Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nayakan - one of Time Magazine's top100 films

The Tamil movie, Nayakan, which was produced 25 years ago, has just been selected by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 films. Here below the main actor, Kamal Hassan, writes about the making of the movie. The article, published in The Hindu newspaper of Chennai, has been made available by Ms Nirupuma Subramanian, a senior editor who is a friend of mine.

By Kamal Hassan

Exactly 25 years ago, the groundbreaking Nayakan was released. It has since been voted one of Time magazine’s top 100 films, but all that the people working on it then wanted was ‘to be different’.

Whether it’s the story of Caesar or Gandhi or the Rotary Club, it starts off as something very small, without the respect it deserves. Nayakan was no exception. We never thought it would be selected as one of Time magazine’s 100 greatest films of all time, or that people will remember it after 25 years. We just wanted to be different.

Perhaps due to my insecurity about dropping out of school, I’ve always surrounded myself with writers and thinkers, and one such person I met was Subramaniam, whom friends called Subbu and who eventually became Mani Ratnam. He was introduced to me by Kitty (Raja Krishnamurthy). Kitty was the manager at Chola Sheraton. We used to call him "Chola" Krishnamurthy. Mani, then as now, was a quiet man, and Kitty used to explain Mani’s ideas. Slowly I started liking the silent man more— not that I liked Kitty less, but I thought this guy was deep. Only after he signed up for Nayakan did I realise that he was the son of ‘Venus’ Ratnam Iyer, with a deep-rooted connection to Tamil cinema. I knew he was GV’s (the financier G. Venkateswaran) brother, but the Venus connection never struck me and he never threw this fact at my face.

This was the time I was writing Raajapaarvai, which came out in 1980. Mani wanted to know about the nuances of screenwriting. He used to love a Joseph Hayes novel called The Long Dark Night. He said he wanted to write something like that. We kept discussing various stories. We were all fans of Francis Ford Coppola and The Godfather. We kept saying how long could Tamil cinema keep showing the underworld as people with checked shirts and a kerchief knotted around the neck and laughing like the old villain P.S. Veerappa.

Then Mani said he was doing his first film in Kannada, Pallavi Anupallavi. I was busy with Raajapaarvai, and I was also getting into Hindi films, so I couldn’t do this film. But we kept meeting and talking. After making Vikram, in 1986, I realised I should have asked Mani to direct it. It was his cup of tea. He asked me what had happened, because the story was so different from what I’d told him. I told him that this was bound to happen. I said, "The intelligence of (the writer) Sujatha and Kamal Haasan was bound to be diluted by Kodambakkam. It will happen to you too."

A little later, the producer-director Muktha Srinivasan, with whom I’d made films like Simla Special, said he wanted to make another film with me. I suggested Mani Ratnam’s name. He was amused because the hero usually suggests the name of the heroine in the film, and here I was recommending a director.

Mani told me two stories. One was a gangster story. He said it was based in Bombay. I said that was the way to go, because the film, then, would have a national reach. Muktha Films had a reputation for being tight-fisted. When Mr. Srinivasan heard that we wanted to shoot in Bombay, he wasn’t happy. He just wanted us to make a film — any film — that would net him a profit of Rs. 5 lakh. That is how he was used to working. Films were a business. He wasn’t interested in films as art.

But we said we’d shoot only part of the film in Bombay, and he half-heartedly agreed. Then, we wanted an international look for the action scenes. Unlike Tamil films of the time, Mani had marked out a separate budget for the action, around Rs. 12 lakh. We flew down Jim Allen, the action director and cinematographer, from England. He’d worked out the stunts for films like Sholay. But Mr. Srinivasan packed him off after three days, saying he couldn’t afford him. "We can’t keep spending like this," he told me. "I think Hindi films have spoilt you."

But in the three days he was here, he gave Mani and P.C. Sreeram (the cinematographer) many ideas. As he spoke, they actually took down notes about how to topple a car and how to show a bullet leaving a head and how you can shift focus and make a stunt look more effective. When Jim left, I was totally down. Mani doesn’t show his emotions. But I decided to use the props I’d got for other films, like polystyrene bottles that I could bring down and break on Inspector Kelkar’s head. We had gone into such details.

There was no budget for makeup, so I spoke to my guru, Michael Westmore. I’ve trained under him, and we worked together for the first time on Oru Kaidhiyin Diary. I learnt how to apply old-age makeup myself in front of a magnifying mirror, with just an assistant standing by with a fan to dry layer after layer of wrinkled-latex on my face. There was no budget for the costumes, so Sarika moved in.

