What happened to yesterday’s media icons?

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How often do we ask the question: “What ever happened to…?” We invariably ask about someone in our industry who was an icon in some way and who seems to have disappeared. Some have gone on to take up important positions, or to retire peacefully; others have made names for themselves for the wrong reasons. The Media tracked down some of these memorable names of the past.

A name that is synonymous with South African photojournalism is Jürgen Schadeberg, who took some of the most iconic images of the Drum era. Schadeberg’s career spans two continents, as he covered both the Cold War in Berlin and South Africa under apartheid. Born in Berlin in 1931, Schadeberg was in his mid-teens when he became an apprentice photographer. In 1950, he followed his mother to South Africa and freelanced, mostly for Drum, later becoming the magazine’s picture editor and art director. Schadeberg was one of the few white photographers in South Africa to capture the lives of ordinary black people, as well as celebrities like Nelson Mandela and Dolly Rathebe, and he was present at major events like the Defiance Campaign in Johannesburg in 1952.

While at Drum, he spent a lot of time finding black talent and became a mentor to future great photojournalists, including Bob Gosani and Peter Magubane. However, in 1964, Schadeberg felt that the harassment he was receiving at the hands of the Special Branch was getting too intense and he left South Africa for London. Since then, he has worked all over Europe and returned for a time to South Africa, holding major exhibitions, releasing books and making films with his wife, Claudia. When The Media spoke to him, Schadeberg was living near Valencia, Spain. He is still taking photographs and writing his autobiography.

Anyone who watched TV in the 1980s and 1990s will remember Penny Smythe. Now Smythe-Rathbone, she began working for the SABC in 1986 for a new programme called Sundowner. Six on One and Antenna followed, before she was approached by the news and current affairs department of the SABC to anchor a news show called Agenda. She had no journalistic experience and says this was a “huge learning curve”, but “I loved the pressure of those live shows on which you never quite knew what was going to happen”. A highlight for Smythe-Rathbone was presenting through the 1994 elections.

In 1995, Smythe-Rathbone moved to M-Net’s Front Row. “By this stage, South Africa was the flavour of the month and my co-presenter and I interviewed just about every actor, pop star and musician either in this country, or when we went to the Grammy Awards, the Cannes Film Festival, or the Academy Awards,” she says.

Smythe-Rathbone and her husband are retired and live in Knysna. She gives talks, travels often to visit children and grandchildren on almost every continent and is chairwoman of the Knysna Music Society.

Former colleagues remember working with Carol Lazar with affection. One recalls how Lazar, then senior assistant editor of The Star, stripped off her clothes in protest when the office air-conditioning was not fixed. Lazar began her career as a copywriter, but was “seduced into journalism”, she says, by legendary Rand Daily Mail editor, Raymond Louw. During her career, she covered several major news stories and investigations, including spending four days in Soweto with Magubane during the Soweto Uprising. She also worked at the Sunday Express “during its most exciting times”, Business Day and The Star. At the Saturday Star, she began the travel section, which became the largest in the country. She also wrote for local and international publications and appeared on TV and radio. She has written two books: ‘Women of South Africa: Their Fight for Freedom’ (co-authored by Magubane) and ‘Tips for Trips’.

Since retiring, Lazar says, she is now freelancing, on deadline for another book and has spent “blissful time” visiting her numerous children scattered worldwide.

Adrian Steed is a broadcasting legend and says he has been reliably informed that he is now a doyen of media training. Steed was born in the United Kingdom and went to the Royal Academy of Arts on scholarships. After school, he says, “I chased a woman to South Africa. It ended badly, but by that time I was stuck here.” After working in drama for a few years, Steed got a job with SABC radio in 1960. He became a pioneer in writing radio plays and programmes.

Then TV was launched in South Africa in 1976 and Steed set out on another 20-year career, during which, he says, he did anything and everything, from news anchoring to producing sports programmes. “In 1996, they decided I was too pale and male, so I left TV,” says Steed. Throughout his TV career, he had also been training business people to cope with the media, and now he runs media training master classes. He says he absolutely loves training his clients, many of whom are from blue chip companies.

