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South Africa’s Crusading Newspaper Publishes for the Last Time

April 30, 1985

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ The Rand Daily Mail, for 25 years a crusader against South Africa’s policy of racial separation, published its last edition Tuesday with a call to the white-minority government to admit apartheid has failed.

The newspaper blamed financial pressures for its closing. In a front-page headline, the Johannesburg newspaper announced ″the final deadline″ in 36- page edition, about three times the size of recent editions.

Some commentators said advertisers fled as the paper’s militancy and black readership grew, while others blamed management policies. The Daily Mail had a circulation of 120,000, more than half of it blacks, and was South Africa’s second-largest daily.

The Daily Mail’s successor, Business Day, starts publication Wednesday and is aimed at thewhite business community.

″The Mail will go down as a victim of government action,″ said the Sowetan, a black daily published by the rival Argus group.

South African Associated Newspapers, one of two English-language newspaper groups, said six weeks ago it could no longer support the Daily Mail’s losses - $22.5 million over 10 years, including $7.5 million last year.

In a somber view of South Africa’s future, the Daily Mail published a Page 1 editorial about ″the endemic violence in our society, the bitterness that is poisoning the human soil.″

″The race is to see whether there will be enough reform to outstrip the anger that failure to reform generated,″ it said. ″The most important thing about the present cautious moves to reform is that they acknowledge one central truth: Apartheid is an admitted failure.

″In this climate, a great onus rests on newspapers,″ the editorial said. ″With the passing of the Mail, a vigorous voice of dissent has been stilled.″

Even critics said the Daily Mail’s departure would leave a big hole in South African journalism.

Beeld, an Afrikaans-language daily that supports the white-minority government, commented, ″There is a great need for critical journalism. That is one of the counterbalances in a democracy.″

The Daily Mail began in 1902 to serve the needs of the business establishment. Its role as a crusading newspaper started after Laurence Gandar became editor in 1959.

The paper won prizes abroad for an expose of prison conditions. It helped bring down the late Prime Minister John Vorster by reporting on the government’s secret use of tax money to buy foreign influence and to establish a rival English-language morning paper in Johannesburg.

President P.W. Botha said in a statement last month that the end of the Daily Mail signified the emergence of a new South African consensus.

All four South African newspaper groups, including two Afrikaans language groups, have experienced losses attributed to a national economic depression and competition for advertising from state television.

The Mail employed nearly 200 people. About 70 journalists lost their jobs when it closed. Editor Rex Gibson accepted a post as deputy editor of The Star, the Argus group’s afternoon paper in Johannesburg and the largest daily with 177,000 circulation.

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