COMMISSIONING OF THE NEW NATAL WITNESS PRESS
MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI, MP
PIETERMARITZBURG : FEBRUARY 22, 2002
Mr Stuart Craib, Chairman of The Natal Witness; the Honourable Premier of the Province of KwaZulu-Natal, Mr LPHM Mtshali; His Excellency Dr FT Mdlalose, South Africa’s Ambassador to Egypt; Members of the Cabinet of KwaZulu-Natal; Mr Ton Vosloo, Chairman of Nasionale Pers; Mr Koos Bekker, Managing Director of Nasionale Pers; Mr JF Malherbe, Vice-Chairman of Naspers Media 24; Dr Oscar Dhlomo, Chairman of Dynamo Investments; His Worship the Mayor of Pietermaritzburg, Councillor Hloni Zondi, and Deputy Mayor Councillor Zanele Hlatshwayo; Deputy Mayor of Umgungundlovu District Municipality, Councillor Zanele Sithole; Mr Reinhart Siewert, President of Koenig and Bauer, Germany; Mr AJ Konigkramer, Managing Director of Mandla-Matla Publishing; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great honour for me to officiate at the formal commissioning of this magnificent new press. The Koenig and Bauer press, the new press hall and other necessary facilities represent an investment of almost 45 million rands. Our country is in a slow growth phase at a time of deepening poverty and a widely perceived unwillingness on the part of investors to commit to new projects. Against such a background this venture is richly symbolic and I should like, at the outset, to formally commend The Natal Witness and their partners in Nasionale Pers for making this investment here in Pietermaritzburg.
We all know that the print media, for a variety of reasons, has come under financial pressure. At the very time when there are those who have highlighted the problems of newspapers, investors in this facility have boldly demonstrated their faith in the printed media by establishing a state of the art printing facility, which will be the most modern in all Africa. For this reason too this venture is ground-breaking and deeply encouraging.
There are, however, more than pure financial reasons why the facility we are formally commissioning tonight is richly significant. Our fledgling democracy is in desperate need of enlightened debate and an uninhibited flow of freely expressed ideas. This is not possible without healthy newspapers that have access to modern printing presses such as the one here at Willowton.
But, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s function will prove to be historic for other reasons. This press, in a very real sense also symbolizes the union in a joint venture of two significant companies. The Natal Witness is the oldest newspaper in South Africa. It has deep roots in this province and has survived cataclysmic wars fought on our soil and has published through times that saw the dismemberment through colonial conquest of the independent Kingdom of KwaZulu. Ilanga is the oldest and by far the biggest Zulu-language newspaper in South Africa. Next year it will celebrate its centenary, having been founded in 1903 by Dr John Langalibalele Dube, Mafukuzela, one of the greatest sons of this province and a true giant of the past century.
It was Dr Dube who became the first President of the African National Congress and who founded the famous Ohlange Institute. For me Dr Dube is not just a legend whom I am told about. I have a picture of him in my home with my father, Inkosi Mathole Buthelezi, the then Prime Minister of the Zulu Nation, Prince Mnyayiza ka Ndabuko (Prince Gideon Zulu's father) Prince Hambayedwa ka Hhamu and other leaders of this Province at that time. As I grew up at the Palace of my uncle, King Solomon ka Dinuzulu, Dr Dube used to frequent the Palace. But I knew him well later after the death of King Solomon, when my younger uncle, Prince Mshiyeni ka Dinuzulu, was Regent of the Zulu Nation during the interregnum. In 1944, I was taken to Adams College with two of my cousins, Prince Thandayiphi ka Solomon and Prince Pennel ka Solomon to do my Form II. At the time, Dr Dube was the President-General of the African National Congress. He had unfortunately had a stroke at that time. The Regent drove to Ohlange with us to introduce us to Dr Dube who was in a wheel chair, and I was sad to see him in that state, for prior to that he had often been to Mahhashini when the Regent had called together leaders of the Nation. I consider it one of the privileges of my life to have known Dr John Dube as one of our greatest sons.
As you are aware, Ilanga, was purchased from Natal Newspapers in 1987 by Mandla-Matla Publishing (Pty) Ltd. In a very real sense this was a home-coming, since Ilanga was again owned by black South Africans after having been in white ownership for many decades. We are proud of its record since 1987. No one can deny that under the ownership of Mandla-Matla Publishing, Ilanga confounded its critics and has gone from strength to strength. Ilanga grew by an astonishing 42% within 18 months of transfer to its new owners.
I am delighted that Dr Oscar Dhlomo and His Excellency Dr Frank Mdlalose are present here today on this historic occasion. It was Dr Dhlomo and Dr Mdlalose who conducted negotiations on behalf of Mandla-Matla Publishing (Pty) Ltd. with the then Argus Company which owned Ilanga at the time, To me, their presence here is a wonderful omen for this joint venture which we are launching today.
I am also grateful that Mr Ton Vosloo and Mr Jan Malherbe were able to be with us today. I of course knew Mr Craib senior and we had some wonderful discussions with him when I was Chief Minister of KwaZulu in the 70's or early 80's, if I am not mistaken. Their presence also augurs well for this venture.
The newspaper is an institution in Zulu society and is read by people of all income levels and age groups. Readership cuts across political divides and includes people from all social and economic groupings.
