A MAN WITH VISION

THE BEST: Brass players in the Sowetan-Transnet-SABC Massed Choir Festival in 2000. PHOTO: MBUZENI ZULU. 18/09/2000.  Sowetan.
THE BEST: Brass players in the Sowetan-Transnet-SABC Massed Choir Festival in 2000. PHOTO: MBUZENI ZULU. 18/09/2000. Sowetan.

TODAY we remember a visionary pioneer who passed away on June 19 2004. We remember late Sowetan editor-in-chief Aggrey Robeson Emile Zola Klaaste, the newspaper's father of nation-building.

TODAY we remember a visionary pioneer who passed away on June 19 2004. We remember late Sowetan editor-in-chief Aggrey Robeson Emile Zola Klaaste, the newspaper's father of nation-building.

Three years after he was born in Kimberley, Northern Cape, the Klaaste family moved to Johannesburg. They settled in Sophiatown, the mercurial sociopolitical melting pot, only to be yanked out and cruelly moved to Meadowlands, Soweto, in the 50s.

Klaaste carried within him an almost unnerving kindness towards his fellow South Africans. This is attested to in most of his writings, particularly his strong arguments for the nation to embrace forgiveness, brotherhood, unity and a reconstructive spirit.

These themes embodied the newspaper's nation-building philosophy, concept and practice, which he had launched in 1988 when he became editor.

Klaaste first worked as a journalist for Drum magazine, then The World (which was banned by the Nationalist Party in 1977) and The World's successor, The Post (which was closed down after a strike and became the Sowetan in 1981).

At the time of his death Klaaste was an executive of black empowerment company New Africa Investment Limited and chairman of the Johannesburg Tourism Company and of Education Africa, a nonprofit youth and community development organisation.

Klaaste, with other ubuntu-inspired social strategists Sam Mabe, Joe Thloloe, Thami Mazwai, Sydney Matlhaku and Don Mattera, pushed the then unusual agenda of rebuilding South Africa together with whites. This strategy was opposed by people who looked down on cooperation and collaboration with the enemy, as it were.

In response Klaaste used any platform available at the time, including his popular column - On The Line - to say that he was not averse to getting white people to help in rebuilding communities.

He said this was necessary because black society was in tatters and the moral structure was destroyed.

He said in an interview: "I looked at other African countries. All were in a mess, people were not skilled to run these countries."

Klaaste and Sowetan's main goal was to play an active role in "repairing the damage apartheid had wrought on the structures within black communities across the country".

Two manifestoes articulate Sowetan's trend-aligned projects, including the woman of the year and entrepreneur of the year awards.

These have been overtaken by others, the Miracles In Education Campaign (which has become the National Teaching Awards), Community Builder of the Year, Massed Choir Festival; The Maths, Science and Technology Educator of the Year Award, and the Parenting Workshop Series.

These projects identified the innovative, selfless and trendsetting types who, often against great odds, stood above the rest in providing information, education, shelter, hope and setting examples of fulfilment gained from giving and giving brotherhood and unity a chance.

Today, Sowetan's corporate social investment and responsibility work is run under the auspices of the Aggrey Klaaste Nation Building Foundation.

The flagship projects - out of more than 21 regional and national initiatives - include the South African Literary Awards, the South African Early Childhood Development Awards, the Stop Crime Drama Festival and the Anglo American and Sowetan Young Communicators Awards.

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