial 100 years, to say whether this particular newspaper has accurately reflected its community throughout that time.  Of course there have been factual errors and subjective misjudgements. Added to these are the facts that the news has been reported by and for literate people only … and that the South African newspapers, during the last years of white Nationalism, were faced with increasing censorship which almost forced independent-minded editors to quit.

But the ‘holes’ in accurate reporting were either corrected or declared; or they were obvious announcements signalled by blank spaces published by a protesting press, or self- evident concerning the illiterate majority of non-reading, vote-deprived people whose interests The Star stated it was duty-bound to uphold.

The nharvey-tysonewspaper was criticised by all extremists; Left and Right and other abnormally self-centred interests. This helped it provide a middle ground for its literate readers of all races, religious opinions and political beliefs who  were warned that during the last years of desperate white nationalist government, both sides of every story could no longer be told.

The newspaper strictly limited its political prejudices to its editorials and labelled opinion pages. For all these reasons it may be regarded as a newspaper of (historical) record.


What is history?
How can a newspaper pretend to write it?
The answer to both questions should come, not from the press, but from recognised great historians:

“History,” said Edward Gibbon, author of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, “is little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.”
“History,”said Hendrik van Loon, “is the record of man in quest of his daily bread and butter.”
said Thomas Carlyle, “is a distillation of rumour.”
said Frederic Maitland, “is not what happened but what people thought or said about it.”
And each of those views describes an element of news reporting.  The fact that newspapers are not (or ought not to be) boring or pompous does not detract from their value as records of history.
“In analysing history,” Ralph Waldo Emerson advised, “do not be too profound, for often the causes are quite superficial.”

The relatively new science of Social History begins to incorporate most of these views. The headlines that follow reflect the view of the day.


1910 – The founding of a nation

 It is now confirmed that 13 territories, divided into four major provinces, will make-up the new nation of South Africa under a single flag.
The territories are: Transvaal’s South African Republic; Natal; Zululand; Republic of the Orange Free State; Griqualand West; Griqualand East; the  Crown-owned portion of Bechuanaland; The Border, including Xhosaland and Pondoland; The Cape, including the Northern and Eastern Cape.

Mr. J X Merriman, leader in The Cape, has insisted that the new Province will keep open its Voters’ Roll for all qualified adult males of all races. Other Provinces will keep their current electoral systems which will be subject to the new State, not the Crown.

A 14th territory, now known as Rhodesia, has opted to remain outside the proposed Union, because of the failure to agree on a Federation with greater powers for each province. It will therefore remain under the Crown.

Excluded from the proposed ‘South Africa’ are Bechuanaland (but not the southern corner), Basutoland and Swaziland which will remain as British Protectorates.


The 1920s and all that jazz

In the western hemisphere, the 1920s was an era of celebration, a time to forget politicking and the ‘World War to end all wars’ and its global mourning of mass deaths. It was party time; a time to dance the Charleston, to shimmy, and all that Jazz.  It was a time for liberation – especially of educated women, even if very few women got the vote until the 1930s or later. It was a time for civilisation to re-assess life and its values, after the horrible mass-deaths of the First World War.
Generally it was the same pattern, in fact, as the post-war years of the next war in the 1940s.
As the following headlines indicate, ‘Progress’ was literally in the air in 1920s.

April 8, 1922. A British postal aeroplane from Croydon to Paris and a similar French aeroplane flying from Le Bourget to London collided in fog yesterday near Grand Villiers, crashing in flames and killing all six of both postal flying crews. The service, using four machines flying each way daily, was inaugurated only five days ago.

May 7, 1925. The Ethyl Gasoline Corporation of New York has suspended the sale of tetra-ethel lead.  Professor Henderson of Yale University asserts that the use of ethyl-leaded petrol would cause large numbers of the population to suffer from slow lead-poisoning …through inhaling exhaust fumes.

May 2 1928.  Mr I.W. Schlesinger, the impresario who owns a radio contract in the Union of SA is to have an interview with the directors of the Baird Company in London with a view to acquiring control of so-called television in that country. Mr John Logie Baird, has established the world’s first television broadcasting company, for which he has also invented the ‘televisor’.  His company, named 2TV, is sending out test pictures nightly to a receiving station several miles from his laboratory in Harrow (outside London).

(Note. South Africa failed to be among the first in the world to have TV in the ‘Twenties. Instead, television was rejected by the Union’s new government after WW2 by the new Minister of Postal Services, Dr Albert Hertzog, on the grounds that it was a little black box broadcasting godless rubbish. His incontestable view was finally abandoned in 1976, years after the landing of a man on the moon, which had been televised to the rest of the world.)

June 13, 1929. An American traffic device is introducing an elaborate system of flash signals at a busy intersection in Johannesburg’s city centre. More of these may be installed later.
(Note. Traffic lights were called ‘Robots’ during their first 50 years of operating in South Africa.  A proliferation of more sophisticated robots encouraged the name change.)

At this time there were lots of major issues in every sphere of life from technology to fashion, from ethics to art. Here is the reminder of just one event:

Nov 15, 1926. Herman Charles Bosman, a young school teacher was sentenced to death today for the murder of his step-brother David Russell by shooting him with a rifle. The case was described as “a sad and pathetic one” resulting, not from a quarrel, but strained inter-family relationships.
(Note. Bosman’s sentence was commuted. He wrote a book about life in the death-cell, and went on to write many humorous social satires that earned him a reputation as possibly South Africa’s greatest writer, certainly the nation’s best satirist.)


A depressing 1930s

The ‘Thirties were marked by two overwhelming events. The Great Depression, and the rise of the century’s major demagogues: Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler and Chou En lai… all of whom exploited the human sufferings of wars and global Depression.

