A dark day for the nation


When you get a message that you don’t like, you can do one of two things. You can open your heart and listen — or you can kill the messenger.


It seems that the government of this country prefers to kill the messenger rather than to listen to the message. It did this on March 22 when it closed the New Nation newspaper for three months.


The New Nation a weekly newspaper, was shut down after getting three warnings from Stoffel Botha, the minister of Home Affairs.


The newspaper was banned the day after it lost a court case against Stoffel Botha. The New Nation went to court to challenge the law that gives Stoffel the power to close down newspapers. Because the New Nation lost the case, Stoffel now has the power to close down any newspaper he does not like.


Last year, Stoffel said that he is always ready to speak to newspaper editors if they have a problem. His door is always open, he said.


But when the New Nation got a warning and asked to see Stoffel, they found his door slammed shut.


LEGAL AND TRUE


In his warnings, Stoffel Botha gave a list of the articles and pictures he did not like. He did not, for example, like a picture of ANC President Oliver Tambo arriving in Nairobi to open a new ANC office – and a story about Oliver Tambo arriving In Yugoslavia and calling for the release of Nelson Mandela.


Botha also did not like an article on the miners’ strike last year and a story on the problems of black education. All the articles and pictures in the New Nation have been legal. But that doesn’t matter.


Stoffel Botha didn’t like them.


If Stoffel does not like the stories in the New Nation, then maybe it means he does not like to know the truth. Ever since the Catholic Bishops started the New Nation in January 1986, the paper has written about the daily struggles of the people in a truthful way.


When the paper began, Archbishop Dennis Hurley said: “New Nation will try to speak in truth, justice, love and freedom.”


The New Nation did just that — but right from the start, it has paid a heavy price.


THE VOICE OF THE VOICELESS


The police have twice seized the newspaper and they have raided New Nation‘s office. Four issues of the New Nation have been banned.


Zwelakhe Sisulu, the respected editor of the New Nation, has been sitting in detention since 12 December 1986. Zwelakhe has been detained many times — but he has never been charged with any crime.


The detention of Zwelakhe, who is called “Tata” by the staff at the New Nation, was a big loss to the young newspaper. But if the government thought this would be the end of the New Nation, they got it wrong. The paper kept going and won the hearts of the people.


“Zwelakhe laid the foundations for the success of the New Nation,” says Gabu Tugwana, the acting editor. ” He planted the seeds and we are seeing the fruit. Since Zwelakhe was detained our paper has won three awards.”


Zwelakhe and the staff at the New Nation have given South Africa a newspaper that is different to most other newspapers. Many of its stories come from the people themselves. Since it began, the New Nation has worked closely with trade unions, community and youth organisations.


The New Nation speaks for the millions of people who do not have a voice in this country. That is why it is known as “the people’s paper.”


“WE WILL RETURN”


For a long time now, the government has threatened and slowly squeezed the paper. It has not been easy for the staff to work under such conditions.


“The past three months have been hell on earth,” says Gabu. “We have been working with a rope around our necks, not knowing when the last moment would come.” When Stoffel finally pulled the rope tight and banned the paper, the staff did not lose hope. Gabu said the spirit of the staff is still very high.


The paper is getting hundreds of messages of support from people at home and overseas.”Even people who the government has tried to separate us from have come out in support of us,” says Gabu.


Gabu and the staff of the New Nation have a message for their readers: “We say thank you to all our readers who faithfully supported us till the last minute. I want to tell them that we will return and continue to give them our best.” It will be three months before we see a copy of the “people’s paper” on the streets again. But while we wait, our thoughts are with the other newspapers and magazines that Stoffel has already warned. Which one will he hit next?


NEW WORDS

challenge – to question something legal – not against the law voiceless – without a voice seize – to take something by force award – prize, honour finally – in the end, at last success – when something is a success, it has done well

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