At some point, I decided that to get into the character, I need ittar (floral perfume). I think I may have been getting ahead of myself. Sarika couldn’t find ittar, and I was getting angry because I was multitasking on this movie — doing makeup for myself, for others, getting props, even cutting the hair of the extras — and I was upset that she couldn’t find something as simple as ittar. Finally, she concocted something and made me believe it was ittar. I was very satisfied. I felt like the character and I knew I could perform well.

Mani had seen me play an old man in Kadal Meengal, Sagara Sangamam and Swathi Muthyam. He said he didn’t want me to look like that, with a wig. I said that, in that case, we’d have to shoot the film in sequence, and I’d have to pluck out my hair towards the end. Simply shaving off the hair wasn’t enough, as the shadow would show. It wouldn’t look like a real bald spot. We decided to make the character prognathic, so I brought in the dentist who’d fashioned my teeth for my role in Kalyanaraman. He made a piece to make my jaw bigger.

All of this was happening without fanfare. We could sense that we were hot on the trail of something good. We — Mani, myself, Sreeram, Thotta Tharrani (the art director whom I’d introduced in Raajapaarvai) — were all collaborating as a team. This wasn’t about showing up only as per the call sheet. As we weren’t allowed to shoot to the extent we wanted in Bombay, Tharrani built the Dharavi set in Madras. When we went to Bombay finally, we shot a few scenes in the real Dharavi — cutaways like me chasing the inspector.

The film was shaping up very well and I was very happy. I was bragging to everyone about what a good film we were making. One day, I was ready to play the scene where Velu Nayakan reacts to his son’s death. We rehearsed the scene. I told Mani I wanted some build up. I thought the junior artists should react to the death first, which would help the funeral pallor to set in. And by the time I came to the corpse, the grief would have seeped into me. I would be in gear to play the scene.

But when the time came, Mani was standing there glumly, and Sreeram was sitting with his head in his hands. I thought there was a technical glitch. I said, "What is the problem? I’m ready. Let’s go." He showed me a small note from the producer saying that the day’s quota of film stock had been used up, and they had to wait till he sanctioned new stock. This was the producer’s way of making sure we shot responsibly, without going overboard with takes. I was livid. I called my office and asked them to bring the film stock they had in 20 minutes, and in those 20 minutes I was ready to cry. I really felt like my child was dying that day. So the producer probably helped my performance in the film.

He was also indirectly responsible for the scene where the man is garrotted in the car, which is just like The Godfather. I was helping out with the action scenes, and I had written this scenario that I later used in my Thevar Magan, where a truck, with a cargo of steel rods jutting out, reverses and rams into this car and kills him. But Mr. Srinivasan wouldn’t allow a car to be demolished; so we were forced to use the scene from The Godfather. He wasn’t a bad man. He was just from an older school. And he did help at times. I must give him his due. The scene where Velu’s future wife studies for her exams in the brothel was suggested by him.

Mani was not happy with the climax. I was not happy with it. By the time, I was tired. I wanted to get this film done. When we were in Bombay, we spoke to Varada Bhai (Varadaraja Mudaliar on whose life the film is based), and Mani had the audacity to ask him, "How do you foresee your death?" He said he would either die peacefully in a hospital (which is what happened) but left to the police, who couldn’t prove anything against him, they would bring him out of court and someone would slap him. This would cause a riot and they would then shoot him. This sparked the climax in Mani’s head.

The way Kelkar’s death was filmed (and later, the death of Velu Nayakan’s son), I knew Mani was making a really good movie. And also the kind of movie that we all dreamt of making. During the Holi sequence, I told Mani that Velu Nayakan should not dance. And Mani agreed. No director at that time would have agreed to this. Earlier in my career, I told Bharathiraja that the psychopathic killer in Sigappu Rojakkal should not be singing and dancing. But he deflected my objections saying that the song (Ninaivo oru paravai) was a dream song, shot from the heroine’s point of view. At least that made sense. But other times, people simply wouldn’t listen to me, and here Mani simply said, "Of course Velu Nayakan doesn’t dance."

We stumbled a lot while making this film. But Mani just got up and dusted himself off and went on to the next thing. He kept his cool. He was tethered throughout the shoot. He withstood storms. And he was not afraid to surround himself with strong contributors like the writer Balakumaran, whose ease with the local syntax and dialect helped to compensate for Mani’s urbanity. There were no egos on the set. Mani would shoot down ideas. He would also accept ideas. When Velu is taken to a brothel in a song sequence, I expressed my exasperation by rolling my eyes. Mani told me that this was a very Western thing, and asked if I could give a more Indian expression. That was a very happy day for me. Suddenly I had someone who noticed these small things that make up a performance.