Jan 8, 1930. Having in the past supplied Germany with armaments, Krupps, the great steel firm at Essen, now propose to supply the Ruhr with cauliflowers, other vegetables, fruit and flowers. (Later, under Hitler, the ban on weapons making was ignored)

Jan 13, 1930.  A “kiss shop”, opened in Glasgow yesterday morning, closed down for good last night owing to lack of business. Girl undergraduates in the shop were offering kisses at 6d. apiece on behalf of several urgent charities, but the day’s takings were only 1s. 6d. paid for by two reporters and a man who misread “kisses” in the advertisement for “kittens”.

Sept 3, 1936. Dr Robert Broom, a retired doctor, discovered at Sterkfontein caves near Krugersdorp, Transvaal, an adult australopithecine jawbone. The discovery vindicated Professor Raymond Dart’s momentous discovery in 1924 of a skull which he claimed was the ‘missing link’ between man and ape. Dr Broom’s additional finding ended scientific rejection of a fiercely contested Darwinian theory. It also established that southern Africa, not Asia, was the likely ‘cradle of mankind’.

Feb 17 1934. Herr Hitler said last night tens of thousands of people sent to concentration camps had already been released. The prisoners had interfered with Germany’s “restoration to political health”. Those who abandoned their hostile attitudes to this were being released from the camps. Dr Goebbels declared that hostile citizens of Germany had been instrumental in persuading the English to denounce “our Nazi regime as a tyranny of blood terror. We have been (falsely) accused of all sorts of atrocities…”
(Note. Nearly 80 years later, in the 2010s, a film-maker was banned from Monaco’s Film Festival for jokingly claiming to be a ‘Nazi’.)

Sept 15, 1936. Germany is making large quantities of high explosives, despite the ban imposed by post-WW1’s Treaty of Versailles. A Washington Inquiry also heard allegations that Hitler’s supporters were armed in 1933 with American-made weapons smuggled in through Holland

December 11, 1936. King Edward VIII has abdicated the throne.
(He had reigned over the British Empire for 11 months, and quit to marry Mrs Simpson, an American divorcee. Everyone in the world relished the scandal, except the British, who weren’t told about it until the last moments. Poor younger brother, Bertie, had to change his name from Albert to George, and take over the realm. As war clouds rolled in, George VI played his role magnificently, almost without a stutter.
It was the time of ‘Knock Knock” jokes, one of them was:
Knock, Knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Windsor who?”
“Windsor wife and loses the Crown.”)

May 8, 1937
.  The Hindenberg airship, that so impressed the world when it flew repeatedly over the packed Olympic Games Stadium at low altitude on opening day in Berlin last year, has crashed dramatically in flames after crossing the Atlantic and trying to land at Lakehurst in the US. The death role in the disaster is officially announced to be 33 VIPs of various nations, the survivors numbering 66. Capt Max Pruss, commander of the Hindeburg is in critical condition.

May 4, 1939 The Royal Navy has taken up strategic stations to prevent invasion of Britain. On land, Britain, France Holland and Belgium are preparing to block Germany on its Siegfried Line. France’s huge defences on its Maginot Line are fully manned.
(Note. Hitler’s Blitzkreig soon raced around the static defences; invaded Germany’s smallest neighbours, but failed to prevent most of the British Expeditionary Force from escaping on small craft, fishing boats and private yachts back to England.  We kids had to stop singing the song of the year: “We’re going to hang out the washing on the Seigfried Line – have you any dirty washing mother dear?” British troops fell back, but Churchill hailed it as a victory. Of sorts. It was a moment of national courage and daring, and the British Expeditionary Force survived to fight more battles, beginning in Africa and returning to Europe on two fronts later.)

In the 1940s you could hear
a bomb drop

During this decade, war affected most families across the planet, from Beijing to Buenos Aires; from Los Angeles to Hiroshima; from bombed London to obliterated Dresden. And of course it directly and heavily impinged on people from the ghettoes of Poland to the Jewish freedom fighters, later in the decade, struggling to develop their homeland in the Middle East.

Christmas Eve, 1943. Lt. J.Montagu Simpson of Benmore Farm, Sandown, Johannesburg who served in the RDLI, in Intelligence, and in the SAAF, was previously reported missing. He is now presumed killed. He was in a bomber brought down last year. He was the only son of parents living in Johannesburg. He left bequests to his old school, and to his church.
(Note. Newspapers in the free world carried tens of thousands of  single column head-and-shoulders photographs of uniformed airmen, soldiers and sailors decorated for valour or reported dead, wounded; missing in action, or, occasionally, back on leave and given great welcomes at home. Gen Smuts’s Government enlisted only volunteers for war – and only ‘double volunteers’ wearing the Orange Flash, to fight outside the Union. Volunteers, over the age of 18, consisted of all races, both sexes and all creeds and persuasions, from Jewish to Muslim, and from communist to ultra-conservative. Only the extreme rightwing of Afrikaans bitter-einders refused to ‘join up’ to oppose Hitler. Dark-skinned South Africans were among the heroes, but seldom allowed to carry arms.)

Dec 2, 1942.  Capt W J van der Merwe, President Steyn Regiment, was killed in action in Egypt five weeks ago. He was on the magistrate’s staff in Zastron before joining up. He leaves a widow and young son.
Aug 15, 1945.  “I turned to one of the natives, Corporal Job Maseko, and asked what he had done. ‘I blew up a steamer’, he replied. He told me how he had collected cartridges and removed the contents…”
Aug 15, 1945  Proudly in uniform in this picture is Stretcher-bearer Lucas Majozi, the hero of El Alamein.
(Note. There were so many internationally decorated heroes, even from a tiny section of small South Africa, that they seldom attracted attention unless they possessed top honours such as a V.C. or DFC and bar, or DSO and bar. South Africa’s, too, came from almost every ethnic group and every creed in the country.  However, when it came to sacrificed lives in WW2, it was the thin band of South African English-language schools that mourned the greatest losses.  These lives were commemorated in roll-calls astonishingly out of proportion to their schools’ numbers.

