||June 1996: PW Botha declares a State of Emergency. This defiant edition, published a day later, was seized from shops througout the country.
June 1998: After repeated clashes with the government, readers rally behind a 'Save the Wail' campaign as the Weekly Mail faces closure.
The Mail&Guardian was conceived, funded and launched in just six weeks in early 1985, by a group of journalists who'd been retrenched after the closures of two of South Africa's leading liberal newspapers, the Rand Daily Mail and Sunday Express.
The paper, originally known as the Weekly Mail, was launched on a shoe-string budget of R50 000 (about US$10 000), and relied for its survival on the sweated -- and often unpaid -- labour of a small staff and part-time volunteers. The early shareholders were liberal professionals, academics and business leaders who contributed a few thousand rands each as a gesture towards maintaining a tradition of critical journalism in an increasingly harsh political climate.
Since the fledgling company could not afford to buy mainstream technology, the paper was produced entirely on personal computers, becoming one of the world's earliest examples of Apple Macintosh-based desktop publishing.
During the eighties, the Weekly Mail built up an international reputation as a vocal apartheid critic, leading to a number of clashes with the government which culminated in the paper's suspension in 1988.
The paper became a must-read for anyone interested in South African politics, and it built up a readership ranging from the still-jailed Nelson Mandela to the exiled ANC leadership to key foreign policy decision-makers in Washington, London and Bonn. Indeed, it was an article in the Weekly Mail (describing plans for secret talks with the ANC) which precipated the resignation of President PW Botha.
In 1991, the Weekly Mail together with The Guardian in London, broke the "Inkathagate" scandal which described how police funds were being secretly channelled to Inkatha to block the ANC. Two cabinet ministers fell from grace in the wake of the scandal (see picture) and the weakened National Party government of FW De Klerk was obliged to re-open its stalled talks with the ANC.
Inkathagate was also the beginning of a closer relationship between the Weekly Mail and The Guardian, which bought a large share in the Weekly Mail, and helped to stabilise the small paper's precarious finances for the first time. In 1995, The Guardian became the majority shareholder in the paper, which was renamed the Mail&Guardian.
With the arrival of democratic government in 1994, many observers predicted that the Mail&Guardian would lose its purpose -- and its voice. But in fact it has adapted admirably, and average circulation has gone up from around 25 000 a week to between 40 000 - 50 000 per week.
The newspaper has demonstrated it is capable of being no less critical of the new dispensation than the old, without deviating from its former humanist philosophy. The paper is now particularly well known for its investigative reporting, particularly into corruption.
The paper has also found international credibility, winning the British IPD 'Best International Newspaper Award' in 1995, and the Missouri 'Medal for Distinguished Journalism' in 1996.
In 2002 the Guardian reduced its shareholding to 10%, selling a majority share in the newspaper of 87,5% to Newtrust Company Botswana Limited, owned by Zimbabwean publisher and entrepreneur Trevor Ncube. Ncube, who relocated to South Africa, also took over as CEO of the company. Read more about this.
August 1991: Fallout from the Inkathagate scandal broken by the Weekly Mail -- the paper calls police minister Adriaan Vlok a liar.
What made it different?
The Mail&Guardian has not become rich. There are no graphs to demonstrate that from day one circulation rocketed skywards. There are no trophies glittering in glass cases because we defied cabinet ministers like Adriaan Vlok, Magnus Malan, Stoffel Botha and their ilk, or because the paper was closed down. So what was it that made this newspaper ... a little different?
It was the first national newspaper in decades to be launched by an independent company outside the huge corporations which dominate English-language newspapers ... and survive.
In a frightened era when newspapers routinely vilified the African National Congress and its leaders as "terrorists", this was the first paper to put human faces to ANC leaders and to provide balanced accounts of their activities and policies. It was also the first to sympathetically discuss such "fringe" issues as environmentalism, gay liberation and gender.This was the first paper whose news selection was colour-blind. All South African newspapers of the 1980s were aimed at racially-defined markets, either black (Sowetan) or white (Business Day). Those newspapers which did reach black and white audiences (like The Star, or the Rand Daily Mail) provided separate "white" and "township" editions.
This was the first newspaper to cover the emerging indigenous culture that arose in the early non-racial bars in central Johannesburg like Jameson's, Kippies and the Black Sun; the fringe cabaret, and "cross-over" music.
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