There is something very unique about the Zulu people, something that the British Prime Minister recognised in them, after the Zulu victory at Isandlwana on the 22nd of January 1879, when he made his famous remark that "Zulus are a remarkable people, they defeat our generals, have converted our Bishops and have changed the destiny of one of the great European Royal families." I recall this because when I grew up there were many black newspapers, some in the vernacular and some in English, such as "Imvo Zabansundu founded by Mr Tengo Jabavu. "Umteteli Wabantu", "Bantu-Batho" and others. Ilanga is the only African newspaper founded by a black patriot that has survived up to now. It is the Zulu people who have made that possible by supporting Ilanga in all these decades, almost a century. All the other newspapers disappeared from the scene. I can predict without any hesitation that Ilanga will survive for another century and more. Ilanga is regarded as Iphepha LeSizwe, the "newspaper of the nation" and is the standard bearer of the Zulu language. I have no doubt that it will remain just that, despite the naive predictions of those who seem bent on plotting its demise through the launch of a new title.
Allow me to give you a third reason why all who are gathered here tonight are witness to an historic event. On October 4, 1957, His Majesty the King of the Zulus, Cyprian Bhekuzulu Nyangayezizwe ka Solomon, formally commissioned a new Cossar press at Ilanga’s premises at 128 Umgeni Road in Durban. That is 46 years ago when Ilanga was 54 years old. That press, which could produce 5 000 copies an hour, impressed our King mightily. I was present on that occasion. Now, one year short of Ilanga’s centenary, we are commissioning a press that can print at a speed of 70 000 copies an hour. I am proud that I shall have the privilege to commission this press today, as King Cyprian Bhekuzulu Nyangayezizwe who was the father of our present King, was my first cousin, as his father, King Solomon ka Dinuzulu, was the full brother of Princess Constance Magogo ka Dinuzulu, my mother. When King Cyprian commissioned the press in Durban, it was owned by a company called, significantly, Bantu Press.
Today Ilanga is in black hands and will be printed on a press which is state of the art and cannot be matched by any press in this province. This is indeed history in the making.
Many illustrious men were to follow in Dr Langalibalele’s footsteps at Ilanga. The first was Mr Skwelethu Nyongwane, who edited the newspaper until it was taken over by the Bantu Press (Pty) Ltd. Ilanga was moved from Ohlange to Grey Street in Durban in 1936 and Mr Nyongwane was succeeded by Mr Ngazana Luthuli as editor. Another famous South African and writer became editor of Ilanga upon the retirement of Mr Luthuli. He was Mr RRR Dhlomo who lived here in Edendale, who was at the helm when another famous writer, Mr JK Ngubane, joined the staff of the newspaper. Also on the editorial team of the time was another individual destined to leave his mark on journalism in this country, Mr Nat Nakasa. He was a close friend of another editor of Ilanga, Mr Obed Kunene.
I wish to add some broader comments on the significance of tonight’s events. Historic or not, the really significant issue about the partnership between Mandla-Matla Publishing and The Natal Witness is that it is based on sound business principles. No newspaper, or any other venture for that matter, can survive unless it is commercially sound. This new venture reflects this principle. Finally, it is gratifying to me personally from what I have observed, that although the one company is traditionally owned by white South Africans and the other by a black-owned company, it is driven by people who trust each other and who share the same set of values. That is a foundation for success and I know that this venture will prosper. I consider this an important chapter in the unfolding of a revolution of goodwill. It proves how well we can work as partners with equal dignity, to forge a common destiny of social stability and economic prosperity for our country. We need more of this type of partnership in our country if we are to succeed in building a better life for our people.
I have been told that Koenig and Bauer is the oldest manufacturer of printing presses in the world. In fact Ilanga was at one stage printed on a Koenig and Bauer press in Umgeni Road. I have also been given to understand that Koenig and Bauer have the distinction of printing the vast bulk of the money in the world today.
Ilanga has now got a new press and I hope that this signifies the opening of a new chapter. I find it a coincidence of destiny that this new chapter is to be opened at a time when Ilanga may be confronting the new challenge of possible competition. A new press, a new chapter and a new challenge suggest that perhaps the time has come for a new beginning. In business, that which does not grow often withers and the new chapter which now begins must be marked by courageous market growth. Ilanga must find new markets and new horizons, going beyond those which have characterised it for the past 100 years. In its future, Ilanga ought to have horizons which can ensure its rightful place in the hearts and minds of all South Africans for the next 100 years.
The challenge before us is that of bringing Ilanga to all South Africans and making it their household companion. This challenge may seem unattainable at this juncture, but I feel that when Dr Dube put his mind to publishing a newspaper in Zulu, the challenge before him seemed to be equally impossible. The future of South Africa calls for the people of South Africa to express themselves and read about themselves also in the African vernacular languages. As its second century of history is close to beginning, in future Ilanga may begin catering also for other African languages and increase its circulation to ensure that it may finally become available wherever there are people willing to read.
It is my hope that this venture will be a great success and that the new press will, symbolically, be printing money for its shareholders by successfully servicing the communication needs of the people of KwaZulu-Natal.
It now gives me great pleasure to formally commission this new press.