June 18, 1943. Eight laughing men, all of the 21st Squadron SAAF, were photographed in a flower-carpeted field in Tunisia, all come from the same school in Johannesburg.

Aug 8.1945. The Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima on Sunday wiped out more than 4sq miles of Hiroshima, it has been estimated from reconnaissance photographs.
(Note. War had already ended in Europe on V-E Day. V-J Day followed only after two A-Bombs were dropped on Japan. Wild celebrations in the Western world turned soon into global post-war disillusionment. The rest of the decade was a dreary time for everyone:  austerity and food rationing in ‘victorious’ Britain; survival in the rubble of Europe’s upheaval, and populations everywhere else waiting for the new, bigger H-bomb to destroy the world.

Oct 1, 1946. Twelve Nazi leaders on trial before the War Crimes Tribunal were this afternoon sentenced to death by hanging.  They are¨Goering, Ribbontrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Rosenberg, Frank, Frick, Streicher, Jodi, Seysss-Inquart and Bormann (sentenced in his absence).   They were found guilty of some or all four indictments: 1) Conspiracy to wage aggressive war; 2) Crimes against peace 3) War crimes; 4) Crimes against humanity.  Hess was sentenced to life imprisonment on two counts. Raeder and Funk were also sent to prison.

Jan 30, 1948.  While on his way to prayers here in New Delhi today, Mr Gandhi was shot and killed. He was fired at four times at close range. A young man was seized by the crowd. The slight, simply clad architect of Indian independence e was fiure and spiritual leader of millions survived an attempt on his life just ten days ago.

Aug 29, 1948
.  Smuts, who lost the general election this year, foresaw, under the Nationalist regime, an end of legitimate elections and of plans for an increasing franchise. He predicted that the new government would be run by an inner committee involving anonymous members of the Nationalist ‘Brotherhood’

(Note. Just a month before Smuts issued the warning, headlined above, apartheid came to South Africa as the Nasionale Party – to its own surprise and everyone else’s astonishment – won the first post-war general election. It campaigned on hate, fear and exclusive nationalism often bitter enough to be reminiscent of Hitler’s nationalist state. It won the vote of those bitter-einder Afrikaners seeking an autocratic Republic of their own. It also won the vote of tens of thousands of white citizens tired of shortages of consumer goods and demanding white bread, which they were forced to do without even after the war years.

The confusing ‘Fifties

This was the period in which the United States spent billions on helping to re-build the Germany it had spent years bombing towards oblivion.  The Marshal Plan inspired the policy of positive reconstruction – creating democracy in the western half of Germany while Russia’s occupying forces were terrorizing and sacking the eastern half.

The world teetered on the brink of more wars, and much of mankind worried about the possibility of some-one dropping another A-bomb – or worse, the new, many times bigger H-bomb.  In South Africa, the African National Congress preached non-violence and democracy, while the Nationalist Government condemned the ANC’s peaceful protests.

At the same moment in the mid-1950s that the South African government was passing more laws and using police to enforce segregation, the United States government was using federal troops to enforce racial integration.

There were many other contradictory developments in this uneven decade.

April 23, 1951
. This headline, summed up correctly a dramatic personal battle of wills between ‘humble’ President Truman and ‘arrogant’ General MacArthur which signalled one of the great political stories in the Western democratic world in the 20th century.

August 14, 1952.
Dr J S Moroka, president of the ANC, was arrested today while attending to patients at his surgery. He was fingerprinted and charged under the vague and controversial Suppression of Communism Act.  He was released on bail of one hundred pounds. He told The Star: “I want the African people to know of my arrest. I ask them to remain calm and to act with dignity.”

Dec.5, 1952
. Another batch of pilots left today to replace men serving with the famous Cheetah Squadron of the SAAF in Korea.  The USA and UN have thanked the Squadron for serving and sacrificing lives in the push to stem communism. SA pilots were acknowledged in this war to be among the best-trained, most skilled in the world.

March 12, 1952.
French aircraft bombed strong insurgent positions in the Aueres Mountains in Eastern Algeria last night. A violent battle is in progress between French forces and a large insurgent band from Tunisia.

Jan 20, 1954
. (White) Farmers have been told that their need for labour will be met by ‘other means’ when the races are fully segregated. Total apartheid was in any case a long-term process, probably 100 years. Thereafter, farmers could rely on migrant labour, a solution recognized internationally, Nationalist spokesmen assured their supporters..

May, 1954.
Troops stand by to ensure that the Governor of Arkansas does not stop black children attending the Central High School at Little Rock, as the Supreme Court has ruled that segregation is unconstitutional.

May, 1954
.  Newclare and Sophiatown are declared ‘black spots’ in a white area. All freehold rights and leases are cancelled for black people who are being moved to Meadowlands, Orlando and other townships being created in the veld in the South Western area. Police are on standby to ensure orderliness for families being removed.

June 26, 1955
  Political leaders representing Black, Indian, ‘Coloured’ and White factions gathered under the aegis of ANC President J S Moroka at Kliptown. Southwest of Johannesburg to sign the Freedom Charter – a policy document adopted by the ANC. The words were designed to resemble the US democratic Constitution.

Oct 9, 1958.
‘Rubble wasteland fills the suburb where once thousands lived’, writes a staff reporter… Meanwhile the removal of 57,800 Natives from Johannesburg’s western areas might take five to ten years, at an enormous cost of millions of pounds.