Nayakan was one of the films — along with the films I’ve done with Balu Mahendra, K. Vishwanath and, of course, my guru K. Balachander — that made me decide that I should not be doing short-lived masala movies anymore. Except nostalgia, they added nothing to my career. I was fed up. I was nearing middle-age. I thought, "If I don’t do this now, then when will I do it?" After wrapping the film, I was so happy that I took Sarika and went for a walk around the empty set. I remember just sitting there with a satisfied sigh.

There was a screening of the film at Savera hotel. One of the viewers was so moved that he fell at the producer’s feet. I urged Mani to go and talk to people but he just walked away saying that there was no glory in this. He was right. I told the producer that he was going to get awards. He said he hadn’t made the film to get awards, merely to make profits. And he was nervous about the film’s dark lighting and so on. He complained that I had spoilt his chances of making a profit, which is when I offered to buy the film from him. Later, GV bought the film. And after the film came out, what the producer feared became a fashion. Every Tamil film began to have under lit sequences. And the heroes began to gel their hair.

When it was time for the film’s silver-jubilee celebrations, Mr. Srinivasan’s brother passed away.We cancelled our celebration after all had gathered at the venue. The entire crew took garlands and went to his home and paid homage to the departed soul. So there was no rancour with Mr. Srinivasan. We were all like family. There was just frustration.

Had the producer been more cooperative and had he had more vision, Mani would have ensured that the film came out better. He would have also been a healthier man. His heart attack might have happened at a later stage. Mani was worn out by all the extracurricular activities, which are not part of filmmaking. I am always asked when Mani and I will work together again. I don’t know if we can summon up that same feeling of doing a film for the pleasure. Now there’s too much pressure. And I don’t blame Mani. He’s been so tormented by producers that now he wants to make films exactly the way he wants. And if I would be an impediment, he would be right in removing me.

Monday, October 22, 2012

This is a picture of my late mother, Mrs Salatchi Subramoney Govender, with her brother, Isaac Moonsamy Govender, who only recently celebrated his 90th birthday, and his late wife.
This picture brings back memories of a part of our extended family.

Friday, October 19, 2012

October 19 1977 - "Sadha - two white men are here looking for you"



By Marimuthu Subramoney


At a time when most journalists in South Africa are still not certain whether the new rulers will withdraw their intended measures to get the media to "toe the line", it is appropriate to recall the day 35 years ago today when the former apartheid regime carried out the biggest and most extensive crackdown against the freedom of the Press.

October 19 1977 was the darkest day in the history of journalism in the country when the main black newspapers, World and Weekend World, were banned and ordered to cease publication along with Pro Veritate, a publication of the Christian Institute; and when editors and journalists were either banned, detained or interrogated and had their homes and offices raided and searched.

The action against the media, ordered by the infamous Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger, was carried out in conjunction with the banning of 18 anti-apartheid interest group, civic, student, religious and media organisations; and banning and detention of their leaders and officials. Kruger and the State President at that time, Dr Nico Diederichs, signed the banning proclamations.

With the stroke of a pen, the then apartheid regime had removed two newspapers that had played a crucial role in keeping the people informed. 

Mr Kruger just over a month earlier had described black consciousness leader, Steve Biko's death in detention as: "It leaves me cold".

The notorious security police or "special branch" of the time carried out systematic raids against journalists, newspaper offices and other publications in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban and other cities and towns around the country.

In Johannesburg, security policemen arrested Mr Percy Qoboza, Editor of the World and Weekend World, at his offices at about mid-day, only a few minutes before he was due to hold a Press conference about the banning of his newspapers. He was taken to the then John Vorster Square police headquarters. Mr Qoboza was subequently issued with a five-year banning order. His deputy and news editor, Aggrey Klaaste, was also detained and locked up.

The Editor of Pro Veritate, Cedric Maysom, was also detained and issued with a banning and restriction order.

The security police in Johannesburg also carried out raids and searches at the homes and offices of other journalists and organisations such as the Union of Black Journalists(UBJ), which was one of the 18 organisations banned. They also arrested and detained a number of journalists, including Joe Thloloe, who is today the Press Ombudsman. 

In East London, the security police raided the offices of the Daily Dispatch and served its editor, Donald Woods, with a five-year banning order; and searched homes of some of his reporters, including Miss Thenjiwe Mntintso,  who later skipped the country to go into exile because of harrassment and intimidation.   

In Durban, the security police raided and searched the homes of Dennis Pather, who later became editor of the Daily News; and this correspondent.

I can clearly recall what happened when two white security policemen called at my former home at 30 Mimosa Road, Lotusville in Verulam in the unearthly hours of October 19. My wife and our two children were living at that time in the outbuilding.

My mother, her voice showing signs of fear and shock, called out to me in our Tamil mother tongue:

"Sadha (my traditional name) there are two white men here who want to talk to you. I don't know what they want."

