Kevin Ritchie

THE STAR, Joburg’s iconic newspaper, opens another chapter in its tumultuous 124-year history next week, when it launches its Star Africa edition.

There will be a soft launch to readers, many of whom will be given a copy on the road as they leave for the Easter weekend on Thursday, followed by the main launch on the Tuesday after the Easter weekend.

It’s a logical progression from the paper’s Soweto edition, published between the paper’s country edition and its main edition every evening.

“We’ve been running our Star Soweto edition for some time now, effectively as a slip edition to the broadsheet offering, and it was the success of this – from 600 on launch to 6 000 a day now – that made us think, if we can do this with a small team of dedicated reporters, imagine what we could do if we really put our minds to it,” says the editor of The Star, Makhudu Sefara.

Star Africa will have its own dedicated content editor: Zingisa Mkhuma, fresh from her highly successful five-year stint as editor of The Star’s sister newspaper, the Pretoria News. She’s someone who grew up in Soweto and came of age as a schoolgirl in the cauldron of the June 16 Soweto riots in 1976.

“Zingi knows the people, she’s the embodiment of the target market, having left and worked all over Gauteng and across media, but still retaining her roots and her interests,” says Sefara.

Star Africa will be produced in tabloid form, but will be the biggest tabloid in the marketplace.

“Because it’s an edition of The Star,” Sefara explains, “it will follow The Star’s pagination, which doubles when you convert broadsheet into tabloid, so a 32-page broadsheet becomes a 64-page tabloid – a bumper 48-page edition becomes a 96-page tabloid.

“On top of all this you’ll get all the inserts that you would find in the broadsheet Star, such as Motoring on a Thursday, Workplace on Wednesdays and Tonight (the group’s national entertainment supplement) every day.”

Size is the reason why the cover price will remain the same across both editions.

“We looked at that,” says Sefara, “but we realised that this is not a ‘Star lite’ as a sop to a specific interest group – as has happened in the past, like the old ‘Extras’, but a dedicated edition of the paper for a specific market, sharing all the resources of The Star, on top of a dedicated team of specialists.”

Some of those specialists include Mathshelane Mamabolo, the paper’s acclaimed soccer writer who edited the defunct Shoot supplement, which used to be published on a Friday.

“Matshelane’s coming across to drive a serious soccer focus in the paper; expect between a third and a quarter of the paper to be sport – 80 percent of which will be soccer.”

Another key aspect of the paper will be lifestyle, with Verve, edited by Zenaide Jones, expanding from one or two pages in the broadsheet Star to about 10 tabloid pages a day.

The paper’s making no bones about who its target market is or what this edition will contain.

“We’ve called it the Africa edition for a reason,” says Sefara, “it’s the name of the paper’s old edition for black readers under apartheid.

“The difference this time is that we’re African by choice, not by law.”

The decision to launch the edition is the culmination of several factors; soft sales for newspapers across the market which have not left The Star unscathed, coupled to the perennial complaint that the country’s leading quality newspaper tries to be too many things to too many people.

Sefara, the newspaper’s first African editor, is unapologetic.

“We have to get to a point in our history where we can stop being coy about race. One size doesn’t fit all. We are different, but that does not make us any less a community, or any less a nation – let’s celebrate that difference and not be ashamed about it.”

He’s particularly vocal about previous attempts to have euphemistic editions like “soccer editions”.

“The target market of The Star Africa edition will be black first and foremost. They might even be white but think like blacks,” he smiles. “Some of the readers might have grown up in the township but moved to the suburbs, others are still very much there, all of them though are linked by eKasi.”

It’s a racial and publishing paradox further muddled by the fact that the edition’s production editor is a young white male, while the broadsheet edition’s acting night editor (possibly one of the most critical positions on any daily newspaper) is a young black female.

“What we are doing here is creating different editions for different interests, using the best possible people in the best positions, irrespective of their age, seniority, or even race,” he says. “My deputy is white, but he’ll have oversight over both editions, reporting to me.

“It’s not about race in the old way of thinking.”

The Star Africa launches on Tuesday, April 10. It will be sold in tandem with the broadsheet editions of The Star on the country run and in certain cross-over markets, such as the CBD, but exclusively in the townships around Gauteng.