The  Sensational ‘Sixties’

The 1960s brought so many sensational headlines that they began to cancel each other out. Assassinations of good people became almost a habit. Flower-power lost the scent. Cults turned vicious or violent.
But the Sixties were by no means all bad.

At the beginning of the decade Russia put the first man, Yuro Gagarin, in Space, and his safe return in 1961 was hailed as the greatest deed of mankind.  That applied until 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first man to land on the moon.
There was also good news for the world in 1967, when young Professor Chris Barnard achieved the world’s first heart transplant at Groote Hospital in Cape Town, and Louis Washkansky became the first man on Earth to carry another’s heart in his breast.

During this decade young hippies, smoking marijuana and scattering flowers, went to a giant Rock Concert at Woodstock to celebrate love and goodwill…sexual love, that is, and goodwill towards other feelly-fellow, flower-power people.

‘No problem’ became, almost overnight, an over-used phrase to describe life in general.

In 1960 the world’s first woman Prime Minister, Mrs Bandaranaika, took control of Ceylon.  The second was Mrs Indira Gandhi of India in 1966, and Mrs. Golda Meir of Israel in 1969.

The biggest pop stars of the decade were the Beatles, four young men who peddled music, not violence nor drugs nor sex. Beatles music was sometimes compared with Bach. The Beatlemania out-did and out-lasted all the self-regarding rock stars of the decade and beyond.  Except for Sergeant Elvis Presley who was acclaimed “sensational”, even before he came out of the army in 1960.

The mini-skirt emerged from London’s Carnaby Street, hardly covering the thighs of model Genevieve Waite (skinny ‘Twiggy’) and was greeted as the decade’s greatest matter of interest. “Surely no fashion has ever caused such a sensation nor so aptly epitomized the mood of our times,” raved one caption picturing legs, mainly. Some churchmen blamed the mini for causing droughts, floods, and bad thoughts. Bad thoughts caused the banning of another sensation, the itsy, bitsy bikini, from public swimming pools. (Private swimming pools were still the preserve of the very rich at the time).

Democracy was bursting out all over Africa during the decade, but proving less democratic, and less enduring, than democracy in the new Israel after the Jewish state scattered its combined enemies in the Six Days War. The Israelis were so confident and argumentative after 1967, it was said that if you put three in the same room they would end the debate by launching five new political parties. I met a deputation returning from a meeting with premier Golda Meir who had asked a press photographer to stop flashing his camera while delegates were talking. The photographer retorted: “Mrs Meir, you do your job. I’ll do mine”.
And so it was to be. . . for some years.

But the editors of Israel’s more thoughtful newspapers were becoming concerned. At a time that Israel was changing its leadership, an editor in Tel Aviv told me: “We built this nation on an ideal of liberal equality. That is changing. We are starting to use bad law and the old British enemy’s ‘Emergency Regulations’ to silence dissent. If we’re not careful, the balance will swing towards doctrinaire religion and nationalism.”
A Palestinian editor in Jerusalem told me: “The balance changed long ago. We are oppressed, censored and imprisoned without fair trial.”

Down in South Africa, under anti-Semitic Verwoerd’s rule, there seemed to be no balance at all.

In the USA, things went crazy.  Three top leaders President Jack Kennedy, Dr Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy campaigning for the presidency, were assassinated in broad daylight in front of crowds and TV cameras. (See below. An attempt on the life of President Reagan occurred later .)

Jan, 1960.
From this date and for three more years, people argued over a name for the South-Western Townships of Johannesburg, destined, through forced removals of family homes, to become SA’s biggest all-black city. One white letter-writer suggested the name ‘Verwoerdstan’ to honour the founding by the government of separate racial ‘Bantustans’.  An African reader suggested ‘New Zimbabwe’ – at a time when Zimbabwe referred only to the past glory of the famed Zimbabwe Ruins. “New Zimbabwe could well signify a glory that is to be… another New Harlem” wrote W. Mbokodo.  Instead, from 20 Aug 1963, the geographical acronym ‘Soweto’ was formally accepted by most of its residents because it favoured no tribal language. Soweto was also popular no doubt because it was not acceptable either to the Place Names Commission nor the Nationalist Party. Negative reasoning seemed to be emblematic of South Africa in that time.

January 1960. The Prime Minister announced his proposed referendum for (white) South Africans to vote on cutting ties with the British Crown. Later he walked out of the Commonwealth as well, because it was too ‘black’, his Party reasoned.

February 1960.
‘We cannot support your racial policies’, Mr MacMillan told Dr Verwoerd and the assembled members of both Houses of Parliament today. He warned of a “Wind of Change sweeping through Africa”. (His speech signalled the transformation of a series of African colonies about to gain national independence.)

March, 1960
. Dr Verwoerd was shot twice in the face today while attending the Rand Easter Show in Johannesburg., but spectators in the grandstand overcame the alleged assassin, a middle-aged European man who was arrested. The Prime Minister was rushed to hospital where his condition was reported as stable. Verwoerd made a remarkable recovery and his iron rule lasted until his assassination in parliament six years later.

Feb 12, 1961.
Today you must convert the familiar ‘tickey’ (a coin for three pennies also known as ‘Thruppence’ ) into two cents plus half a cent. (A ‘tickey; would buy more sweets than R5 might in 2016) A pound becomes two rand, and ‘ten bob’ converts to one rand. And a shilling is not 12 pennies or cents any more. You cannot say ‘shilling’; you must only say ‘ten cents’. And don’t ever talk of the weight of anything again. You must say, “John’s mass is 500kgs’ .. depending on  whatever mass a kilogram is supposed to have. Find out by checking a handy conversion table – and also check your petrol bill for rands per litre not shillings a gallon.
You may still use the word ‘ounces’ – but only in international terms, such as:‘Gold is 35 dollars an oz.’
Saying ‘It’s miles away’ is forbidden. Instead say ‘kilometres’, which is a longer word for a shorter distance.
Final warning: watch out for the comma. It’s about to appear – and disappear – in the oddest manner. You can no longer say ‘ten point one’. It is now ‘ten comma one’
This is going to be tough for a while. Sort it out, and get used to it… by order.