When I opened the door, there were two white security policemen (one of them I recoginised as Sargeant De Beer) looking at me with cruel smiles on their faces.

"Mr Subramoney,  we have come to search your house."

They did not inform me that their political bosses had banned the UBJ and 18 other organisations and also banned the World and Weekend World.

They ransacked the house and confiscated papers and documents. When they finished they told my wife, Thyna, that "you are not going to see your husband for a few days".

"You will have to pack some clothes for him."

They then asked me to accompany them to the offices of the Daily News situated at that time in Field Street, Durban, where I worked at that time. Here too they searched my desk and confiscated documents from my desk. Unknown to me and the security policemen, one of my colleagues photographed the security policemen searching my desk and confiscating documents.

Thereafter, I was taken to the Brighton Beach Police Station and detained.

When representations were subsequently made to Mr Kruger for the release of detained journalists, he unapologetically responded by saying that the detentions were not meant to intimidate the Press and that his Government had good reasons to detain the journalists. 

The clampdown against the media on October 19 1977 had an ironic twist two weeks later when it was reported that the Government was planning to print postage stamps to celebrate 150 years of Press Freedom in South Africa.

A  Durban lawyer who was national chairman of the then Progressive Federal Party, Ray Swart,  launched a blistering attack against the National Party Government for talking of Press Freedom at a time when it was conducting one of the ruthless campaigns to suppress the media.

In an interview on October 28 1977, Mr Swart, a strong critic of the apartheid regime, told the Daily News that he was impressed that the Government should want to commemmorate Press Freedom but he would be more impressed if it grave greater indication of what it considered Press freedom to be.

He had said: "It seems strange that they intend doing this after having just banned three newspapers, incarcerated one editor and banned another. I find it difficult to reconcile the actions of the Government. I suggest the stamps they intend issuing to commemmorate Press Freedom should have the faces of Mr Qoboza and Mr Woods."

Of course the Government of the day did not take up Mr Swart's recommendation and despite his, the country and world-wide condemnations of the action against the newspapers, editors and journalists, the apartheid regime continued with its clampdown and suppression of the media much more forcefully.

But despite some of the most stringent regulations and harrassment and intimidation of media practitioners over the next 13 years, most journalists never gave up and used October 19 to continue with the struggles for Press Freedom.

They realised their dream of Press Freedom when the ANC and other organisations were unbanned and when Mr Nelson Mandela and other leaders were released in February 1990.

Now, nearly 23 years later after enjoying true Press Freedom,  our country is facing the prospect of new measures being introduced to force the media to become "pliant" and to "follow the politician".

The memory of October 19 1977 should ensure that we don't allow ourselves to follow the "Ya Baas" route. At this time when we commemorate the struggles for media freedom, we should make it crystal clear to the new ANC regime that there would be no true freedom in our new democracy if we do not enjoy Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Information.

ends - Marimuthu Subramoney 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Southside FM Radio Latest Developmental Report Oct 16 2012

By Subry Govender

Further to our developmental report on September 16 2012, we wish to report we have taken up our issue of a frequency for Southside in our main target market area of Durban and surrounding areas with a number of role players.

They include the Chairperson of the Communications Portfolio Committee in Parliament; the Minister of Communications, Ms Dina Pule; and the Chairperson of ICASA.

In addition, Ms Sindiswa Mzamo of Mr Vivian Reddy's office has also been communicating with ICASA about our urgent frequency requirement.

We have held a meeting with another prominent Indian-origin businessman on Monday, Oct 15 2012. This businessman has assured us that he would also try to do something for us as he also has contacts with political leaders.

Beside receiving an acknowledgement from the ICASA chairperson's office we have not yet heard from him about the Memorandum we had sent him about our frequency requirement. However, the person we have been dealing with at ICASA has informed us that he has some information for us and that he would discuss this with us soon.

On Monday, Oct 15 2012 we received a call from the office of the Chairperson of the Communications Portfolio Committee in Parliament, and he has promised to take up the issue of the frequency. He told us he would keep us informed.

On October 16 2012 we also received a call from the office of the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Zweli Mkhize. This follows a request we have made to Dr Mkhize through two prominent people. The Premier's spokesperson has informed us that he would request a meeting with Dr Mkhize on our behalf.

We are being daily questioned by our people as to when we are going to start broadcasting and we sincerely hope that our latest representations would bear some fruit.

We have also received an inquiry from TOP TV.

Please be informed that we are doing everything in our power to obtain the frequency. We will embark on identifying our transmission site, the building of our studio, recruitment of presenters and sales representatives, and training of staff once we have received a positive response about the frequency.

