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Very poetic, but a load of rubbish

Printing press, press freedom, press, media, paper, news, free, fair. Photo by Michael Walker

Printing press, press freedom, press, media, paper, news, free, fair. Photo by Michael Walker

Published Dec 27, 2013


Here’s what Tony Weaver thinks his good friend Ronnie Morris would have said about Zenzile Khoisan’s article.

Cape Town - THIS is not a column I feel comfortable writing, but it has to be done. It is also not the way I would have liked to have ended off the year, but it has to be done.

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On Tuesday this week, the Cape Times ran an Insight page article by Zenzile Khoisan headlined “Cape Times dropped the ball”. [SEE RELATED ARTICLES ABOVE]

His article was an excoriating denunciation of the Cape Times’s coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela.

Khoisan became deputy editor of Eland Nuus, a Northern Cape newspaper which played a partisan role in dividing the various claimants in the Richtersveld land restitution saga after he was dismissed from our sister newspaper, the Cape Argus.

I have fond memories of briefly working with him when he was at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigating the murders of the Gugulethu Seven.

But that is water under the bridge. It is his Insight article of December 24 to which I address myself here.

Zenzile wrote: “Here I certainly must raise issue with what has been known as Cape Town’s paper of record, the Cape Times, because this newspaper’s coverage of that sentinel moment, when the news broke that the world’s most loved personality had departed the great stage, was disappointing... a wraparound. There was no detail of the moment, no reactions from the street, the immediate outflow of grief from his intimates... The Cape Times performance, on the day the world stood still, counterweighted against almost every other title in the world, was, at best, mediocre, and, at worst, a betrayal of everything this entire fourth estate is about.”

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Very poetic, but a load of rubbish.

Fact: Nelson Mandela died at 20:50. Fact: A rumour started at about 21:30 that he might be dead. Fact: President Jacob Zuma officially announced his death at 23:45. Fact: The Cape Times’s front page deadline is 23:30. Fact: In the event of very major late breaking stories, that deadline can be extended to 00:30. Fact: By 23:00, a small Cape Times task team headed by editor Alide Dansnois had assembled, 45 minutes before the announcement of Nelson Mandela’s death. There was one night reporter on duty (we have eight full time reporters, and two interns, not the “brigade” – in military terms 3 200 to 11 000 people – that Zenzile says are at our disposal).

Within seconds of President Zuma’s announcement, head of news and assistant editor Janet Heard was tweeting the news on the Cape Times Twitter feed. News desk secretary and web mistress Liesl van der Schyff was doing minute-by-minute updates on the Cape Times website.

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And the production team was operating as only a group of highly seasoned professionals at the top of their game know how to operate – split-second decision-making, constant changes as the news came in, keeping our printers in Parow Industria in the loop, updating our news story as fresh tributes and details emerged.

As for his statement that “There was no detail of the moment, no reactions from the street, the immediate outflow of grief from his intimates.” All I can say is, Huh?

In our main story we recorded that “Scores of Mandela’s neighbours were gathered outside his Houghton residence last night. Some huddled around a car to hear Zuma’s announcement. Many of them were in their pyjamas... A mother who came to the Mandela house with her two daughters broke down and cried. “I am glad that he is in a better place...” she said.

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We were, as far as I know, the only newspaper in the world publishing immediately after the announcement that got into print reaction from Ahmed Kathrada, Desmond Tutu, FW de Klerk, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, Barack Obama, the ANC, Helen Zille, Patricia de Lille, Bantu Holomisa and Frans Baleni. Others did this in editions that appeared many hours after us.

Poetically, again, Zenzile then invokes the memory of one of my closest friends, the late Ronnie Morris: “It is here that I am reminded of some of the great print heroes of the Independent stable.... I don’t know what will happen to the editorial team who dropped the ball and let down the team on the night Madiba died, but I now wonder whether the outcome would have been different with Ronnie... at the helm.”

Above all, Ronnie hated cant and hypocrisy. Unlike Zenzile, I don’t claim to be able to channel the dead, but if I could I know what Ronnie would have said.

It is: “Wat ’n klomp tos.”

And those, I hope, are mine and Ronnie’s last words on the subject.

[email protected]

* Tony Weaver is an assistant editor at the Cape Times.

Cape Times

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