March 1960
.  A frail fence collapsed. On one side were 130 white and 77 black police, nervously guarding a municipal office. On the other side 20,000 people trying to hand back to the local authority  the passes they had been forced to carry at all times and everywhere outside the ‘Native Areas’.  The crowds of men, women and some youngsters surged forwards. The police opened fire, without waiting for orders. And kept firing. The result was a wild scene of carnage: 249 people lay strewn across the ground – 60 of them dead or dying, many of them shot in the back as they attempted to flee the hail of bullets.

In 1961 the president-general of the African National Congress receives South Africa’s first Nobel Peace Prize.  He was recognised by most communities as a man of honour and integrity, not in favour of political violence.

Nov, 1961.
Police have not been able to trace Mr Nelson Mandela, secretary of the Continuation Committee of the All-in African Action Council and organiser of its demonstrations. Police searched his home in Orlando last night. He is still at large. (Note. But about 18 months later, Security Police raided the home of Arthur Goldreich in Rivonia near Johannesburg, and arrested 17 top ANC leaders, including Walter Sisulu. The betrayal of these men led to the Rivonia Trial – followed by the dramatically staged Treason Trial after Nelson Mandela was caught.)

Facing the death penalty, Nelson Mandela made his historic speech, in which he declared that he would rather die than live under oppression. It resulted in the punishment of an indefinite life sentence on Robben Island. (It lasted 27 years).

On November 22, 1963, all the world (except South Africa) watched the inexplicable drama played out on TV.  And re-played and re-played, even today.
America was still in shock when, days later, the headlines went round the world:

The murderer who walked up to Kennedy’s assassin and shot him at point blank range while the prisoner was handcuffed and under escort, has been detained and questioned. His victim’s role as an assassin remains a mystery, but he was known for his Soviet sympathies, according to reports.

September 6, 1966:
Prime Minister Verwoerd died of stab wounds inflicted on him this afternoon by a man wearing a parliamentary uniform. (The headline was read on city streets across South Africa within minutes of the assassination. His murder was an accredited messenger in Parliament; a Portuguese citizen of South Africa who proved to be mentally disturbed).

April 5, 1968
: Violence erupted across America today as gangs of Negroes, infuriated by the assassination of Dr Luther King last night, went on the rampage in many towns and cities.
Almost inexplicable violence raged in other areas of America – in the Manson killings, gang wars and cult murders.

June 5, 1968.
A huge grieving crowd gathered outside the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angles today as a team of neurosurgeons fought to save the life of Senator Robert Kennedy who was gunned down before horrified supporters at his campaign headquarters. (He died shortly after this report).


The sad ‘Seventies’

The mini-skirt could go no higher. Instead, in the 1970s, hems came down below the knee.  Apartheid in South Africa also had to deal with reality. Commonsense defeated racism several times in this decade. Sadly, however, hate, bad law and oppression would fly unchallenged in the colours of apartheid for another twenty years.

Manipulation of segregation to live a normal life became an art. Violence followed. By the end of the decade official apartheid was already crumbling at the edges.




These were some of the headlines in The Star on June 16, 1976 and for the two following days. But for an afternoon newspaper, publishing special editions every hour as events on our doorstep occurred, there were many other front-page headlines updating three running editions of news of Soweto students uprising. It was the most difficult and best covered event in my personal experience. The headlines were so fresh that people going to Soweto after work could decide from published reports an hour earlier, which way to go home and by what means. Motorists learned from a special edition not to take the main highway to Pretoria, which was barricaded by rioters.

In times of chaos and government censorship rumour normally flourishes. This time it didn’t. Society had to face the facts. Accuracy and balanced reporting were essential as tension ran like a lit fuse through the streets and suburbs and townships of the city.

December 10, 1979
.  Owners of drive-in cinemas, clubs, hospitals, libraries, theatres, halls, circuses, cafes and restaurants, and organisers of receptions, fetes and exihibitions, can be given open exemptions from enforced separation, according to the Minister…  (The catch was that organisers could apply for once-only permits.  It meant that normality and commonsense might rule by special exemption, if properly applied for on every occasion. The Government was attempting to apply cosmetics to the decaying face of apartheid).

The ‘Info Scandal’ began with a government-supporting English-language newspaper destroying much of its print-runs or ‘returns’, in order to falsely claim a higher circulation. It ended with the downfall of Prime Minister B J Vorster.
The ‘Infogate’ investigation was sparked by the Rand Daily Mail finding evidence about the upstart Citizen’s illicit attempts to grab The Mail’s morning newspaper market.

reporters not only uncovered their rival’s fraudulent attempts to misstate its circulation figures – but also exposed The Citizen’s pretence of being ‘politically independent’. They went on to investigate the source of The Citizen’s funding, and in doing so unearthed a ‘Deep Throat’ source who would guide them into the inner recesses of government. What they found was an illicit party propaganda fund, made up of public money that was unaccounted for; hidden from Parliament, and illegally spent – not only to start an apartheid-supporting newspaper.

The investigation, led by the Rand Daily Mail and chased by most of the English-language Press, ultimately brought down Dr Eschel Rhoodie, Head of the Information Department, his Minister, and the Prime Minister.  It was a great triumph – especially for P W Botha who used the scandal and ensuing Commission of Inquiry to get rid of Vorster and take his place. Then he moved political power into the President’s office – and took that from Vorster as well.