We need the radio station as a matter of urgency and all those with influence should help us in acquiring the frequency as soon as possible.

Monday, October 15, 2012


By Subry Govender

One of our formidable struggle journalists during the 1970s and 1980s, Zwelakhe Sisulu, who died at the age of 61 on October 4, was laid to rest on Saturday, October 12, after a fitting funeral in Randburg, Johannesburg. Sisulu was acknowledged for playing a crucial role in the struggles to bring about the new non-racial, free and democratic South Africa. In this article, I want to go back to the days when Zwelakhe and a large number of journalists put their lives on stake to contribute to the liberation struggles. Before I go into the meat of the topic, I want to submit that the suppression of the media during the apartheid era did not start when the white baaskap National Party came to political power in 1948. But it had its roots when the first newspapers were started by the colonial authorities in the early 1800s. However, I am not going to go back in history but deal primarily with the period when the National Party introduced all kinds of laws to suppress, oppress, harrass and intimidate journalists - especially journalists of colour. Bring white, colonial and racial driven - the media during this period was mainly concerned with maintaining and retaining white domination of the social, economic and political fabric of South Africa. The whites owned, controlled, managed and edited nearly all the newspapers - with the exception of one or two minor and insignificant publications - and the National Party monopolised the airwaves in the name of the South African Broadcasting Corporation(SABC). The National Party, which F W De Klerk unashamedly tried to sell to the people of Indian origin, coloured people and Africans in the early 1990s, had in their arsenal more than 100 statutes that limited the freedom of the Press. The repressive atmosphere really began after the Sharpeville uprisings on March 21 1960 when police shot dead peaceful marchers who were protesting against the carrying of the hateful Dom-Pass. The National Party Government introduced a state of emergency and banned the ANC and the PAC and crushed all opposition to white minority rule. Publications such as the New Age, Fighting Talk, Advance and Guardian were forced to close shop and the journalists working in these and other progressive newspapers either had to flee the country or go underground. During this period of repression, some of the only black-oriented newspapers that were allowed to operate were the Drum magazine and the Golden City Post. Although they reported on some political developments, they were, however, no danger to the existence of the white state. Being white-owned and managed, these newspapers concentrated on the sensational - sex, crime and gangs and sport - in order to survive. There were some journalists during this period in the 1980s who dared to question the white status quo - but they too were quickly intimidated and forced to flee the country or tone down. In the early 1970s - when the black consciousness movement took root after the establishment of the South African Students Organisation(SAS0) - a number of black journalists came to the fore - prepared to take on the white oppressors irrespective of the consquences. These journalists were primarily working at that time for newspapers such as the World and Weekend World, and sociallyconscious journalists working for mainstream newspapers such as the former Rand Daily Mail, the East London Daily Dispatch, the Cape Times and Argus, the Johannesburg Star and the Durban Daily News. They tried to introduce a new and dynamic approach to journalism by tackling the social, economic, sporting and political oppression of the black majority. The struggle for freedom of the Press and the liberty of the people had just in earnes once again. But no sooner had black journalists - with a black consciousness background - began to tackle real and fundamental issues affecting the majority - the System struck back with vengeance in 1974 when the Frelimo rally was scheduled to be held at Durban's Currie's Fountain. The apartheid regime banned the rally and prohibited newspapers from publishing any news item that would amount to publicising the event. This correspondent was at this time with the Daily News and assigned to cover the rally. This correspondent was not only detained and interrogated but my editor, Mr John O'Mally, was charged for publicising the event. Another colleague, Joan Dobson, skipped the country and fled into exile because the apartheid regime suspected she was in league with the organisers of the rally. After the dawn of our new demcoracy in April 1994, she began reporting from Harare for the SABC's AM and PM live programmes at that time. As a matter of interest, black consciousness leaders like the late Strini Moodley, Saths Cooper, Aubrey Mokoape and others were charged under the infamous Terrorism Act and as a result of the rally were charged and sentenced to Robben Island. Further onslaughts against the media began after the 1976 Soweto uprisings when school children protested against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in their schools. Two months after the Soweto uprisings nine black journalists, who played a leading role in reporting events in Soweto, were detained under the regime's Internal Security Act, and two others were incarcerated under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act. Among the very first to be arrested was Joe Thloloe, who was at that time working for the World Newspaper; Peter Magubane, South Africa's world-famous photo-journalist who worked at that time for the Rand Daily Mail and Miss Thenjiwe Mntintso, who worked at the Daily Dispatch in East London at that time. The majority of them were held for about four months without being tried in a court of law. They were released at the end of December 1976 but some were re-arrested in 1977. Joe Thloloe was one of those re-arrested and he was held incommunicado for 547 days