THE history of Our Times has seen periods of growth and periods of privation, and some long stretches of relative equilibrium.
Starting a newspaper in South Africa in the 80s was no mean feat – largely because the then regime was so focussed on not allowing any open communication that they could not control, that they put incredible hurdles in the path of anyone silly enough to want to try.
These included a complex and slow registration process with the then Ministry of the Interior (including a R20000 cash deposit which had to be made on application, with no promise of approval); registration with the dreaded Bureau of State Security (BOSS); and deep security checks of all owners and editorial staff.
My application in mid-’86 had to include details of things like our printers, editor and distributors – and the proposed newspaper’s name. I didn’t have a name yet and so I just wrote something in – figuring that I would be able to change it at a later date.
Once my application was scrutinised by Pretoria and I had deposited the money, I was issued with an application number.
This application number allowed me to be checked by the police and BOSS. The onus was placed on me by the law to arrange with the local police chief in Humansdorp and the regional head of BOSS in Uitenhage to put me under the microscope.
The police were very obliging. The brigadier at BOSS was not!
He certainly had no intention of allowing an ‘Engelsman’ to start a newspaper in his territory. It took me two months to get an appointment with him, and that only came after I had got Pretoria to put pressure on him.
He insisted on coming out to meet me in my home – and once there proceeded to conduct the interview while walking from room to room, opening cupboard doors, investigating the garden and asking questions about neighbours and their phone numbers. (He actually phoned at least one neighbour to find out if I was okay.)
It took Brigadier BOSS another several months before he submitted his report to Pretoria. He gave us the all-clear – but I got the sense that it was only because he could find nothing to justify what he would have preferred.
I was living in St Francis Bay at that stage, but knew I would have to run the newspaper out of Humansdorp or Jeffreys. And so I started looking for premises. While looking, it quickly became clear that premises would not be the primary issue, telephone lines would be! Neither Humansdorp nor Jeffreys had a single available phone line.
With some schmoozing I discovered that Jeffreys was holding two lines available in case they had doctors moving into town. I managed to convince them how low the likelihood was that more than one doctor would move to town to open a personal practice in the ten months until new lines would be available.
It worked. Jeffreys it was. We were given our number. The code was longer than the number itself (042361)31117!
During the nine-month delay in getting registered, I engaged dozens of people on a name for the newspaper. I felt that it was to serve a wide area with seven towns and I didn’t want anyone to feel left out. Heck, the name Kouga hadn’t even been mooted by then.
When our registration was imminent, I called the Department of the Interior to inform them not to put the provisional name I had given on the registration certificate as I planned to change it.
“If you do that, we will have to start all over again,” I was informed.
And so, the original name I had put on the application was the one we were stuck with… Our Times!
It worked well, though, it really did the job! Happy Birthday Our Times.