The Curious Case of Perdeby

The First Tuks Papers
When the University of Pretoria started there was no established campus newspaper. But as the university grew, students felt that a campus newspaper was necessary in order to aid communication between students. It was for this reason that the first Tuks newspapers appeared.

In November 1912 the first student publication appeared at the university. It is called The T.U.C. Students magazine/ studenteblad van die T.U.K.. It came out approximately once a year, but students wanted a more regular form of communication. This led to several attempts to open more regular student publications.
The earliest of these publications was Vocator which was released in 1927 as a student magazine, but it was not successful.

In 1930 the university founded a formal company with the purpose of creating a student newspaper for Tuks. The company was called The Students’ Forum Publishing Company and they started the first student newspaper in South Africa in 1930. The newspaper was called The Students Forum, Die Studente Forum. Despite its many critics the paper survived its early years and expanded to include an annexure called Liga. However, both publications closed in 1931 after only 14 editions.

The T.U.C. Students magazine/ studenteblad van die T.U.K. was replaced by the yearbook Trek in 1931. Trek was scheduled to come out twice a year and was supposed to be a medium of communication for students, but its lack of continuity was one of its biggest weaknesses.

Other newspapers were started because students wanted a more regular form of communication. One of these newspapers was Die Skerpioen which opened in 1934. It was given out under the protection of the Student Council (the SRC of the time) and was a four-page newspaper. However, Die Skerpioen ran into trouble and the paper shut down after only four editions.

In October 1934 another magazine called Castalia appeared. Castalia was a magazine for art and culture and it was meant to come out quarterly. Another paper called NUSANS appeared in 1935. The paper was satirical and according to the Ad Destinatum 1910-1960, the university’s almanac, the paper was not accepted by students, especially after an article in the paper insinuated that the ANS (Afrikaanse Nasionale Studentebond) and NUSAS (the National Union of South African Students) should merge.
However, the Student Council with its chairperson Andries Nolte insisted that the university needed a student newspaper. In 1936 a student newspaper called the Praetor was opened. According to the Ad Destinatum 1910-1960, Praetor was not as successful as the Student Council had hoped and it only released five editions.

Despite these failed publications, the want for a student newspaper continued to grow.
In 1939 five anonymous students who called themselves the “vyf liberaliste” (five liberals) started the next venture for a student newspaper. The first Die Perdeby was created in the Theology building on a borrowed typewriter as a surprise for the student community.
The paper was so successful among students that the Student Council held a mass meeting and decided that Die Perdeby would be accepted as the university’s monthly student newspaper. The Student Council took Die Perdeby under its protection and appointed the editorial which included the five students who brought out the first copy of the newspaper in April.

The first editor of Die Perdeby was George du Plessis. The next edition of Die Perdeby came out on 1 June that year and a third edition came out on 1 September.

 

Die Perdeby’s early years
Die Perdeby became a regular monthly student newspaper in 1940. But in 1941 doubts about Die Perdeby’s existence started to emerge from the student community. A few SRC members and other students argued that the money being spent on the paper could be used for someting better.

World War II also made it difficult for Die Perdeby to stay open. In 1941 Die Perdeby closed as a result of a lack of finances and a paper shortage caused by the war.
The paper was reopened on 1 April 1944 under Louis van Wyk but took on the new name, Die Nuwe Perdeby, and was a monthly student newspaper.

Van Wyk wrote in the first edition of Die Nuwe Perdeby that it had opened under difficult circumstances because the need for a student newspaper was too strong for the university or students to ignore.
Die Nuwe Perdeby started to grow from 1944 and in July of that year the paper announced that it needed a bigger staff, which included the paper’s first cartoonist Gert Schutte.

In the next few years editors started putting their mark on Die Nuwe Perdeby and changed the paper. Some of these changes are still influencing how Perdeby functions today. In 1945 Willie Lubbe changed the size of the newspaper. Lubbe published Die Nuwe Perdeby in a smaller and more accessible size. Die Nuwe Perdeby’s production schedule changed under Lubbe as well when the newspaper became a biweekly.

In 1948 Die Nuwe Perdeby became a weekly newspaper under Albertus van Zyl. The first of its kind in South Africa.
In 1952 Die Nuwe Perdeby’s size changed again. This time the newspaper was printed in tabloid size, the format still used today. This bigger format allowed for more articles to be printed.

