Naspers: ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’

2015-07-26 16:48
Esmaré Weideman. Piucture: Jacques Stander

Esmaré Weideman. Piucture: Jacques Stander

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CEO of Media24, a Naspers subsidiary, apologises for the group’s complicity in apartheid as media empire turns 100

Ladies and gentlemen, guests, members of the Naspers and Media24 boards, colleagues, friends. 

Tonight, exactly 100 years ago to the day, in fact to the minute, the newsroom of Die Burger must have been a frenzy of activity as a small band of brothers – I assume they were all brothers, no sisters – put their very first issue to bed. Anyone who has ever launched a new publication, or has put a new edition to bed every day, week or month, knows that feeling. 

The adrenaline, the deadline ticking closer because the printing press and the distribution trucks are waiting, the silence you need in your head to make swift and accurate decisions in the midst of the chaos. 

And here we are, 100 years later. Naspers, an internet giant doing big business in more than 130 countries, and Media24, the cornerstone of this company and a leading media company in Africa. 

Tonight’s function is actually the 54th. On December 18 last year we celebrated Naspers’ founding meeting at Heemstede in Stellenbosch a century ago. Yesterday, at Media24’s 52 offices across South Africa, we had a party to thank our people for their role in the success of Media24 and Naspers. 

Tonight is the last staff party for the people in this building and, of course, the 100th anniversary of Die Burger. Tomorrow, we are holding the first of many functions across the country for our retired colleagues. It’s just a small token of appreciation to every person who is part of this company’s rich history – and exciting future. 

When President John F Kennedy visited the Nasa Space Center in the sixties, he stopped when he saw a janitor who was busy sweeping with a broom and asked him what he was doing. 

“Well, Mr President,” replied the janitor, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” 

And this is how we think of the people who have been part of this company in the past 100 years. 

Tonight we pay tribute to the people, the heart and soul of this company, whether you work in admin, IT, accounts, whether you’re a developer or an engineer or in the trenches reporting the news, making sure our publications get on to shelves and into the postboxes of our readers countrywide, or whether it is your job to make sure our sites don’t fall over when a big story breaks or you’re faced with 55 million page views in three days for your election site in Nigeria. 

Since Die Burger’s humble beginnings in Keerom Street we have grown into a modern multiplatform media company that has touched the lives of millions every day. We’re at the forefront of the revolution in digital media and South African e-commerce. 

Yes, the company is growing and changing, and we are investing a lot in new sources of income, new technologies and new businesses. And this is right, in the entrepreneurial spirit of our predecessors. 

But at the core of an ever-expanding business is our commitment to telling the stories that shape the world South Africans live in, whether in print or on digital platforms. We are unceasingly committed to excellent journalism. It is embedded in the DNA of this company, and will be for the next 100 years. 

The numerous awards that our journalists, columnists, writers, editors, photographers, layout artists, book publishers and printers win year after year – and more recently from our multimedia and 
e-commerce teams, and our engineers for their online products and apps – bear witness to the excellence of our people. 

Media24 is not a company that manufactures baked beans. For 100 years, we have not only recorded the country’s history, but influenced it. 

Through the eyes of our journalists, photographers and editors, that rare species which is the core of what we do, we have always been there. 

We reported on the carnage and the courage of World War 2. We witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, the world’s first heart transplant. We were there. 

We were on the sidelines when the Springboks won two World Cups, when Bafana Bafana held the Africa Cup of Nations trophy high above their heads. 

We were there when the new South Africa was born. We experienced the euphoria when Madiba was released in 1990 and we meticulously covered our first democratic election in 1994. 

We were there when 34 miners were gunned down in Marikana and broke the news that Oscar Pistorius had shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. 

So how does one reflect on 100 years where you recorded history day to day, but also influenced it? 

As we counted down the months and weeks to this celebration, many of us had a chance to think about it again. 

As we paged through history, many things were funny. Like the Huisgenoot cover with a drawing of a rugby player with a Springbok cigarette advertisement and the following words, complete with an exclamation mark: “The sportsman’s choice!” 

Or the bank advertisement offering large salaries to young graduates: R93 for young men, R86 for young women. The Joko tea ad that said: “I like a woman who can keep the pot boiling.” Girls, have you ever? 

On a more serious note, we recently published a book, Constant Revolution: Naspers, Media24 and Transitions, a wonderful collection of essays by commentators and great minds in the South African media world fearlessly looking at our history. There is much to be proud of, but also that which makes you hang your head in shame. 

Tonight, we celebrate our successes with pride, and acknowledge our failures with humility. 

We acknowledge complicity in a morally indefensible political regime and the hurtful way in which this played out in our newsrooms and boardrooms. 

Conrad Sidego tells how he, as the first brown reporter at Die Burger, had to walk to the Parade to go for a pee because he could not use the bathrooms. That story records decades of suffering and humiliation. And for that, we officially offer our apologies tonight. 

In The Lion King, the wise old baboon Rafiki, adviser to the king, reflects: “Oh yes, the past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.” 

And learn we have. For this is also a company that played a critical role in the sociopolitical changes in our country, not only fearlessly pushing for change on our editorial pages and editors’ columns and in discreet behind-the-scenes meetings with the powers that be and were to be, but by embarking on a whole new chapter of publishing history by acquiring City Press, Drum and True Love in the eighties and founding what is today the biggest daily newspaper on the continent, Daily Sun. 

Today we can proudly say that we publish for all South Africans, that we tell their stories, that they have all found a home at Media24. 

The Media24 story is one of transformation of race and gender, the dropping of political and social barriers, so today we can proudly say equality and freedom of speech truly form the cornerstones of our company. 

Although we are now officially 100 years old, I think you will agree that we will not live up to the old adage of ageing gracefully. 

We are like a thoroughbred filly – chomping at the bit, full of energy, curious, playful and gutsy, ready to go out and win that race. 

My 18-year-old son, in typical teenage parlance, has declared this new building to be ‘raucous’. For those who don’t know, that’s good. We have received nothing but compliments for this makeover, and the new Media24 logo. Gus Silber tweeted that it has ‘real presence – you can almost hear it’. 

And we are here to be heard for the next 100 years. Let us continue on this journey united in our goal to grow, evolve and thrive. Let us continue to reinvent ourselves because only those who constantly renew will survive. 

Let us continue to be part of this wonderful country’s history for the next 100 years. 

You’ve come a long way, baby. (Ironically this is the payoff line of the first Virginia Slims cigarette ad for women). To this we add: Heita, look at us now. 

Here’s to the next century. 

This is a speech by Weideman, CEO of Media24, a subsidiary of Naspers, delivered in Cape Town last night 

Read more on:    esmaré weideman  |  media 24
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