Kathorus MAIL celebrates its 20th anniversary | Kathorus Mail

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It all started around early 2001 when I first realized there was a need for a local newspaper to serve the interests of communities in the three largest townships of what was then known as EastRand.

After moving from Pimville, Soweto, in 1988, I had lived in Vosloorus for almost 13 years. Now, the country’s new political dispensation had changed after the arrival of South Africa’s first black democratic president, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, in 1994.

It was also the beginning of opening up opportunities for many previously disadvantaged black people in the country, including myself.

By then I had spent nearly 23 years of my professional life as a self-taught journalist and photographer at publications such as Drum Magazine, True Love and later City Press – all part of the Jim Bailey stable publications where I started my career in 1978.

In 1988 I left Jim to join the music business where I was named founding editor of the band’s music magazine, Jive.

Jive became the first successful black music publication to be supported by the entire local chapter as well as their international affiliates in the music industry.

Local musicians, artists, musical events and theater artists were many people in the arts who often graced the pages of the magazine.

When former DRUM and True Love Magazine editors Tony Sutton and Kerry Swift struck a side deal with Nafcoc (National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry) to produce a scholarship magazine called Black Chain Today in Soweto , I was approached to edit the post.

But the dream of doing my own thing was still there. I wanted to be a publisher, especially for the area where I lived.

After several inquiries and extensive consultations with many of my white colleagues in the media, all of whom gave me the “thumbs up” and encouraged me to “dive” into the mostly dominated publishing industry by the whites, I decided to take the bull by the horns and venture into this business of owning, publishing and printing newspapers.

At that time, in 2002, I realized that I had gained enough experience over the years to get into publishing. Of course, I didn’t know that just like being a journalist, being a newspaper publisher doesn’t necessarily guarantee wealth and the sign of a good life.

The aim was to create a media voice for the people of Kathorus that would be a ‘bridge’ between the community, the municipality and other government actors such as the police and local business industries.

My first stop was at the Germiston office of the Mayor of Ekurhuleni, Duma Nkosi. I remember sitting with the mayor and his spokesperson, Prince Hamnca, in the mayor’s office where I outlined my plans to the two regarding the launch of Kathorus MAIL.

At first, I could sense their reluctance to fully engage with me on the subject, until I assured them that the business would pose no financial burden to the municipality, as I thought I could fund myself. One thing I would expect from them, however, would be publicity support to ensure the sustainability of the new publication.

That afternoon in May 2002, after convincing and assuring Nkosi of my plans, I left his office with a broad smile and went straight home to begin preparing for the launch of Kathorus MAIL, which I had planned for August, just three of the months.

Working from my eldest daughter’s bedroom at home, for the next two months I took it upon myself to sell advertising to as many local businesses as possible.

With no marketing experience and no official rate card, I started knocking on the doors of a number of local businesses including One-Up Spares in Katlehong, Wadeville Spares in Wadeville, Solly’s Clothing Manufacturers in Fordsburg, Africa . organization in Mayfair, Marimba Pharmacy in Vosloorus and Africa Cash and Carry – then one of the largest wholesalers in Gauteng also located in Mayfair.

A friend by the name of Mohammed, whom I had known for years, volunteered to do my layout for a fee of R50 a page and to negotiate the printing of the newspaper with Seculo Printers in Ormonde.

Hoping to attract more potential advertisers with my first issue, I printed my first 20,000 copies at (to me) the astronomical cost of R5,000.

Just three months later, in October of that year, I realized that publishing a journal was not going to be as easy as I had anticipated. Only Africa Cash and Carry and about two or three of the other advertisers remained supportive while the rest simply gave up and their advertisements became erratic.

However, having tasted the freedom of being my own boss and the financial independence that comes with it, I had no choice but to reduce my print order to 10,000 copies and continue publishing and to provide the Kathorus community with what I hoped would one day become the largest free circulating community newspaper in the Kathorus community.

In early 2003, I met the veteran Afrikaans journalist, the late Andries Botha. He became my first professional advisor and mentor who would later open up more opportunities for the newspaper.

Botha later introduced me to the management of an independent press in Potchefstroom where I was offered a better printing price.

It was during this time that my involvement with Print Media SA led to my involvement with other independent publishers such as Justin Arenstein, Danie O’Reilly, Mansoor Jaffer and the man who would later become an invaluable guide and very special friend, brother and mentor, Anton van Zyl. Anton is the publisher of the Limpopo Mirror and Zoutpansberger newspapers, based in Louis Trichardt.

It was this close relationship with Anton that got Kathorus MAIL through tough times in the volatile and turbulent newspaper publishing industry.

Steadily under Anton’s guidance and mentorship, the financial situation began to improve and the newspaper attracted advertising support from organizations such as Clinix Hospitals Group, Total SA, Springbok Pharmacy, Fair Price, Build-It and many others.

When Kathorus MAIL won Best Emerging Community Newspaper at the Sanlam Community Media Awards in 2004, the joy of finally being recognized and accepted by my industry peers was overwhelming.

The growth of Kathorus MAIL as a fully-fledged, stand-alone community newspaper has not only been noticed by our readers, but also by advertisers.

Major national newspaper publishers were also beginning to notice our contribution and impact in the community media industry, despite our size in the larger media landscape. There is no doubt that our perceived insignificance was making a huge difference in the local media landscape.

It was a few years later that I received an email from the Caxton Media Group indicating a willingness to engage Kathorus MAIL in a joint venture. Once again it was my dear friend, mentor and brother, van Zyl, who I called for the first time to tell him the exciting news about the business deal with Caxton.

And in his ever-cautious advice, Anton warned me; “I would advise you not to get too excited about it just yet. Just keep running your newspaper like you always have.”

As sobering as the advice was, what he said made me appreciate his professional advice and mentorship and made me realize that I had left an impression on some very important people in the media industry.

However, negotiations for the joint venture with the Caxton Group, one of South Africa’s leading media networks, seemed to be taking forever as rumors of the deal began to saturate the community media fraternity and colleagues began to ask questions. Caxton was also a leading supporter and benefactor of the prestigious annual Sanlam Community Media Awards.

On July 24, 2015, your favorite Lokshin newspaper, Kathorus MAIL, joined the Caxton stable of community newspapers.

Our monthly print order of 12,000 copies was quickly increased to 55,000 copies fortnightly and our distribution footprint was restructured to ensure the newspaper reaches a wider sector of the Kathorus community.

To celebrate the milestones of our journey as independent publishers in December 2019, Anton and I embarked on a unique experience to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Arusha, Tanzania.

The adventure will remain the second stop for Anton and I, after our two-week trip to the United States in 2017 as guests of Professor John Hatcher of the Faculty of Journalism at the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota.

One of the highlights that will remain in our hearts was the interaction with journalism students on campus as well as the interviews and exchange of ideas with the editors of Native community newspapers and a Minnesota radio station.

It was a long, hard and worthwhile struggle that eventually turned into a lifetime journey of hard work and dedication to a pledge I made to the Nkosi in 2002. The pledges were to provide the people of Kathorus with the best community newspaper of all time.

May we travel farther into the future together as we look forward to another 20 years of providing our readers and advertisers with a truly unique means of communication.

May our readers benefit from our vision and dreams of an even bigger and better Kathorus MAIL in the future.
I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart all those who made this trip possible.

The editor

Zaid Sipho Khumalo

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