Madiba’s high praise of Herald

Address by President Nelson Mandela at the 150th anniversary of the Eastern Province Herald 14 September 1995,
Port Elizabeth

Premier Raymond
Mhlaba and members of the Provincial Government;
Chairperson of the Transitional Local Council, Nceba Faku;
Our host, Ric Wilson, Editor of the Eastern Cape Herald;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is rare that a
commercial newspaper`s anniversary should serve as a focal point of a
community`s sense of togetherness. It is rarer still that this should be the
case in these early days of our democracy, when the old still pervades and
blemishes many facets of the new.

That this should be
so with the 150th anniversary of the Eastern Cape Herald represents Port
Elizabeth`s confidence in the future; a confidence issuing from present
attempts to make that future truly better for one city, one community and one
people.

The 150th birthday of
the Herald marks the close of an era and the beginning of a new one. In just
under two months, Port Elizabeth and hundreds of other towns and villages will
have democratic local government elections, a historic rupture with the past.

The same can be said
of the Herald. If in the past it was a light in the darkness of colonialism and
apartheid, today the Herald can act as a clear mirror against which the light
of our democracy should reflect, with its brightness and, at times, with its
imperfections.

I am therefore
honoured to be part of this historic occasion in the Friendly City. Though I
could not join you at the anniversary ball in August, I should say that the
warm reception we have received and the remarkable enthusiasm shown here, make
us feel truly at home.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

The birthday we
celebrate today represents more than just an acknowledgement of a long, vibrant
and eventful life. It is more than just a celebration of the successes of a
business venture.

The history of
Eastern Province Herald represents all these and much more. The moral of its
story is that the Herald was founded on the rock of civic duty by a citizen, as
committed to imparting academic knowledge t pupils as he was to uniting a
community to take responsibility for its well-being. In that sense, John
Paterson was a trail-blazer whose message is as relevant today as it was
one-and-half centuries ago.

His famous
description of the 1845 settlement on Algoa Bay, which many of you should be
familiar with, is worth repeating:

“Our streets are
obstructed with every nuisance, …and he who ventures to walk through certain
ways must make up his mind to witness scenes too disgusting and revolting to be
described”.

A correspondent
wondered whether strangers should think of the community as “a sordid
miserly set – people who prefer living among filth and nuisance to paying for
its removal”.

These words are worth
repeating because they are true of parts of Port Elizabeth today as they were
of the whole of it then. Years of colonial policies and apartheid neglect have
ensured that, 50 years on, Zwide, New Brighton, Ibhayi and other areas
perfectly fit Paterson`s description.

But Paterson was not
giving a moan of helplessness. He saw it as his duty to mobilise the community
to better its own conditions. He did recognise the responsibility of government
to set up a municipality; but he emphasised too, the responsibility of the
community to pay for services. In one word, the spirit that infused the
founding of Eastern Province Herald is, Masakhane! Ladies and Gentlemen;

We can dwell at
length on the reasons why parts of Port Elizabeth and other townships across
the country fit so perfectly John Paterson`s description of 1845 Port
Elizabeth. But, like Paterson, we should concern ourselves with what needs to
be done to right this historical wrong. And we are confident that Nceba Faku
and his able team have worked with communities to start the ball rolling.
National and Provincial Governments have similarly started massive projects to
build the infrastructure necessary for communities to attain a better life.

For all this to
succeed, Port Elizabeth, as other parts of the country, need an Eastern
Province Herald and other newspapers and electronic media, with the same sense
of civic duty which John Paterson displayed 150 years ago. The problems might
be of a different magnitude and the setting much different, but the
responsibility remains.

To require this of
the Herald and the media in general has nothing to do with expecting a
sycophantic and partisan approach from them. Rather, the media can fulfil their
responsibility to communities only if they are independent, vigorous and
critical. Civic duty should mean mobilising all communities of Port Elizabeth,
who, to paraphrase the Herald`s founders, do not prefer living among filth and
nuisance.

The enthusiastic
participation of the city`s community in these anniversary events is premised
on their confidence that the Herald is striving today to be as committed to all
Port Elizabeth`s people as it had been then to the settler community.

This the Herald has
shown over the years in its spirited defence of press freedom and in its
opposition to repression, in particular, and the system of apartheid, in
general.

This the Herald is
showing today in its support for democracy, human rights and a better life for
the people.

Indeed, 150 years
ago, Paterson could have chosen to focus on the wealthy among the new settlers,
who lived in comfort amid the chaos in the settlement that he so vividly
described. But he was concerned with the interests of that community as a
whole.

Among the challenges
that the Herald faces, as with many other newspapers countrywide, is to ensure
that through training and deliberate reorientation, it is able, in a balanced
way, to reflect the life of Port Elizabeth in its totality. This also requires,
among journalists from disadvantaged communities, that they strive for
excellence. It requires that the intellectual community from this sector takes
a career in journalism as seriously as they do other fields such as politics,
economics, medicine and the legal profession. It requires that issues of
variety of ownership are canvassed rationaly and openly. Ladies and Gentlemen;
We raise all these matters because we are confident in the capacity of Port
Elizabeth to handle the challenges it faces. A city that has nurtured so many
heroes; a city that was at the forefront of negotiations to form transitional
structures; a city that prides itself with such friendliness, cannot but
succeed. You have it in your power to tackle poverty, illiteracy, lack of
housing, poor services and health facilities – together you can build a better
life for all.

Though I have had
such a busy day, I should say how refreshed I feel at this warm reception.
There is no doubt that, supported by the goodwill of the community, the Eastern
Province Herald can see another 150 years and more. Many happy returns! Thank
you.

 

 

 

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