Address by President Nelson Mandela at the 150th Anniversary of the Eastern Province Herald

14 September 1995

Premier Raymond Mhlaba and members of the Provincial Government;
Chairperson of the Transitional Local Council, Nceba Faku;
Our host, Ric Wilson, Editor of the Eastern Cape Herald;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is rare that a commercial newspaper's anniversary should serve as a focal point of a community's sense of togetherness. It is rarer still that this should be the case in these early days of our democracy, when the old still pervades and blemishes many facets of the new.

That this should be so with the 150th anniversary of the Eastern Cape Herald represents Port Elizabeth's confidence in the future; a confidence issuing from present attempts to make that future truly better for one city, one community and one people.

The 150th birthday of the Herald marks the close of an era and the beginning of a new one. In just under two months, Port Elizabeth and hundreds of other towns and villages will have democratic local government elections, a historic rupture with the past.

The same can be said of the Herald. If in the past it was a light in the darkness of colonialism and apartheid, today the Herald can act as a clear mirror against which the light of our democracy should reflect, with its brightness and, at times, with its imperfections.

I am therefore honoured to be part of this historic occasion in the Friendly City. Though I could not join you at the anniversary ball in August, I should say that the warm reception we have received and the remarkable enthusiasm shown here, make us feel truly at home.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

The birthday we celebrate today represents more than just an acknowledgement of a long, vibrant and eventful life. It is more than just a celebration of the successes of a business venture.

The history of Eastern Province Herald represents all these and much more. The moral of its story is that the Herald was founded on the rock of civic duty by a citizen, as committed to imparting academic knowledge to pupils as he was to uniting a community to take responsibility for its well-being. In that sense, John Paterson was a trail-blazer whose message is as relevant today as it was one-and-half centuries ago.

His famous description of the 1845 settlement on Algoa Bay, which many of you should be familiar with, is worth repeating:

"Our streets are obstructed with every nuisance, ...and he who ventures to walk through certain ways must make up his mind to witness scenes too disgusting and revolting to be described".

A correspondent wondered whether strangers should think of the community as "a sordid miserly set - people who prefer living among filth and nuisance to paying for its removal".

These words are worth repeating because they are true of parts of Port Elizabeth today as they were of the whole of it then. Years of colonial policies and apartheid neglect have ensured that, 50 years on, Zwide, New Brighton, Ibhayi and other areas perfectly fit Paterson's description.

But Paterson was not giving a moan of helplessness. He saw it as his duty to mobilise the community to better its own conditions. He did recognise the responsibility of government to set up a municipality; but he emphasised too, the responsibility of the community to pay for services. In one word, the spirit that infused the founding of Eastern Province Herald is, Masakhane! Ladies and Gentlemen;

We can dwell at length on the reasons why parts of Port Elizabeth and other townships across the country fit so perfectly John Paterson's description of 1845 Port Elizabeth. But, like Paterson, we should concern ourselves with what needs to be done to right this historical wrong. And we are confident that Nceba Faku and his able team have worked with communities to start the ball rolling. National and Provincial Governments have similarly started massive projects to build the infrastructure necessary for communities to attain a better life.

For all this to succeed, Port Elizabeth, as other parts of the country, need an Eastern Province Herald and other newspapers and electronic media, with the same sense of civic duty which John Paterson displayed 150 years ago. The problems might be of a different magnitude and the setting much different, but the responsibility remains.

To require this of the Herald and the media in general has nothing to do with expecting a sycophantic and partisan approach from them. Rather, the media can fulfil their responsibility to communities only if they are independent, vigorous and critical. Civic duty should mean mobilising all communities of Port Elizabeth, who, to paraphrase the Herald's founders, do not prefer living among filth and nuisance.

The enthusiastic participation of the City's community in these anniversary events is premised on their confidence that the Herald is striving today to be as committed to all Port Elizabeth's people as it had been then to the settler community.

This the Herald has shown over the years in its spirited defence of press freedom and in its opposition to repression, in particular, and the system of apartheid, in general.

This the Herald is showing today in its support for democracy, human rights and a better life for the people.

Indeed, 150 years ago, Paterson could have chosen to focus on the wealthy among the new settlers, who lived in comfort amid the chaos in the settlement that he so vividly described. But he was concerned with the interests of that community as a whole.

Among the challenges that the Herald faces, as with many other newspapers countrywide, is to ensure that through training and deliberate reorientation, it is able, in a balanced way, to reflect the life of Port Elizabeth in its totality. This also requires, among journalists from disadvantaged communities, that they strive for excellence. It requires that the intellectual community from this sector takes a career in journalism as seriously as they do other fields such as politics, economics, medicine and the legal profession. It requires that issues of variety of ownership are canvassed rationaly and openly. Ladies and Gentlemen; We raise all these matters because we are confident in the capacity of Port Elizabeth to handle the challenges it faces. A City that has nurtured so many heroes; a City that was at the forefront of negotiations to form transitional structures; a City that prides itself with such friendliness, cannot but succeed. You have it in your power to tackle poverty, illiteracy, lack of housing, poor services and health facilities - together you can build a better life for all.

Though I have had such a busy day, I should say how refreshed I feel at this warm reception. There is no doubt that, supported by the goodwill of the community, the Eastern Province Herald can see another 150 years and more. Many happy returns! Thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation