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The SABC was different when Fugard and I wrote bulletins

For someone who cut his journalistic teeth writing regional news bulletins for the SABC, it is sad to see that organisation brought to its knees.

For two years (1957-58) the then unknown Athol Fugard, Bill Franklin (who subsequently became editor of the Windhoek Advertiser, and persuaded me to join him there) and I gave an avid listening public the latest news in English from Riviersonderend, Wilgenhoutsdrif, Baardskeerdersbos and other hotspots, mainly translated from Streeknuus.

Those sort of places tended to dominate the bulletins, because our most active correspondents lived there.

John Scott.

Some of the news readers had to be coached in pronunciation, especially a Brit confusingly named Dorian de Witt. One who didn’t need coaching was Brian O’Shaughnessy, who went on to make his name in the best soapie of its day, “The Villagers”.

We were hardly stretched.

There were only two bulletins a day, read at 1.25 pm and 7.09 pm, with a long siesta between that I usually spent immersing myself in the icy waters at Rocklands beach, just across the road from the Sea Point studios.

If by 5 pm nothing newsworthy had cropped up, Fugard would dive into his bottom drawer, where he kept stuff in reserve, and triumphantly produce a week-old story that no one had heard of. When all else failed we tried to jazz up the latest wool-price report.

Our news editor was Awie de Swardt, who later became National Party member of the Cape Provincial Council for Malmesbury, and the SABC’s big chief was Piet Meyer, a senior member of the Broederbond, but unlike one of his recent successors, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, he never gave himself multi-million bonuses and pay increases.

So the corporation, as we called it, never had to go begging to stay afloat.

In spite of its racist ethos, no one ever instructed me to give an apartheid slant to any of the stories I wrote, though it would have been difficult trying to find the right political angle to an ACVV cake sale at Buffeljagsrivier or Papiesvlei.

When I resigned to go to university, one of the directors, “Scoop” van Schoor, who had been editor of the Vaderland, called me in to give me advice on what courses to take. “Do economics, my boy, you’ll never regret it,” he said in fatherly fashion. It was the last thing I wanted to do. So I didn’t do it, and I’ve been an economic ignoramus ever since.

But considering the state the SABC is now in, those running it didn’t do economics either.

I see one of its strategies to pay the tea ladies, if nothing else, is to sell off some of its non-core buildings including Rocklands Villas, a derelict block of flats behind the Sea Point studios. Alas, those and other properties, including a farm in Tweefontein, Limpopo (a good source of regional news if ever I heard one), are unlikely to raise more than R75 million, according to the experts, when the SABC needs billions.

  • There may be nothing for it but to sell the studio building itself, where one of my Sunday duties was to show members of the public around. Like SABC news, it would hardly be missed.johnvscott@meb.co.za
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