'Journalists no longer concerned'

Loyiso Sidimba

Percy Qoboza, the late editor of The World looking at copies of the newspaper.
Percy Qoboza, the late editor of The World Percy Qoboza, the late editor of The World looking at copies of the newspaper.
Image: Tiso Blackstar

Veteran journalist and academic Dr Phil Mtimkulu retired two years ago after serving the country for more than four decades and surviving numerous apartheid police detentions and bannings.

Mtimkulu, who worked for The Weekend World under the late editor Percy Qoboza, and the SA Council of Churches' ecumenical newspaper The Voice, said today's journalists were no longer as aware and concerned about what is happening in their communities.

"Journalists are the eyes and ears of the community. They should not only focus on political issues," he warned.

Today, South Africa commemorates the 40th anniversary of the banning of Sowetan's predecessor The World, which Qoboza also edited, and Pro Veritate, whose editor was the late Beyers Naudé.

The bannings were also extended to 17 Black Consciousness organisations such as the SA Students' Organisation, SA Students' Movement, Black Community Projects (BCP) and Black People's Convention (BPC), among others.

The Union of Black Journalists, set up in 1973, of which Mtimkulu was secretary-general, was also silenced while Qoboza, The World's features editor Aggrey Klaaste, other prominent black activists and leaders including Dr Nthatho Motlana, BPC president Kenneth Rachidi and BCP director Aubrey Mokoena were detained in terms of the Internal Security Act.

"The bannings of the organisations came when the internal struggle was being intensified following June 1976.

"The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) had managed to politicise the community," explained Mtimkulu.

Mtimkulu said the Rand Daily Mail also played a prominent role in highlighting what was happening in townships.

"There was nothing the regime could do other than ban newspapers."

He said weekends after the June 1976 uprisings and BCM leader Steve Biko's assassination were marked by mass funerals of people killed by apartheid police.

All the detained activists and journalists were taken to Modderbee Prison in Benoni, on the East Rand.

In 1978, Mtimkulu was arrested and charged along with his colleague Juby Mayet. After his release in 1981, Mtimkulu and current Press Council executive director Joe Thloloe, adjunct professor at Wits University's journalism department Mathatha Tsedu, and former cabinet minister Charles Nqakula, were banned for a number of years.

"I couldn't study after June 16 1976," he said.

Mtimkulu's banning only ended around 1983 or 1984, but during this period he could not work for any newspaper and was under house arrest.

Having retired from the University of SA in 2015, Mtimkulu, who obtained his doctorate in 2006, now keeps busy by writing and advising other academics.