A small shop in a dusty road in Bridgeton, near Oudtshoorn, is the home of a brave newspaper — Saamstaan.
Since Saamstaan was started five years ago, it has been through more than most newspapers go through in a lifetime. It’s office has been burnt down- Its workers have been restricted, assaulted and shot at.
And if that’s not enough, the people on Saamstaan have to bring out the paper with minister Stoffel Botha breathing down their necks. He has already given the paper two warnings.
But Saamstaan is still very much alive — and kicking. It tells the truth, no matter what the cost.
A PAPER FOR THE PEOPLE
Saamstaan is a true community newspaper. It gives news, advice and information to the people who live in the southern Cape, especially to those in the townships of Bridgeton and Bongolethu outside Oudtshoorn.
There was no other newspaper for these people before Saamstaan — except the Oudtshoorn Courant. This paper is for the white people of Oudtshoorn. It does not often have political stories — and when it does, it only speaks the language of P.W. Botha’s National Party.
But Saamstaan speaks the language of the people — and it does so in Engiish, Xhosa and Afrikaans.
Saamstaan is for the community, and it is run by the community. The paper does not have an editor. Instead, a group of people from organisations like the Bongolethu Youth Congress and the local soccer club work on the paper. Together they decide what stories go in the newspaper.
WIE MAAK KAK?
Nearly everybody on the newspaper has been detained — reporters, delivery people and even sellers! Once, the newspaper missed its deadline because everybody was in jail al the same time.
Reggie Oliphant is one of the people who work on Saamstaan. He used to be a schoolteacher. He says that he was pushed out of teaching by people who didn’t like what he believes in. Until the United Democratic Front (UDF-) was banned this year, Oliphant was the local regional chairperson.
The police call Reggie a “kakmaker”. But he wants to know: who makes the ‘kak’? His car has been burnt and he doesn’t know who did it. He gets phone calls at night from strangers who ask: “Slaap julle nog?”
His friends, who live in America, got a phone call from a stranger one night. The stranger, who had a voice of a South African, said Reggie had a bad car accident. But it was a lie.
Another newspaper worker, Derick Jackson, also gets phone calls from strangers. When his wife was in hospital to have a baby, someone phoned Derick and said the baby had died. This too was a lie.
SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO LAUGH!
Both Reggie and Derick are restricted. This means that they cannot leave their homes at night, and have to stay in Oudtshoorn during the day.
Reggie has a job selling books — but now he can’t travel, so he makes very little money. And the restriction order stops Derick from playing rugby.
Another Saamstaan worker, Mbulelo Grootboom, is also restricted. He is on trial at the moment because the police say he broke his restriction order. They say they saw him in Aberdeen, a small town in the Karoo.
Mbulelo has also been detained many times. But he has not lost his sense of humour. He laughs about the time he was arrested after a UDF party. The police said he stole cattle for the party! But later, the charge was dropped.
But another reporter, Patrick Nyuka, does not laugh when he talks about a party he went to. He was there to celebrate the return of two activists from jail. The police raided the party and Patrick ended up with buckshot wounds in his back and a badly wounded arm.
A HARD TIME
The people on Saamstaan no longer write or keep stories in the office. The offices have been set on fire more than once. And when the police ‘visit’ the office, they often take stories and photographs away with them.
But the police do not only raid Saamstaan’s office — they also trouble it’s friends. A few months ago they raided the offices of the Catholic bishop. They took away all the papers about Saamstaan’s funding. Now Saamstaan is worried that the government may stop money coming in from its supporters.
Saamstaan does not only get a hard time from the police. No one in Oudtshoorn will print the paper — so Saamstaan has to be printed in Cape Town, 500 kilometres away. Also, not one of the 20 lawyers in Oudtshoorn will give legal advice to the newspaper, so they have to go to a lawyer in Cape Town.
Not only is it expensive and slow to send everything to Cape Town but it is also dangerous. Once, a new batch of newspapers disappeared on its way back from Cape Town.
STOFFEL TAKES AN INTEREST
Early this year, Saamstaan got another reader — Stoffel Botha, the man who can close newspapers at the drop of a hat. When he gave the newspaper its first warning, he pointed out some of the stories he did not like — like the one welcoming Govan Mbeki home. He also did not like the paper’s reply to a reader who wanted to know about the Geneva Convention.
Saamstaan told its readers the truth. It explained that the Geneva Convention is an agreement made by countries all over the world about how prisoners of war must be treated. The ANC has signed the Geneva Convention — but the South African government has refused to do the same.
All in all, it’s been a long, hard struggle for the people who work on Saamstaan. What makes them fight on?
“The newspaper is a very important part of our lives. It is not just a newspaper. It helps people with advice. People never had anywhere to go before,” said an activist from the area.
“Each person in this country has to work for a better society,” added Reggie.
We at Learn and Teach salute the “kakmakers” in Oudtshoorn who are working so hard for a brighter future! We say: Saamstaan you are a great, brave newspaper! Long live!
NEW WORDS restrictions— when somebody has restrictions placed on them, it means they can’t do something; like leave a certain area or go to meetings. when you have someone breathing down your neck — when you have someone watching every move you make. And of course, there’s the real thing. And that’s really nice! community — the people who live together in one place; like a township, a town, a country; or even the world. batch — a bundle, a parcel