One of the oldest newspapers in South Africa, the Daily Dispatch, celebrates its 150th year of publishing with a flurry of festivities in September.
The actual day that 24-year-old East Londoner Massey Hicks published the first East London Dispatch and Shipping Mercantile Gazette he produced from the kitchen of his kindly neighbour, Mrs J Dempster, was on September 10 1872.
Today, almost 150 years ago, Daily Dispatch editor Cheri-Ann James said she was surprised and delighted to discover that the first lead in that picture-less, type-heavy edition was a rocking hard-news story of a 13-year-old fraudster who stole cheques from the post office and laundered them through a series of wily tricks, finally hiding the evidence under a dolerite sea stone on the beachfront.
The Dispatch over these 15 decades has been at the forefront of informing loyal readers of the major historic moments, such as the iconic release of Nelson Mandela from prison, providing helpful commentary and opinion, all created by a panoply of wild, wonderful, passionate, courageous, crusty and astute journalists. A selection of these stories and columns will be published next month.
James and Daily Dispatch marketing manager Kim Daly said a lively exhibition of Dispatch life was being curated in front-of-house at the East London Museum and would run from September 1 to 30th.
Anti-apartheid crusading editor Donald Woods’s office is being recreated and his unique relationship with black consciousness struggle hero Steve Biko will be depicted and explored, along with images of front pages going back through time showing how the paper broke stories of war, peace, disaster, tragedy, glory and joy.
The Daily Dispatch will also be premiering a 40-minute documentary on the relationship between Woods and Biko titled The Power of the Word which has been produced by Ochre Moving Pictures, which is in the stable of the Dispatch’s corporate owners, Arena Holdings.
James and Daly said schools particularly would find the exhibition illuminating and exciting.
James said: “For our birth month we will be publishing a special 16-page edition on September 10, as well as a number of photographs and stories reflecting on the paper’s news coverage of historic moments.”
Some of the stories dug out from the EL Museum archive reveal that the Dispatch has been scrutinising and criticising tenders since the start, but on October 6 1899 — 122 years ago — complaints about the abuse of the “public tender” turned to cheers for the city turning on the electricity.
Daly said their brand marketing campaign would focus on the Daily Dispatch’s core values — defending justice when no-one else will, distinctly Eastern Cape, determined to bring you the truth, daring to tell the story in the face of danger, and distinguished content you can trust.
She said a lot of the 150th celebration content would be released on social media, making it available to the widest audience.
The commemoration of this massive collection of news, information, and insightful reflection on the life of this province in one newspaper comes to a head with a party.
Daly said the paper would host two special functions at the East London International Convention Centre on September 8 and 9, the first for stakeholders and the second for Dispatch staff and many of the paper’s friends and supporters as well as Arena executives.
Guest speaker Anthony Heard, is a stalwart pro-democracy editor who, in June, received the 2022 Allan Kirkland Soga: Lifetime Achiever Award at the SA National Editor’s Forum (Sanef) Standard Bank awards for excellence in journalism. Now 84, Heard went on to serve as a special adviser to President Mandela then other ministers for 22 years.
After receiving his award, Heard replied with a magnificent exhortation to many of the best journalists in SA. It was a simple three-worder, which he chanted with riveting intensity: “Don’t give up!”
Putco Mafani, the highly popular Umhlobo Wenene FM radio presenter, will be master of ceremonies and Natz EfX, the saxophonist, producer and premium event DJ will dance the night out. Tamsanqa Mbenenge has been a DJ since 15 and has collaborated with global music icon DJ Black Coffee, who is also from the Eastern Cape.