under Section of the Terrorism Act. The others were Willie Bokala, a reporter for the banned World newspaper who was held in detention for more than a year; Jan Tugwana, a reporter for the then Rand Daily Mail who was also held in detention for more than a year under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act; Ms Juby Mayet, a doyen of black journalists who was held incommunicado under the Internal Security Act at the Fort Prison in Johannesburg; Isaac Moroe, the first president of the Writers Association of SA (WASA) in Bloemfontein; and Bularo Diphoto, a free-lance journalist in the town of Kroonstad who was also detained under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act. Another journalist, Mr Moffat Zungu, who was a reporter for the World Newspaper, was an accused in the Pan African Congress (PAC) trial that took place in Bethal, near Johannesburg. He was first detained under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act. The blackest day in the history of Press Freedom in so far as the black majority was concerned took place on October 19 1977 when the notorious Jimmy Kruger banned the only two newspapers respected among black people - the World and Weekend World. Mr Kruger, who became infamous for describing Steve Biko's death two months earlier as - "It leaves me cold" - at the same time banned the Union of Black Journalists(UBJ) and 17 other organisations; the publication of the UBJ - AZIZTHULA; religious and student publications; locked up the editor and news editor of the World and Weekend World - the late Percy Qoboza and the late Aggrey Klaaste respectively; and banned for five years the Editor of the Daily Dispacth, the late Donald Woods. The regime also confiscated all our stationery and equipment and seized our funds. Six other journalists were also detained at this time - including Thenjiwe Mntintso, who is now an ambassador; and Enoch Duma - who worked for the Star newspaper at that time. He fled into exile after being released after more than two years in detention. He returned to the country recently and is currently writing his autobiography and also involved in the academic field. Almost every member of the UBJ was visited by the security police all over the country; their homes and offices raided and searched and interrogated. All the raids were carried out at the unearthly hours of 4am and 5am in the morning. I remember my mother knocking my door and saying in our Tamil mother tongue: "Some white people are here asking for you." My rooms were searched and all literature relating to the UBJ were confiscated. They even confiscated a letter I had written to the late Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi. I don't know whether that letter reached Mrs Gandhi because India at that time was leading the international struggle against minority rule in South Africa. After completing their raid, they took me to the Daily News in Field Street in Durban where they searched my desk. When representations were made to Mr Kruger for the release of the detained journalists, he had the temerity to announce that the detentions were not meant to intimidate the Press and that his Government had good reasons to detain the journalists. It was during this traumatic period that another publication of the UBJ, UBJ Bulletin, and all subsequent editions were banned. The UBJ Bulletin contained some revealing articles about the activities of the South African Police during the Soweto uprisings. Four UBJ officials - Juby Mayet, Joe Thloloe, Mike Nkadimeng and the late Mike Norton - were charged for producing an undesirable publication. Inspite of world-wide condemnation of the banning, detention and harrassment of journalists, the state security police continued with their jack-boot tactics. in Durban two Daily News journalists - Wiseman Khuzwayo and Quarish Patel - were detained without trial for more than three months. On November 30 1977, the day white South Africa went to the polls to give John Vorster another mandate to continue to oppress the black majority, 29 black journalists, including Zwelakhe Sisulu and Ms Juby Mayet, staged a march in the centre of Johannesburg against the banning of the UBJ and the detention of journalists. They were detained for the night at the notorious John Vorster Police station and charged under the Riotous Assemblies Act and fined R50 each. Some of our colleagues who found it impossible to continue to work in South Africa skipped the country under trying circumstances. They included Duma Ndhlovu, Nat Serache, Boy Matthews Nonyang and Wiseman Khuzwayo. Those who remained - including Juby Mayet, Zwelakhe Sisulu, Philip Mthimkulu, Joe Thloloe, Charles Nqakula, Rashid Seria, this correspondent and many others - vowed to continue the struggle. We committed ourselves in the belief that there could be no Press freedom in South Africa as long as the society in which we lived was not free. But the regime was also determined to make life difficult for us. In July 1977 when we scheduled to hold a gathering of former UBJ members in Port Elizabeth to chart our future course of action - the regime banned our gathering and prohibited us from travelling to the Easten Cape city. But being determined to take on the regime head-on we quickly re-scheduled our meeting to be held in the town of Verulam, about 25km north of Durban. Unknown to us the dreaded Security Police tapped our telephone conversations and had the Starlite Hotel in Verulam bugged. The Security Police were listening to the entire proceedings of our meeting and immediately decided that we were a bunch of "media terriorists" who should be taken out of society. At our meeting we decided to establish our own daily and weekly newspapers and a news agency because we were of the firm belief that the establishment media was not catering for the black majority. The white establishment media of that era, as you have already been informed, was aimed at protecting and promoting the privileges of the white minority. But sadly we did not have the resources to embark on such ambitious