‘Witness’ staffer bows out, closing a chapter of printing history

2012-12-20 00:00

AFTER 40 years with The Witness, graphics supervisor Chris Pretorius is retiring at the age of 58.

“A lot has changed in the time that I’ve been here,” Pretorius said, paging through past editions of the paper that were printed on obsolete technology.

Big changes happened in newspaper printing in 1979 during the transition from from hot metal typesetting to litho printing and it got Pretorius out of a lot of soldiering.

“Stuart Craib [then the managing director of the Natal Witness Printing and Publishing Company] got me off a lot of army camps. He used to sign me off, saying that I had to study the new technology,” he said.

Pretorius was also at The Witness when the paper switched to desktop publishing in 1994.

“The 40 years have gone by so quickly and I’ve met a lot of wonderful people,” he said.

Senior advertising consultant Moira Smith said: “If there’s one thing I can say about him, if you ask him for a favour, he’ll do it, but only in return for beer.”

Laughing, Pretorius replied: “I’ll do anything for a beer.”

Recalling a time when he was working with technicians from Europe, Pretorius said it was difficult to understand their accents.

“We had a John Mann who came here from Ireland. I could never hear a thing he was saying. When he’d laugh, I’d laugh. I then began to lip read, so I could understand him. But he then grew a beard and I was buggered,” he said.

Of his first day at The Witness, January 2, 1973, he remembers that “it wasn’t a Monday”. He had just completed his matric at Pietermaritzburg’s Harward Boys’ High School the previous year.

“I had just finished school. I’d just arrived at The Witness when I bumped into someone I knew. They said to me ‘It’s too noisy in the printing room. Come upstairs and be a compositor’. So, I went upstairs and I was a compositor [the person who assembles the typeset pages in a metal frame],” he recalled. Later he moved to the graphics section.

Pretorius decided to retire two months ago after a discussion with his family.

“The family is all lekker at having me home. That was a decision taken after I’d spoken to them. I think family’s important in all the decisions one makes in life, because when it all goes wrong, I want their support,” he said, laughing.

He plans to do some work around the family home in Pelham.

His last day at work will be on December 28.

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