A news story of such proportions takes a thousand headlines to complete. Here are just a few of The Star’s street poster headlines during the resulting Commission of Inquiry:






Yet, despite all that scandal and all that effort, there were other headlines in this decade which caused deeper harm to the country and which made news around the world.

On 14 September 1977, the Minister of Police, Jimmy Kruger, was trying to prove himself to his National Party Congress.  He tried to justify his apathy and defuse the international ‘fuss’ over news reports concerning the death in custody of Pan African Congress leader Steve Biko after they had beaten him up in the police cells.
Kruger hit out at the media, saying they were exploiting the situation.  He told his Party congress that he was not pleased – but he was not sorry. “Biko’s death leaves me cold.”
Those five words, in the shocking situation of the time, were possibly the most chilling ever uttered in public in the apartheid era. However, Kruger – except in terms of the power he held – was not a chilling personality. He was frightened, and he was inept, which made him one of the most dangerous of men in a would-be police state.

On 19 October 1977 Kruger not only closed the newspaper and arrested the Editor, he banned 18 organisations which he deemed were causing the State trouble. The threat to free speech and the injustice of it were palpable, but the folly of his actions was impossible to understand.  Closing down Percy Qoboza’s newspaper for black readers might have done more to disparage South Africa abroad than all the critics of apartheid together. The irony was that The Minister of Police’s announcement came as visiting editors from overseas were about to speak at a conference in Pretoria on the ‘Image of South Africa’.   I too was a speaker. In the car taking me to the conference I threw away my prepared debating points (as did my overseas colleagues) and scribbled one of The Star’s earliest front-page leaders castigating the Minister of Police under the heading BITTER SIGN OF FAILURE.

The fateful 1980s

This decade ushered in computers that could be used outside of government and international corporations. The computers were made more cheaply – and much smaller – so that a few privileged people could use them in their homes.
But the decade was dominated by the Superpowers, and the Cold War which froze political change across the world in a balance of nuclear terror.     However, in 1989…

Its collapse signalled the collapse of Russian tyranny – and liberated or created 47 nations. It ended an undeclared ideological war.
Almost overnight, Communism, in practical terms, was dead, and the spirit of freedom was rousingly rampant.

The fall came just in time to save South Africa from potential civil war. The white Nationalist government had been engaged throughout the decade in under-cover strikes against its African neighbours. It had done so in the guise of a champion of anti-communism, and it had successfully become an independent arms producer with a self-sufficient economy, in spite of – or rather inspired by – international sanctions. In the face of the threats from the banned ANC, and the increasingly brave and active United Democratic Force at home, the government assumed more and more war-time powers – all to meet a so-called Communist threat. And now there was no communism… the apartheid State was now morally disarmed and physically vulnerable.  The decade ended with the negotiated release from imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, followed later by SA’s first fully democratic election.

Here are some headlines of that fateful decade:

August 2, 1980
.  The para-statal Sasol, will soon be refining oil-from-coal, for use in this country.  (Note. Another para-statal, Armscor, was producing not only rifles and ammunition, but one of the most advanced heavy cannon in the world, for export, and for use in Angola)

July 2, 1980. South African forces struck into Angola across the Kunene River today, and withdrew. They claim capture of 30 storage depots; 300 enemy dead, and they flew out 250 tons of Soviet and Eastern bloc military hardware, including Sam-7 rockets. They drove out numbers of captured vehicles including a Russian-made armoured car.
(Note. SA invaded Angola as early as 1976, but claimed at first that these troops were mercenaries – which enabled us to circumvent military censorship at that critical first moment, by reporting on an “unofficial” invasion of Angola.)

July 12, 1980.
Violence has caused one death so far in unrest in Johannesburg following the fourth anniversary of the 1976 Soweto Riots. Police are promising a tough response.

March 31, 1981
.  Emerging from a building into an open street where some supporters waited, President Reagan was hit by a bullet fired at fairly close range yesterday. His courage and his humour minimized his apparent injuries.

March 20, 1983
.  A large car bomb killed 19 and injured 219 when it exploded at lunchtime outside air force headquarters in Church Street, Pretoria. You have to witness the resulting blood and senseless suffering of a civilian  ‘car bombing’ to understand – and wince – every time you see this headline still constantly repeating itself in various parts of the world three decades later

Sept 1984.
  Frustrated black youths stormed through the townships seeking out “collaborators” and “necklacing” suspects. Govt buildings were set alight and crowds watched as individual African victims were burned to death as a ring of fire enveloped the heads and shoulders of sometimes innocent, wrongly accused individuals. Enforced boycotts were made against shops. Township mothers were forced to eat their grocery purchases on the spot; including soap.  The immediate causes of the riots are unemployment and lack of a political voice.

April, 1985
. PW Botha’s expected ‘Rubicon’ speech on benefits for excluded races  failed to take place.  Instead, while the world awaited his much heralded announcement of massive reforms, he offered a damp squib. The Rand currency has plunged.

July 27 1985.
France is spearheading a world-wide campaign aimed at the total isolation of South Africa until it abandons apartheid.

1st Aug, 1985
.  (Note. The two above headlines might have been far more effective had the intention been followed through 10 or 20 or 30 years earlier.)

June 12, 1986.  Sweeping powers, effective from midnight last night, have once again been given to security forces to detain and arrest people without a warrant.
(Note: this was the second of several increasingly harsh measures. Despite nearly 100 laws inhibiting freedom of speech, strict ‘emergency’ censorship was imposed on the press three times.
In the first stage, The Star carried empty spaces to indicate censored stories. Its front page, with ominous empty spaces scattered across it, was reproduced around the world.
When empty spaces were banned (!), it carried a notice reading:  “CENSORED. This newspaper many have been censored. We are not permitted to say where, or how, or to what extent.
Under the third stage of three years of this military-style rule, the newspaper – instead of risking means of evading the restrictions – actively broke the law on an almost daily basis.

