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Author: Various Contributors
In 2006, the Sunday Times celebrates 100 years as South Africa’s most successful newspaper.
This book is a collection of articles and photographs that have appeared in its pages over those hundred years, and follows the stunning success of four commemorative supplements published in the newspaper.
It is a record of how the newspaper covered big events, and little ones, since its first edition on 4 February 1906.
Looking at the past through the eyes of the newspaper, it is a chronicle of the attitudes and prejudices exactly as they appeared in the newspaper at the time.
While it celebrates excellent journalism, it also reveals where the paper got things wrong, such as the editorial in 1948 which confidently predicted that DF Malan’s bizarre social experiment called apartheid would not last beyond that year.
The book does not only track political events, but also fashion, culture, entertainment, sport, technology and many other developments in South Africa and the world over the past century.
The book is beautifully designed and fully illustrated, drawing from a massive wealth of photographs and cartoons.
It reproduces some of the actual pages that broke important news stories. This is a treasure trove of images and ideas from the past hundred years.
Pouring over thousands of copies of the Sunday Times, starting with the first issue in 1906, a dedicated team of editorial staffers, headed by centenary editor Nadine Dreyer, and including her deputy Sylvia du Plessis, senior journalist Nicki Gules, researcher Anne Muriungi and picture editor Robin Comley, have selected the best extracts to bring together this unique glimpse into the past.
THE PAPER THAT BOWED TO NO ONE
PART ONE 1906 - 1931
PART TWO 1931 - 1956
PART THREE 1956-1981
PART FOUR 1981 - 2006
I had always wanted to go to Mauritius, but not under those circumstances - with just the clothes on my back, the contents of the editor's wallet in my pocket and 159 bodies either floating on or lying 4 km beneath the Indian Ocean. The worst aviation accident in SA history had occurred about 16 hours earlier, on November 28th 1987, when an SAA Boeing 747 Gombi had plunged like a flaming arrow into the sea some 160 km north of Plaisance Airport, killing all on board.
The fire that broke out in the main upper cargo deck had been so fierce that it had seared through the tail section, causing it to break away, before the rest of the fuselage smashed into the sea. Years later, no one is any the wiser as to what had caused the inferno - but not for lack of trying.
At about 7am on that Saturday in 1987, I received a call saying that an SAA jumbo was missing. Within 45 minutes, I was in the office. Another call came through. "Get to the airport. We're leaving in an hour," said the contact. Editor Tertius Myburgh called me into his office. "This is all the cash I have - go. We'll sort you out later." I asked a colleague to call my wife.
"Tell her to pack a bag and drive like the clappers to Jan Smuts and meet me there with my passport."
The media spent the entire four-hour flight speculating about what had happened and trying to draft stories based on rumours that were reaching the plane in flight. The next day, Air Mauritius flew us to the scene of the crash – 160 km out to sea - in a twin-prop aircraft. As we circled the floating wreckage - a huge orange escape chute, bits of aircraft, clothing, seats and the like - the enormity of the accident hit home.
Far below us, skimming the wave tops, were US Navy Orion spotter aircraft from Diego Garcia naval base, which swooped down like birds of prey on bodies they spotted, marking each with a flare. Prowling French Navy and Mauritian coast-guard boats would then dart off, wakes carving tracks through the blue-black ocean, to retrieve the corpses. In the seat behind me one of the reporters was fast asleep.
The next day saw the beginning of a gruelling 12-day bunfight among the journalists that turned into a mini war as company resources in the form of money and back-up began arriving on the island. On about the third day, I scored a major victory over the rabble by hitching a ride with SAA CEO Gert van der Veer in his Air Mauritius helicopter into Port Louis - normally an expensive two-hour journey by taxi. He was going to visit the captain of a ship who had rushed to assist in wreckage recovery.
En route, Van der Veer and his deputy, Vic Lewis, described their plans for finding the wreckage of the Helderberg and, they hoped, its black boxes. Deep-sea recovery vehicles were being organised. It would cost millions of rands. Big scoop. You could hear the whining and baying of the opposition for at least the next 1:2 hours when the story was published.
Then things started to get really nasty. I visited a ship whose captain told me that he had thrown sheep carcasses out of his deepfreezes to make way for the bodies found floating in the sea. A visit to the island's mortuary revealed that many of the passengers, who had been mutilated on impact, had deposits of carbon in their throats, indicating death by smoke inhalation. I went to view recovered wreckage. Seats identifiable only by their head-rests, which were crushed into their metal frames, and ripped belts gave horrific insight into the forces to which the cabin was subjected on impact. I was tiring of the daily diet of death and destruction.
Then things got worse. Ominously so. The media had the run of Plaisance Airport, coming and going as we pleased from our communal office. But one morning during our second week there, we found guards at the entrances to the airport. We had been locked out. Certain buildings were suddenly off-limits, and it had nothing to do with the Mauritian authorities - this was a South African - ordered lockdown.
Rumours spread. Something had been found. We knew debris was arriving daily and being kept in one of the hangars now out of bounds. Civil Aviation Authority investigators were poring over bits of metal and cloth. But they weren't saying a thing. All of this laid the foundations for the rumour mill that sprang up and which was, over the years, to produce hundreds of centimetres of copy - largely rubbish - on what had caused the crash.
After 1994, when the ANC came to power, a fervour of investigative journalism around its "true" causes began to surface. The media were falling over themselves to discredit the now toothless previous regime and ingratiate themselves with the new order. In the late 1990s, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began its inquiry into the tragedy. Nothing came of it. However, for the aircraft to have burnt the way it did, it must have been carrying something dangerous. What, is anyone's guess.