One of South Africa’s oldest newspapers, UmAfrika, will publish its last edition on Friday. The trademark of the venerable weekly newspaper, that began life as Izindaba Zibantu in 1910, before becoming UmAfrika in 1928, is owned by the Mariannhill Monastery in KwaZulu-Natal, but has been published most recently by Media 24.
“The Congregation of Missionaries of Mariannhill (CMM), which is the owner of the UmAfrika trademark, has withdrawn Media24’s right to publish the newspaper in terms of a publishing agreement,” a letter from Neil Tapinos, general manager of Media 24 in KwaZulu Natal reads.
“The edition of 7 June 2013 will be the last to be published by Media24 before the title is returned to the CCM,” it said. “While Media24 regrets this development, fortunately our restructure in KZN has positioned us to offer valuable isiZulu opportunities to both readers and advertisers through the province.”
Veteran journalist and advisor to the Mariannhill Monastery, Sydney Duval, confirmed the move. “We have ended the relationship with Natal Witness/Media 24,” he told The Media Online. “Our first step is to restore UmAfrika to its heritage and roots.”
Duval said the newspaper started life as a pastoral publication with a mandate to deal with issues confronting KwaZulu-Natal’s Zulu population, and was used as an outreach mechanism for the Mariannhill Monastery, which was set up by Austrian missionary Francis Pfanner in 1882.
UmAfrika was published by the Mariannhill Mission Press, but since then, has gone through a number of incarnations in terms of publishers.
The UmAfrika trademark was initially given to editor Cyril Madlala and partner Andy Stanton by the CMM to “publish in perpetuity” with the proviso that two pages of the weekly newspaper were given to the Church to cover Catholic news.
But the trademark changed hands several times after that, with Madlala selling his shares to take up the position of head of communications for the provincial government in KwaZulu-Natal.
Eventually, the newspaper landed up in Media24’s hands, with a portion belonging to Sky Blue Media, the media company owned by businessman Sandile Zungu, who recently made the news when Sekunjalo Independent Media chairman, Dr Iqbal Surve, announced that he was part of the consortium buying Independent News and Media South Africa.
Sky Blue Media is described as “an associate of the powerful Witness Group of Companies and Media24. This alliance empowers Sky Blue Media with the infrastructure and resources to be the highly effective marketing vehicle it has become”. The company is involved in the Fever group of community newspapers in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
But Duval says none of the companies previously involved in UmAfrika will be involved in the newspaper now. “There are no dealings whatsoever with them,” he says. “It is returning to the CMM unfettered.”
Duval says this is “the closure of an eventful chapter of UmAfrika’s life. In saying farewell to Media24, we wish them well in their future endeavours to publish newspapers that will continue to strive for the advancement of the communities they serve in KwaZulu-Natal,” he says.
So what are the plans for this historic vernacular publication? Duval says there are “no firm plans” just yet, but that the CCM will “explore new ideas on how best to publish a renewed Catholic voice, the moral, pastoral and social advancement of people seeking solidarity in their desire for a better life as families and as communities”.
But he’s clear on the direction of the newspaper. “UmAfrika will return to its religious roots and heritage at the Mariannhill Monastery, where it was first published to be a Catholic voice supporting holistic Zulu development,” he says.
Duval says the motto when it first started is the motto it will publish by now. It’s mission was to “sustain community spirit and life”. It’s motto: ‘Better fields, better homes, better hearts’.
The Catholic Church also publishes the weekly Southern Cross newspaper, Trefoil magazine that explores contemporary issues, and Worldwide, which focuses on religious matters as well as socio-political issues.