Fifteen years. That may not be a lot in human years, but in magazine years it’s one heck of a long time. Not quite the same as dog years, but close. Melany Bendix, editor of The Big Issue South Africa, takes a look at the growth path of the magazine that has put R15-million into the pockets of the poor, the marginalised and the unemployed in this time.
The 192nd magazine on sale now, which celebrates a decade and a half of publishing, is the product of nurturing by several editors before me. She (I designate a female identity to all my inanimate objects — from cars to washing machines) was born to Charmaine Bruins in December 1996 as a wrinkly, crinkly and somewhat smudgy black and white baby. Raymond Joseph then nursed her from the fourth edition and fattened her up from a bi-monthly to a monthly publication, now in full colour.
Glenda Nevill took over the parental duties when The Big Issue was a toddler, increasingly testing her boundaries and sometimes throwing temper tantrums which had the powers that be stand up and take note, if only to shut her up. Glenda raised her, taught her manners, discipline and structure over her five-year editorship before handing over a now gangly tween to James Garner. And what a rebellious teen she became under his watch, questioning authority, protesting war and challenging the status quo in general.
Donald Paul then had a go at taming the teen. Under his guidance she calmed down a bit and discovered new interests, like good theatre, gourmet food and even the ballet. And she began going out more frequently — every 21 days instead of monthly.
I was handed the reins as The Big Issue was beginning to become a young adult, which was lucky for me because I’ve never had much patience or ability to handle naughty kids or gawky teens. Over the past two years I’ve been in the fortunate position to watch her grow into her own, blossom and become more self-assured, thanks to all the grooming and nurturing by the guardians before me. She’s still growing in size and maturity, and we have some big plans for the coming year, so watch this space.
But it has to be said that The Big issue is, and always has been, so much more than “just a magazine”. It is, fundamentally, about people.
A group of dedicated people went against all odds and grim predictions of failure to create this multi-pronged organisation. [See story by Ray Joseph.] They did it, quite simply, to help other people, some of whom have journeyed with us since the beginning and are still going strong. This is why this edition pays tribute to the pioneers of The Big Issue SA and to the vendors who are the life force of street papers, both here and in countries across the globe.
But, despite the mammoth effort and dedication of all these people, it would have been impossible for The Big Issue to grow from strength to strength over the last decade and a half — or to even exist at all — if it wasn’t for our readers. Their loyalty to the magazine and our vendors is the single biggest reason for our success, and so it is for them that we reserve the main tribute and the most gratitude. © The Big Issue South Africa
Follow The Big Issue on Twitter @BigIssueSA
Follow Melany Bendix on Twitter @MelBendix
Note: Big Issue vendors are independent salespeople. They purchase the magazine for R9 and sell it for R18. When they first “badge up” (sign on as vendors) they receive five free magazines to get them started. From then on vendors manage their own money, and in this way are given the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to being responsible, independent and business savvy.
All income from sales and advertising is put back into producing a better magazine and providing jobs and social support for the unemployed and destitute. The Big Issue relies on funding from national and international donors to cover the majority of operating costs.