Shaun Johnson was one of South Africa’s foremost political journalists. He is now chief executive of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation. He was abroad at time of writing, but The Media spoke to Chris Whitfield, editor in chief of Independent Newspapers in the Western Cape, who worked closely with Johnson for years and describes Johnson as an “exceptional talent”. Johnson helped launch the New Nation newspaper, trained black journalists on the Weekly Mail in the1980s and was founding editor of the Sunday Independent in 1995. He released a non-fiction bestseller called ‘Strange Days Indeed’ in 1993. In 2007, he released his first novel, ‘The Native Commissioner’, to great acclaim. Johnson is married to Stefania and they have a daughter, Luna. They live in Cape Town.

The Media found Tony Heard, former editor and government adviser, in the Magaliesberg, where he had retreated to finish his memoirs. Heard was a reporter on the Cape Times in the mid-1950s till March 1960. Subsequently, he was a parliamentary reporter, Cape editor of the Financial Mail and senior correspondent in London for the South African morning newspapers. Editor of the Cape Times from 1971 to 1987, he says he was “chucked out” for reasons that were not adequately explained. In 1985 he was arrested under the Internal Security Act for a full-page interview he had conducted with Oliver Tambo in London. He was in and out of court before they dropped the charges.

Heard freelanced for a few years. Then in June 1994, he joined the new minister of Agriculture Affairs and Forestry, Kader Asmal, as a special adviser. From 2000 to 2010, he was a special adviser to the Presidency, until retiring. He is a Fullbright Fellow and Nieman Fellow and has written a non-fiction book, ‘Cape of Storms’.

Harvey Tyson edited The Star for 17 years. He retired from journalism at the end of 1990 aged 63. He says: “For the next decade I was pre-occupied with earning a living that might pay for a comfortable retirement (after a lifetime of unforgettable, peripatetic but lowly-paid journalism). My retirement jobs ranged from serving on a few boards (including Argus Newspapers), advising new ANC government departments as they introduced new policies and multinational corporations as they returned to invest in South Africa.” Tyson has also written several books.

He now lives in Hermanus, “where, according to columnist James Clarke, I ‘find a lot of golf balls’ and where Rex Gibson, former editor of the Rand Daily Mail and The Star, ‘loses a lot of golf balls’,” he says. Tyson and other ex-editors have done cycle tours together during the past 10 years, he is working on more books and says he feels privileged to be involved in community work in Hermanus.

And then there are journalists who end up becoming the news themselves. One example is former Sunday Times columnist Jani Allan. Allan had a distinctive, entertaining style of writing that made her a household name in 1980s South Africa. Her involvement with rightwing Afrikaner Weerstands Beweging leader Eugene TerreBlanche – whom she had interviewed – led to her fleeing to London in 1989 after her Sandton flat was bombed. She was involved in a highly publicised lawsuit when she sued Britain’s Channel 4 for alleging in a documentary about TerreBlanche that they had a romantic affair.

In 1996, she returned to South Africa and worked as a CapeTalk DJ before she emigrated to the United States five years later. In 2010, a reporter for the British Daily Mail tracked down Allan to a small town in the US called Lambertsville, New Jersey. The impoverished Allan, divorced from her American husband, was working in a restaurant and living nearby with two Pomeranian dogs. The Media approached Allan for an update, but she would only say, “I have yet to find a journalist who hasn’t slagged me off, who hasn’t concentrated on the scandal that trashed my life. I have yet to find the journo who has the compassion and the courage – yes, the courage – to ‘unpaint’ me as the scarlet woman.”

Many of the great journalists of the past have since died. Journalists like the great Drum alumni Doc Bikitsha, Aggrey Klaaste and Percy Qoboza will be remembered for their efforts to promote reconciliation. These and others like the highly respected journalist and staunch opponent of apartheid, Patrick Laurence who died in 2011 of a brain tumour at the age of 74, fought bravely to publish in the face of state repression. That must not change now, says Heard. “I have been on both sides of the fence (politics and journalism). And I have been totally confirmed in my conviction that government must not interfere with the media… That is why the press has to take a stand for freedom.”

Political or not, The Media intends to keep tabs on media icons who have fallen through the cracks. If you have information about someone whom many in our industry would be interested to read about, please email editor@themedia.co.za 

This story was first published in the February 2013 issue of The Media magazine. 

  • http://twitter.com/Travelwrite1 Caroline Hurry

    What a lovely triå down mem

  • News ed

    Sophie Tema?

  • Gareth Davies

    It’s wonderful to see Jani Allan writing again. Back to her Just Jani best. http://janiallan.tumblr.com/

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