October 20, 1986.
President Samora Machel of Mozambique has been killed in an air crash in South African territory. The secrecy concerning its cause was instantly smothered under officialdom, making circumstances even more suspicious.

April 16, 1987
. Two more trains were attacked today as a wave of arson and assaults against SA Transport Services moved into the fourth day.

March 10, 1987. The newspaper took a calculated risk in publishing a statement by the Parents Detainnees Committee. We were saved from closure by a Supreme Court injunction.

December 5, 1989.
Newly released political prisoner Mr Govan Mbeki thinks Nelson Mandela will be released soon. So does Mandela’s daughter Sezani. But the government remains silent.

Aug. 22. 1989
.  (Note. This was still in the era when cynical newsmen believed the smallest headline ever used would be:SMALL EARTHQUAKE IN OUTER MONGOLIA.  NO-ONE HURT…but..in notoriously unstable San Francisco….) Motorists have been crushed on twisted highways and there are countless fires. More than 250 people have been killed in the quake. The death toll is expected to rise.


The daring, miraculous Nineties

The 1990s brought peace and democracy to South Africa.  The courage, the statesmanship, the patience and far-sightedness of the active leaders of two bitterly divided, undefeated groups at last banished from our readers’ minds the risks that were involved.

Feb 6, 1990.
Pres. de Klerk has announced that the Government is ready to accept a democratically elected interim power-sharing government which will… negotiate a new constitution.

Feb 12, 1990
.  Seventy-one-year-old Nelson Mandela, accompanied by his wife and ANC leaders, walked free from prison yesterday, and addressed  a huge crowd from the balcony of Cape Town’s City Hall. Few people had seen his face, or pictures of him, in nearly three decades.

May 5, 1990.
The African National Congress and the Government reached an historic peace accord in a dramatic breakthrough in Cape Town yesterday… The armed struggle has been halted in return for concessions.

Sept 8, 1992
This was the banner headline following front-page leads over earlier reports that year stating:

Revenge fury after gang attacks ANC in Sebokeng

34 SLAUGHTERED BY IMPIS – Terrified women and children were among those hacked to death  when Zulu impis went on the rampage in Boipatong squatter camp in the Vaal Triangle late last night.

‘KOEVOET’ LINK TO MASSACRE – The Government, still in shock at the breakdown in constitutional discussions is facing a new crisis sparked by claims that former Koevert members took part in the Boipateng massacre . (Note. Koevert was a notorious police counter-insurgency unit. It acted as illegally and more violently than the CCB, a military security unit, seconded to city councils to crush opposition within SA municipal areas in the late 1980s).

April 10, 1993.
The head of the SA Communist Party and former MK leader was shot dead outside his home today. It is believed that rightwingers are involved in the murder of the popular ANC figure. The plan is to destabilise all proposals for a non-racial constitution, and a democratic election.

March 28 1994  A month before the crucial national election, there were armed riots and killings in central Joahnnesburg. For the second successive day the staff of  The Star looked down from their windows and saw 10,000 Zulu marchers, armed with kerries and many in traditional battle dress, shuffle-dancing down Sauer Street when suddenly shots were fired among them from nearby rooftops. By the end of the day several of the Zulu supporters of Chief Buthelezi’s IFP (anti-ANC) party had been shot in various parts of the city, including eight killed by nervous guards at ANC headquarters. Others appeared to have been shot by agents provocateur.

April 19, 1994.  Running gun battles continued as National Peacekeeping troops and Zulu men from immigrant workers’ hostels clashed. The Star’s award-winning photographer was shot and killed in the street while covering the action.
The murders and public violence; the plotting, pretences, and crises inflicted on innocents by extremists, mainly in the “killing fields “ of kwaZulu are forgotten as if they were just a bad dream.

We remember only the goodwill – and the joy of sharing in long queues on a long day, the act of democracy that brought us together at the polling booths in 1994. It didn’t happen automatically. The planning, the bargaining, the making of the Constitution, and the organising of constituencies and mobilising of millions of voters – millions of whom had never voted before, and many of whom were illiterate –  required time,  effort, and some sacrifices from thousands of volunteers to make it happen.

April 27, 1994
. South Africans of all races, for the first time in 300 years of recorded history, queued up to vote together. They watch misty-eyed, the colourful new South African “interim” flag snapping in the autumn breeze. (It was due to be replaced in 1999, but everybody accepted the original ‘temporary’design.)

May 11, 1994
. Before huge crowds, under an Air Force Fly-past, President Nelson Mandela was sworn into office yesterday with a covenant that reads: “…We shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

December 11, 1996. Mandela calls on citizens to realise the vision and grasp the opportunities of the Constitution he signed into law yesterday.

(Note. The 1990s saw many more world events – the death of Princess Diana, for example; the rise of HIV; the cloning of a sheep named Dolly, raising many ethical issues. But – apart from winning rugby’s World Cup – South Africans focused only on political freedom.  The 21st century would bring different priorities.

Decade 2000… dawn of exponential change?

You are bound to remember more about the 21st century news-story than I do, so I shall be brief on detail in order to peer momentarily at the future. This is scientifically possible because the first decade of the 21st century gave us – for the first time in mankind’s brief, million year existence – a general, scientific  awareness of what to expect.

Possibly the most significant development of the decade was the growing awareness of the theory of a singular transformation about to take place in the destiny of mankind. It arises from the deduction that mankind’s knowledge is increasing exponentially, not in a linear process which is the way we instinctively think and calculate.

