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The beat goes on - 70 years of telling the South African story

Legendary lensman Alf Kumalo on the cover of DRUM magazine.

Legendary lensman Alf Kumalo on the cover of DRUM magazine.

Published Oct 18, 2021


By Tshepo Mvulane Moloi

Since August 2020 DRUM magazine, perhaps owing to the Coronavirus pandemic and the forthcoming demands of the fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), transitioned to become South Africa’s fully digital weekly magazine.

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It, however, still claims to target ‘black’ South African readers, offering them news, entertainment and feature articles. Fascinatingly the motto of the ‘Abantu Book Festival’, founded in 2016 by activist-author Thando Mgqolozana, reads as follows: ‘Imagining ourselves into existence’.

Moditle Boikie Pholo on the cover of DRUM magazine. Picture: Masi Losi

This motto captures what DRUM magazine has already achieved, through its miscellaneous content, historically spanning the period March 1951 to March 2021, culminating in the 70th anniversary of the magazine. It is suspected that among DRUM’s ‘black’ urban readers, during and post-apartheid South Africa, most of them hardly knew that this monthly, later weekly, magazine, was only named DRUM in September 1951, after the then media novice James Richard Abe Bailey (1919-2000), or Jim Bailey, took it over.

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Henry Nxumalo

To be sure, we learn from Michael Chapman’s anthology ‘The Drum Decade: Stories from the 1950’s’ (1989), that historically “Drum came into existence in Cape Town as a monthly magazine in March 1951, under the title ‘The African Drum’, and was financed by a three-man consortium, which would soon be headed by Bailey, who had inherited part of the fortune left by his father, the Randlord Sir Abe Bailey”.

Besides venturing into DRUM with its first editor, Indian-born Robert James Crisp (1911-1994) or Bob Crisp (a Springbok cricketer and author), Jim Bailey also founded the currently defunct Sunday paper ‘The Golden City Post’ in 1955.

This may explain why by May 1965, when DRUM was on a decline, it survived as a fortnightly supplement to ‘The Golden City Post’. Jim Bailey sold the latter to the ‘Argus Company’ in 1971.

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After trying to revive DRUM in 1968, Naspers finally bought it in 1984.

Today DRUM’s parent company is Media24. Notably Jim Bailey’s financier father, Sir Abe Bailey (1864-1940) accumulated his mining capital alongside his fellow English descended Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902). To the dismay of decolonial activists, both men, posthumously, continue to etch out their legacies in South Africa.

Uppermost in mind is the ‘Sir Abe Bailey Travel Scholarship’, the ‘Rhodes Scholarship’ and the ‘Mandela Rhodes Scholarship’ (MRS). As a Sir Abe Bailey Fellow (since 2006), I continue to question why DRUM’s link with the Baileys is downplayed.

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After DRUM’s initial lacklustre four publications (from March to June 1951) reflected a commercial flop, Crisp was blamed for failing to grasp the full extent of the urbanising process, in what Lewis Nkosi (1936-2010) in 1965, later dubbed as the ‘fabulous decade’ from 1951-1961. Jim Bailey secured his editor of choice after Crisp resigned in November 1951.

Jim Bailey’s subsequent decision to then shift DRUM’s offices to Number 62, Eloff Street Extension, Johannesburg, proved to have been a masterstroke. Observably, Jim Bailey’s foundational choice of editors for DRUM were lily ‘white’ males. DRUM’s second editor, Anthony Sampson (1926-2004), lasted from 1951 to 1955. He was a fellow Englishman and an ex-Oxford college mate of Jim Bailey.

Sampson’s experience with DRUM, is penned in his two books, ‘DRUM: a venture in the new Africa’ (1956), later republished as ‘DRUM: The Making of a Magazine’ (2005). The third editor was South African Sylvester Stein (1920-1990), from 1955 to1958. His experience is shared in ‘Who Killed Mr. DRUM?’ (1999). The gist of the latter book focuses on the 1957 murder of the first ‘black’ South African investigative journalist at DRUM, Henry Nxumalo, nicknamed ‘Mr. DRUM’.

Bloke Modisane

Nxumalo was later joined by Todd Matshikiza (1921-1968), Bloke Modisane (1923-1986), Can Themba (1924-1968), Lewis Nkosi, Arthur Maimane (1932-2005), Es’kia Mphahlele (1919-2008), Casey Motsisi (1932-1977) and Nat Nakasa (1937-1965). Stein’s book may have inspired the movie ‘DRUM’ released in 2004, starring American Taye Diggs. The aforesaid book may also have inspired Siphiwo Mahala’s play ‘The House of Truth’, performed in 2017 by Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, starring as Can Themba.

The fourth editor was another Englishman and Oxford graduate, Sir Thomas Hopkinson (1905-1990). He took over from 1958, although the length of his tenure is unclear.

At twenty-six-years-old, Dave Hazelhurst (1938-2015) became the youngest DRUM editor, and served for two years.

Stanley Motjuwadi (1930-1989) and Kaizer Ngwenya count among the first ‘black’ editors and sub-editors of DRUM.

All the above deplorably exposes DRUM’s patriarchal staff appointments since its inception. It is at present refreshing to take stock of some women that joined DRUM. They include Bessie Head (1937-1986), the first woman Editor-in-Chief and a life-long agony aunt, ‘Sis Dolly’ - named after singer Dolly Rathebe (1928-2004) - Liz Khumalo (who passed away in 2003), former DRUM woman’s editor Dolly Hassim, the current ‘Sis Dolly’ Pearl Ramotsamai, past editor Makhosazana Zwane-Siguqa from 2011-2015 and the contemporary editor Thulani Gqirana.

Phambili ngeMbokodo! Malibongwe igama lamakosikazi.

Selected sources about DRUM include magazines for the period 1951-1960, housed at the Killie Campbell Africana Library (University of Natal, Durban), the Natal Society Library (Pietermaritzburg), the Johannesburg Public Library, the South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR) (Johannesburg) and the Bailey’s African Photo Archives (Johannesburg). Also see Es’kia Mphahlele’s autobiography ‘Down 2nd Avenue’ (1959), David Rabkin’s doctoral thesis at University of Leeds, ‘Drum Magazine (1951-61): And the Works of Black South African Writers Associated With It’ (1975), Dorothy Woodson’s ‘Drum: An Index to Africa’s Leading Magazine, 1951-65’ (Madison: University of Wisconsin (1988), German national and past Drum photographer Jürgen Schadeberg’s memoir entitled ‘The Way I see It’ (2017), and this year’s undated ‘DRUM Anniversary Issue: The Beat Goes On!’ (2021).

The above sources, are complemented by the Johannesburg Institute of Advanced Study’s (JIAS) virtually recorded, ‘[email protected] Symposium’, hosted on the 19th and 20th of March 2021. Perhaps at the present, the South African public may be forgiven, for being oblivious to DRUM’s 70th Anniversary, especially when considering the ‘new normal’, enforced on all and sundry since the advent of Covid-19. What cannot be forgiven, however, is the haughty silence of the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DSAC). Such ahistorical amnesia must be overcome.

Dr. Tshepo Mvulane Moloi is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Johannesburg Institute of Advanced Study (JIAS)

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