Percy Qoboza Memorial Lecture #BlackWednesday

The 8th annual Percy Qoboza Memorial Lecture, organised by the National Press Club and UNISA, took place today in celebration of media freedom in South Africa.

The lecture is held annually in remembrance of 19 October 1977, when the apartheid government shut down The World and Weekend World newspapers. Over the years, it has become known as Black Wednesday.

Percy Tseliso Peter Qoboza was born on 17 January 1938 in Sophiatown before his family was forcibly removed by the apartheid government. In 1932, the newspaper Bantu World was established as an “opposition” newspaper. In 1962, Bantu World became The World, a significant voice in journalism until it was banned. Qoboza worked for the The World as a cadet reporter for five years and before becoming the news editor of the newspaper. In 1974, he was appointed as the editor.

In 1976, he was selected as South Africa’s Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He was also the recipient of the Golden Pen Freedom Award from the International Publishers Association and the South African Society of Journalists’ Pringle Award.

The ruling party saw The World as its enemy and in December 1976, Qoboza was taken in for questioning about the newspaper’s reporting of the 16 June 1976 Soweto uprisings. He was released 18 hours later but was arrested again after a few months.

On 19 October 1977, Percy Qoboza, and colleague Aggrey Klaaste were arrested and sent to prison. The government shut down The World and The Weekend World newspapers. On the same day, eighteen black organisations were banned. Qoboza was in jail for six months without being formally charged and without a court hearing.

Following his release, Qoboza became editor of The Post. The Post and the Sunday Post were launched to replace the The World and The Weekend World. In 1980, these newspapers were closed by the government in Qoboza’s absence, as he was working in Washington for the Washington Star.

He returned to South Africa after nine months and worked as a public relations consultant until 1984 when he became the associate editor of the City Press. In 1985, he was appointed as the editor of the City Press, where he remained until his death on his 50th birthday in 1988.

Because of Qoboza’s passion for social justice and media freedom and with the upcoming elections in mind, the theme for this year’s lecture was: Politics and media freedom: Responsibility and Accountability to the South African Public.

The National Press Club and UNISA organised the the first Percy Qoboza Memorial Lecture in 2011. It was delivered by Professor Kobus van Rooyen. In 2012, Jay Naidoo delivered the lecture followed by Joe Thloloe in 2013. The lecture was delivered by Mondli Makhanya in 2014, Moshoeshoe Monare in 2015 and Kevin Ritchie in 2016. Last year, Qoboza’s son Vusi delivered the lecture.

This year’s lecture was delivered by Father Smangaliso Makhatswa, followed by a panel discussion with National Press Club exco member and Pretoria News news editor, Ntando Makhubu, President of the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa, Malesela Maubane, and political analyst, Mpumelelo Mkhabela.

The National Press Club also awarded the annual Patrick Hlahla Bursary to a deserving UNISA Communications Science student. The late Patrick Hlahla was a respected member of the media, working at the Pretoria News, and a former chairperson of the National Press Club.