The scientists who subscribe to the theory of mankind’s exponential growth of knowledge predict that mankind will reach a singularity soon after the year 2040  – when the computers we invented will be more intelligent than we are. (A subject dealt with in End of the Deadline, the book which follows this one.)  

Jan 1, 2001.
Computers – and the millennium – got off to a shaky start, as the world waited for ‘apocalyptic possibilities’ on the first day.  A bug named 2YK was due to wipe out millions of computers across the world.  It didn’t happen – either because ‘IT’ people were too smart, or because everyone was so dumb they didn’t recognise a hoax when they saw it. The mere possibility, though, of a global wipe-out of electronic digital systems was as frightening as the possibility of the silly ‘End of the World in 2011’ predictions coming true

August 2001.
Computer strength and growth could be witnessed jumping exponentially from that year onwards – a growth rate equivalent to changing from first gear into the speed of sound.. First it was Napster, pirating music to the tune of three billion files in this single month so that you could file a thousand music tracks and play 30 of them day and night.

By the end of the decade, social networking in the guise of Youtube and Facebook  had blanketed the world. Twittering took off in the next decade, and everyone became a potential instant recorder of history… just by clicking their cellphone cameras at a critical moment… another instant phenomenon.
In India cell-phone ownership grew from 2m in the year 2000, to nearly 550 million hand-sets in 2010, thus empowering tens of millions of the rural poor. During the decade the ipod and ipad down-sized computers. Computer animation changed imagery in cinemas and in documentary television. Indeed, computers began to change how things would work in future on this planet.  Extraordinary ‘inventions’ of new materials and new methods of making and doing things were so numerous that their potential future influences were hardly noticed, let alone measured.


Sept 11, 2001. The tragedy, the horror, the implications of that event were replayed over and over during the decade. Clearing the rubble of seven buildings began within two weeks; rebuilding soon afterwards.  Before the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the No.1 Tower on ‘Ground Zero’ had already reached 48 storeys of a 104-storey, 541m tall new building. The triumph of its completion was over-shadowed by warfare in the Middle East, and the spread of terrorism across the world.

March 20, 2003.
The Iraq War began with a flourish as the world watched US forces on television, advancing across the desert at an unchallenged 40km per hour to reach Baghdad. The foolish ‘instant victory’ was about to unleash a thousand demons.

April 9, 2003. The toppling of President Saddam’s statue by a city mob signals the end of the war after only 20 days.  (Note. The invasion of Iraq and the vanquishing of Saddam’s forces was quicker than that…they seemed to vanish in the morning mist. Then began the guerrilla war – and the internecine civil wars between three tribal forces. Seven years later ‘terrorists’ and suicide bombers were killing more people than Saddam’s army did in 2003.)

March 2004. 
I witnessed firsthand, after years-apart visits, the astonishing growth, not only in China but in India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, South Vietnam and the Philipines. I had visited China in the 1990s, shortly after the massacre on Tiananmen Square. Then, after a return visit about ten years later,  I wrote an article headed “China Wow!” describing the reactions of American businessmen and professionals arriving in Shanghai to view their skyscrapers; their bullet-trains, their giant dockyards and flying freeway bridges, and Beijing’s new airport – the biggest in the world. It is inevitable. China’s billions of citizen will re-shape the world, just as they are shaping the lives of a third of the world’s population with their computerised industrial and transport revolution … but the scale of domestic poverty will surely postpone the day.  After 2020 perhaps?

Sept 15, 2008
.  At 1.45 today the 164-year-old investment bank, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in the Southern District of New York.   American financial houses immediately fell like dominoes, starting the worst financial depression since Black Friday in 1929. All the economies of the First World soon collapsed, but the 21st century economic crash was carefully called ‘a recession’; grudgingly upgraded later to ‘The Recession’. By the end of 2010, US unemployment was doubling each year.  Three members of the EU were on the brink of collapse. By 2016 a nervous world was observing sagging investment amid hopeful signs of increased trade.
A giant migration following terrorist wars in the Middle East brought fear of further social change. The changes in the Western World’s attitudes and politics are due to outstrip the fears; in time.

The future:  a  2020-plus vision

By mid-21st century, super-intelligent computers – much smarter than any human being – will be small enough to be placed inside bodies and brains to improve the health and skills and wits of men and women, said digital guru Ray Kurzwell in an interview back in 2010. Miniature computers will monitor our brain cells and the digital world, then process automatically and without search-engines the relevant accumulated knowledge of mankind (and of computers) and make decisions for human beings based on that knowledge.

Health: People will reprogramme their biology to ensure they are healthier.

Food, to feed billions more people:  Computer-invented technology will grow vitro-cloned meats in computerised factories run by artificial intelligence. They will provide the food for which we now slaughter animals.

The mind boggles.  The first major ‘explosion’ however, is that fusion of hydrogen (at temperatures rivalling the sun, will ‘soon’ benefit the world by making energy so cheap it will be free….free to desalinise sea-water and allow irrigation of deserts, or unfreeze icelands.  This century is going to out-rival science fiction.

Dangers: Technology remains a double-edged sword and can destroy. There will be a need for computers to develop rapid response systems to cope with new dangers like ‘bio-terrorism’.  However, some scientists believe that if computers become more intelligent than people – they might decide to dispense with people, or re-invent them.

The only guaranteed-correct vision of this reporter is that he won’t be there to witness the exciting explosion of change in mankind’s lifestyles in the coming decade.

— Much of the material here is extracted from two 250-page illustrated volumes:  Like it Was” – 100 years of The Star Johannesburg, and The Star’s “An Extraordinary 20th Century”. Both were collated and edited by James Clarke, author of Man is the Prey,  Blazing Saddles  and later books on Megabooks website.