projects. Nevertheless many of us who became frustrated with the establishment media began to make arrangements for the establishment of regional newspapers that would provide an alternative voice to the establishment media and the National Party-controlled SABC. When the regime leaders realised that black journalists were not prepared to cow down and submit to their dictates, they intensfied their harrassment. In June 1980 when school children all over the country bocyotted classes against the unequal and inferior education system for black children, the security police once again targeted journalists. They detained many of us for lengthy periods, claiming that black journalists had been encouraging black children to boycott classes. Zwelakhe Sisulu was during that period of repression detained for nearly two years. In Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, East London and other centres - black journalists continued to work with the community in an attempt to establish alternative newspapers. In Durban, the Press Trust of South Africa Third World News Agency was established as one of the first moves to provide the outside world with accurate information about the situation in South Africa. The news agency was established to operate alongside the running of the alternative newspaper, Ukusa. But just when the newspaper was set to start publishing with the blessing of the community, the state struck again and banned its Managing Editor - this correspondent; and also Zwelakhe Sisulu, Joe Thloloe, Philip Mthimkulu and Charles Nqakula in December 1980. This was a massive blow for the alternative media because all the journalists were fully involved in the various projects. Some of the publications that they were involved in were UKUSA in Durban, Grassroots in Cape Town, Speak in Johannesburg and Umthonyana in Port Elizabeth. The South African Council of Churches also sponsored the publication of a newspaper called The Voice. Philip Mthimkulu and Juby Mayet worked for this newspaper before they were banned. The journalists in question were put out of circulation for three years until the end of `1983 when their banning orders expired. But during their period of forced exile, the journalists did not remain idle - for instance the Press Trust of South Africa News Agency continued to operate under some trying conditions, intimidation and harrassment. All the banned journalists also kept in touch with one another and on one occasion two of us - Zwelakhe Sisulu and the writer - even met under secrecy in Johannesburg to discuss the establishment of alternative newspapers once our banning orders expired. During this period Charles Nqakula skipped the country to join the ANC. Upon his return he served the new government in various positions, including Minister of Defence. Between 1980 and 1983 - the Press Trust News Agency managed to supply news to the outside world about the struggles in South Africa. When our banning orders expired - most of us went straight back to our task of continuing to provide an alternative voice for the black majority. In Johannesburg - Zwelakhe Sisulu initiated the establishment of the New Nation newspaper with the assistance of the South African Catholic Bishops Conference; in Cape Town Rashid Seria initiated the establishment of the South Newspaper; and in other parts of the country many other progressive forces and journalists began to establish alternative publications. Student organisations and leaders also produced a variety of alternative publications. In Durban we continued with the Press Trust News Agency and supplied on the spot and analytical reports to radio stations in the United States, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and at one time we even supplied information to the Tass News Agency, which was based in Zimbabwe after that country's independence in 1980. Some of the radio stations we supplied reports to included the BBC, Radio Netherlands, Radio Deutsche Welle or Voice of Germany, Radio France Internationale and the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation. In Durban some journalists also established the New African newspaper. While we were determined to report the struggles for a free society - the apartheid regime was also determined to crush us. It began another round of repression through P W Botha and in 1986 introduced some of the most repressive methods to suppress journalists. At this time the regime had introduced the tri-racial parliament whites, coloured people and people of Indian origin; while the progressive forces established the United Democratic Front(UDF). The UDF, together with the alternative media, the churches, trade unions and student organisations provided the regime with the biggest challenge - that the days of white minority rule are nearing an end. Most of us - who were in the forefront of the alternative media - were under constant surveillance. For instance during the emergency regulations in 1986 and 1987 - every time there was a knock on our door - we lifted our heads to see if it was the Security Police. On one occasion more than 10 Security Policemen raided our office situated at that time in Protea House in West Street in Durban and confiscated a pile of documents. On another occasion - our offices were mysteriously burgled and a computer, printer, computer discs, casettes, and even an automatic telephone were stolen. We reported theincident to the police and when one finger-print expert came to the office - we told him not to look to far for the thieves because the culprits would be either in the security police or national intelligence offices. The period of sustained security police intimidation and harrassment we experienced was just an example of what the alternative media organisations and individuals encountered during that period. All of us were also denied passport to travel overseas - the regime pontificated that we were "a danger to the security of the state" and, therefore, our movements had to be restricted. The New Nation and the Weekly Mail - two alternative newspapers in Johannesburg - were