EXTRACT | Gasant Abarder's 'Hack with a grenade: An editor’s backstories of SA News'

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Cover of 'Hack with a grenade' (Supplied)
Cover of 'Hack with a grenade' (Supplied)

In 'Hack with a Grenade: An Editor’s Backstories of SA News,' Gasant Abarder gives an editor’s perspective on the characters that shape South Africa’s psyche. Abarder has worked in print, radio and television newsrooms in both Cape Town and Johannesburg for 21 years. Here is an extract from the book.


About a decade later, then older and more experienced, I had time to sit in my office and reflect back on those days.

I realised then that radio and TV advertisements were using exaggerated coloured accents more and more to sell products. It made sense in a way, even though I found it patronising. The idea was that a coloured voice would appeal to a coloured audience. Hence, I was here now – at the Cape Argus – as my coloured self, sans my coloured accent. At least the readers couldn’t hear me speak!

It made me think too. If you’ve ever watched an international news network, the reporting is authentic because a Scottish guy is reporting live from Scotland, an American is reporting live from America and an Australian is reporting live from Australia. The news broadcaster wouldn’t dream of asking the correspondent to speak English with the Queen’s accent, right?

The truth is, I had some clangers as front page leads in those first few weeks as the new Cape Argus editor, when I was really just a tabloid hack wearing a suit and tie. But slowly but surely, and conscious of my self-identity, I began to get into the Cape Argus rhythm and I stayed in my lane. I was assimilating.

The Cape Argus reader was aspirational. They wanted to send their kids to good schools, drive nice cars and own houses in posh suburbs. That was why BMW, Apple and Pam Golding should be advertising. Stick to your brief, Gasant – we’re the paper for the blue-collar worker (shorthand for coloured people). I enjoyed the job. It was conventional and very conservative. Rules were rarely broken. I wouldn’t have dreamt of allowing students to edit the newspaper during that first stint as editor.

Now I listen to talented coloured broadcast journalists on radio and TV who have maintained their identity. I know when I watch Monique Mortlock on eNCA – the 24-hour news channel that eNews later evolved into – that she is true to herself and knows where she comes from. She is a rising star in the business and doesn’t roll her Rs. I can’t imagine anyone telling her to change who she is.

One of my best friends, Robin Adams, a sports anchor who has worked at eNCA, Al-Jazeera and now TRTWorld in Turkey, doesn’t roll his Rs either. He is proudly from Atlantis and tells everyone who cares to listen.

Robin is a dynamic talent who can go pound for pound with the best sports broadcasters in the world. Yet, when you watch him do his thing, there is no doubt where he is from. He knows. It’s in his smile and his confidence. It is something I wish I had back when I was a TV journo.

Yet, we still grapple with this coloured identity.

Some accept it wholeheartedly, while others reject it with contempt as an apartheid construct. Others still, prefer to be referred to as Khoi or San. But for the most part, my personal feeling is there is a coyness about that too.

I have borrowed from Eusebius McKaiser’s definition in his book Run, Racist, Run and believe myself to be politically black, but culturally coloured. When I mentioned this to a black colleague while at an airport in Washington, he laughed in a derisive, contemptuous way.


- That was an extract from Gasant Abarder's 'Hack with a grenade', published by Best Red.

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