Farewell, old stalwart

2012-08-18 13:58

Charles Mogale, who died last ­Friday after a ­horror car accident and ill-health, was arguably one of the best of the post-Drum ­generation of black African journalists.

His death, at the age of 56, has brought the profession together to express its ­collective grief again in as many months – a few weeks after the deaths of Theo Rawana, Amrit Manga and Bongani Keswa.

Since his death a week ago, his colleagues across the spectrum of the profession – young and old – have written hundreds of column inches reminiscing about the good times they shared with him.

Most fondly remember him as a funny man – he had an uncanny ­ability to bring laughter to a ­serious situation.

In his very rich career in ­journalism spanning over three ­decades (here and in Botswana), he worked for this newspaper during the editorship of Khulu Sibiya, which came after the illustrious leadership of the iconic Percy Qoboza. His ­colleagues at City Press then included the likes of Len Kalane, ZB Molefe and the late Obed Musi.

Like his peers at the time, Mogale – who also worked for other titles such as the Rand Daily Mail, Sowetan, Drum and Botswana Guardian during his career – worked during the most repressive conditions of the apartheid state.

Still, Mogale, an extraordinary humanist in the mould of the late Aggrey Klaaste and Sam Mabe, enjoyed telling the stories of the African majority.

His work in exposing the excesses of the apartheid state earned him great admiration among human rights and anti-apartheid activists and, unsurprisingly, the loathing of the PW Botha regime.

His first love was reporting and writing. When I met him a few years ago he told me how much he missed this passion, covering the unfolding story of South Africa.

Though fiercely competitive in the newsroom, Mogale will be best remembered as a team player who was always very helpful and generous with his time in mentoring young ­journalists. As his generation grew older, making way for the new crop of writers, he too ­reluctantly joined the managerial class whose instincts he always suspected.

In the mid-2000s, Mogale, a versatile newspaperman, resurfaced as a tabloid editor. He was one of the founding editors of Sunday World, which wasrelaunched successfully as a tabloid after an unsuccessful stint as a broadsheet.

Even though some among us never really regarded tabloids as a serious genre of journalism, he ensured that this form of journalism was not only recognised, but that it also told the serious South African story.

Though wrapped in screaming headlines of celebrity gossip, Mogale utilised the middle pages of the paper as a forum for debate about pressing matters.

I remember a serious debate raging about whether tabloids had a role in South Africa and whether they ought to be regarded as serious newspapers. Some tabloid editors wrote spirited defences of this “new” genre.

But Mogale chose to quietly work hard at making his paper ­successful.

Within no time, advertisers, the lifeblood of South African newspapers, were beginning to take tabloids seriously.

As the two South African cellular phone giants which were threatening the survival of the only fixed-line operator with their runaway success, they soon took their battle for new subscribers to tabloids, adding to the clutter of retailers. Mogale made certain there was always sufficient reader traffic.

As the culture of celebrity took root in South Africa, Mogale remained loyal to the basic tenets of journalism.

Under his editorship, subjects of stories were guaranteed a ­timely right of reply instead of ambush journalism.

Crucially, he never allowed this new superficial culture to change him.

While he led a team of reporters who wrote about, and socialised with, the new wielders of power, he constantly reminded his colleagues that they were journalists first and, in this regard, he led by example.

As he had done during years of apartheid repression and the first few years of democracy, Mogale resisted the temptation to confuse access to power with power itself or, more appropriately, to regard himself as the social equivalent of those he wrote about.

» Dludlu is a former editor of Sowetan 

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