banned several times from 1986 to 1990. The only time we were give respite was after the ANC, PAC, SACP and other organisations were unbanned early in 1990. The sad demise of Zwelakhe Sisulu, 18 years after the dawn of our new South Africa, is an occasion for us to reflect on the contributions made by "struggle journalists" and whether we still face problems in the new democratic order. There's no doubt that certain moves currently by the ruling ANC to introduce the Protection of Information Bill is a reminder that those we have put in power have now become a threat to the freedom of speech, freedom of information and the freedom of the Press. Personally I see no need for any law to protect any information - except for information that threatens the security of the state. But all other information are of interest and importance to the citizen. We need to know how state officials, politicians and others are ripping us off through bribery, corruption and state tenders. A country without a free media is not free at all and this must be communicated to the current people in political power. Our first democratic president, Nelson Mandela, repeatedly told us how much he appreciated the work we had done for their freedom and how it was important that we continued to keep a check on the new politicians. He made it clear that the new politicians are answerable to the citizenry and not the other way round. It seems our work is not finished. A La Continua - the struggle continues.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Hambe Kahle Comrade Zwelakhe By Subry Govender My wife, Thyna, and I were driving on the N3 from Durban to Johannesburg early on Thursday, October 4 when we began recalling all the colleagues who were struggle journalists of outstanding qualities in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. We recalled the names of Thami Mazwai, Joe Thloloe, Charles Nqakula, Philip Mthimkulu, Rashid Seria, Mathatha Tseudu Zuby Mayet, Zubeida Jaffer, and many others whose names we had forgotten. But then Thyna reminded me that we forgot about Zwelike Sisulu. I told her that it was such a great tragedy that those of us who had used our profession to promote the liberation struggles in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s rarely kept in touch with one another and it was many years ago that we actually had met and talked about our early days. I remember that it was about six or seven years ago, while I was still with the SABC, that all the people I had mentioned, except Zubeida Jaffer and Zwelike, had the opportunity of meeting in Sandton, Johannesburg when SANEF had recognised us for our work during the struggle years. Zwelike, who was also given an award, was unable to attend because of work commitments. But I had the opportunity of talking to Zwelike when he chaired a commission hearing into our colleague and news head at the SABC, Snuki Zikalala, a few years ago. He mentioned that it was a great pity that we don't meet and also don't keep in touch. He gave me his calling card and said we should keep in touch. But due to our work commitments, we rarely kept in touch. After Thyna and I arrived in Johannesburg, I was shocked to learn when I heard on SAFM that our dear struggle journalist comrade, Zwelike, had passed away early on Thursday, October 4. I don't know what it was but it must have been some preminition to talk about Zwelike on the day he passed away. Zwelike has been a struggle comrade extra-ordinaire. He arrived on the scene after the Soweto uprisings in June 1976, when we got together and launched the Union of Black Journalists(UBJ). But barely a year later, the UBJ was banned along with dozens of other black consciousness organisations and some church groups with the aim of crushing us. But we were determined as ever and organised a meeting in Port Elizabeth for the launch of another organisation to replace the UBJ. Zwelike was one of the leaders. But the apartheid regime had other ideas and banned us from meeting in Port Elizabeth. This did not deter us at all. We got around this ban by informing our colleagues that the venue had been changed to Verulam and the same weekend we managed to get all our people there for the launch of the Media Workers Association of SA(MWASA). We held our meeting despite the security police keeping a watch at the venue. It was Charles Nqakula who took over the leadership and after he was banned it fell on the shoulders of Zwelike. Despite the odds against us we managed to operate and held several meetings with journalists around the country. The ever fearful apartheid regime once again carried out a series of arrests, detentions and bannings in the early 1980s. Most of us - Zwelike, Joe, Philip, Zuby, this correspondent and others were banned and house-arrested. Zwelike and Joe detained for more than two years each as well. During the banning period we were warned that the security police would be keeping a watch on us but the ever resourceful Zwelike arranged for us to meet at a secret venue in Johannesburg. It was here we discussed the establishment of alternative newspapers and that's how the New Nation was born in Johannesburg under the editorship of Zwelike; the Call in Cape Town under the editorship of Rashid; and Ukusa in Durban under my editorship. There were also other alternative publications around the country. Zwelike and this correspondent discussed how we should work together to promote the overthrow of racist minority regime through our work. We secretly had the support of the ANC in exile. The New Nation became a formidable title under Zwelike, while Ukuza and others fell under the constant harrassment of the security police. Zwelike was also regularly detained and harrassed by the regime's secret police while editing the New Nation. Despite the long periods of detentions, harrassment, and bannings, Zwelike kept alive the fires of freedom and once again came to the fore in the early 1990s when he was appointed the first black CEO of the SABC. He only remained there for a few years before embarking on a business career.