The Star - About Us

Letter from the editor

The Star owes its existence to Johannesburg. We date back to the discovery of gold in 1886, when news of the new Eldorado filtered down to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape where two brothers; Thomas and George Sheffield, ran the Eastern Star.

They decided that this new bonanza had to be properly investigated so Thomas made his way north, by rail and coach. What he saw fascinated him. He raced home to tell his brother that they had to move everything to what was still just known as the ‘camp’.

Johannesburg was just a triangle 100m wide and 400m long encompassing what is today the City Hall, Beyers Naudé Square and the public library.

Accommodation for the 3 500 residents of the camp was so tight that even diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes had to share a room with three other men when he came up to see the Reef. There were no plots around Market Square, so Thomas bought a plot on President Street. Ultimately The Star would front on to Sauer Street (opposite the ANC’s Luthuli House) and extend from President to Pritchard streets, which it still does today.

The last edition of The Eastern Star, as The Star was known, was published in Grahamstown on September 16. The intention was that the paper would be out on the streets of the year-old Joburg within a fortnight. It was not to be.

For a start, the presses had to be railed from Grahamstown to Kimberley and then laboriously trekked up the next 480km by ox wagon.

October 1 came and went as Thomas and his brother George slept next to the presses in a building that Thomas had helped build brick by brick to save money.

Eventually on Monday, October 17, 1887, the presses started rolling.

The first copy was bought by a former Grahamstown man, Phillip Amm, who was running a grocery store at the bottom end of Market Street. Thomas Sheffield, as the paper’s first editor, set out the paper’s position in its first edition:

“The Star will be loyal to the institutions of the land which give it shelter and the protection of its laws.

“But loyalty to the institutions of a country does not mean subservience to those who are in power for the time being. True loyalty to the state consists in doing for it that which is best calculated to preserve its constitution intact, at the same time endeavouring to bring about such reforms as will give to all who submit to its laws a voice in the government of it.

“Taxation and representation are all but synonymous in every country in which the democracy, and not an autocracy, rules. In countries under Republican forms of government, the widest freedom and liberty for all are the chief boasts. Can that be said of a country in which a very large proportion of the people are shut out from the exercise of the franchise for five years and in which no person is eligible for a seat in the legislature who has not been resident in the state for 15 years?

“Can that be said of a state in which municipal institutions are denied to rapidly growing townships and in which the slightest vestige of self-government in any form is studiously denied to its people – in which the making and repair of streets, the framing and enforcing of laws for the proper conduct of municipal affairs, street, market, police and sanitary – are deputed to a central executive located [maybe] hundreds of miles from where the exercise of those functions are hourly and daily request?

“To bring about reforms in these respects will be one of the aims of The Star.”

Like in Grahamstown, The Star would come out three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Thomas ran the editorial, often singlehandedly writing stories, laying them out and editing the paper, while George ran the commercial side, which included the printing works, a stationery store and a general shop.

A year-and-a-half later, the Sheffields merged their interests with Francis Dormer, the owner and publisher of The Argus, resulting in massive investment in the paper, including making it a daily paper by July 1889 – and dropping Eastern from the masthead.
Varying in size from four to eight pages the size of bath towels, it set itself apart by the way it could handle the big breaking stories – a fiercely loved tradition that continues today.

Very soon it was the biggest paper on the Reef, which it still is today, but that’s not the only thing it shares with its birthplace.

Brave, brash and fiercely loyal, The Star is a Johannesburg paper first and foremost, with a range that extends across the province and into the rest of the country, just like its hometown which is also the nation’s financial capital. Our readers range from princes to paupers; we celebrate their achievements, we weep when they mourn, we help them, we guide them, we entertain them, we even keep them on their toes.

We strive to be an indispensable part of their lives, living out Arthur Miller’s famous dictum: “A good newspaper is a community talking to itself”. In our case, the only difference is that our community is a lot bigger than everyone else’s – and even then continues to punch above its weight.

Editor, The Star