There were few news and in-depth articles in the early years of the paper’s existence and this led to questions around Die Nuwe Perdeby’s relevance to arise again in 1953. At an SRC meeting on 20 March 1953, the SRC discussed whether Die Nuwe Perdeby should be closed and be replaced by residence publications.

Despite this criticism the paper was not closed and continued to grow. On 7 August 1953 the paper was expanded when two buitemuurse students (students who were situated on the old Proesstraat campus and worked during the day while attending classes at night) were appointed to be representatives for Die Nuwe Perdeby. In this way the paper was able to publish news relating to all students on campus.

The 1954 Die Nuwe Perdeby editor Cristoff Human aimed to make the newspaper more focused on campus news. This focus has continued throughout the years as Perdeby still strives to deliver campus news to its readers.


News and the changing student landscape
As Perdeby’s focus changed to cover more campus news, so did the way its newsroom functioned.
In 1959 it was suggested that the paper should cover more residence and sport club news. However, the editor Jan Spies said that he didn’t have the finances to print bigger copies to accommodate all of the campus news the paper started to cover. To accommodate the extra news the editorial decided to print on cheaper paper to allow for bigger editions to be printed.
In addition, a news editor was appointed in August 1960 to help cope with the amount of news that Die Nuwe Perdeby was covering.
As Perdeby developed, questions around its function and relevance emerged once again. On 6 March 1964 an article stated that students were not sure what the role of Die Nuwe Perdeby was. The writer said that the press was important because it influenced people and helped them make up their minds about events. He said that the newspaper must reflect the students and must function as a communication forum.

By 1968 Johan Steynberg, the editor of that year, said that Perdeby had become a true newspaper and had covered campus news.

 

Editors in hot water
The students who have led Perdeby in the past, sometimes said things or published articles that the university or the students were not happy about. From the 1950s to the 1980s Perdeby’s editors got into a lot of trouble.

Die Nuwe Perdeby started to speak out on issues in the student community as it grew. In the 9 March 1956 edition an article stated that no initiation would take place from 1956 onwards. This came after several initiation articles were published in the beginning of 1956. However, Die Nuwe Perdeby editor Johan Fourie questioned whether 1956 would be the final year of initiation. He stated that the banning of initiation had become a tradition, just like initiation itself. In the same edition the SRC chairperson wrote in defence of initiation. As a result of these articles, and two other articles that criticised the rector, the SRC and Fourie appeared before a disciplinary committee. The SRC chairperson and Fourie resigned as a result of the hearing. Die Nuwe Perdeby was closed from June until August in 1956 because of this decision. Only when a new SRC was appointed, could a new editor be appointed.

But editors were not the only ones who ran into trouble with the university. On 17 June 1966 two news journalists wrote about the Johannesburg Balie’s meeting with Senator Kennedy who came to South Africa to listen to a speech. The two news writers entered the meeting uninvited because the press was not allowed in the meeting. Many other newspapers, including international papers, referred to Die Nuwe Perdeby’s Kennedy article published that June.

During this time Die Nuwe Perdeby was regarded as the “VSR mondstuk” (mouthpiece of the SRC). This became problematic when outside newspapers started quoting Perdeby articles as views of the SRC, as in the Kennedy story. On 5 August 1966 “VSR mondstuk” was removed from the front page because newspapers had sourced that Die Nuwe Perdeby article and used it as a comment of the university’s SRC about Kennedy’s visit.

In 1969 a letter from the editorial stated that the editor Eugene Berg had been dismissed by the SRC. A week later the SRC gave its reasons for the dismissal. They said that Berg did not meet the three criteria expected of a Perdeby editor: to use his power to place good articles in the paper to give a good image of the university, to control his staff and to check all content before it is printed. The SRC also said that Berg failed to control all information in the paper every week and that he did not think critically about all the letters he published. Berg disagreed with these reasons. He said that it was his prerogative to publish letters and that articles were checked by his editors. He added that if Die Perdeby could not criticise certain things, then it had lost its function.

The SRC intervened in the appointment of editors as well. Before the 2000s members of Perdeby could vote for students who they felt could be editors of the newspaper, but these appointments always had to be approved by the SRC. In 1981 the SRC did not want to appoint the news editor chosen by the Die Perdeby staff. Werner Krull, a deputy editor of Die Perdeby, wrote about the SRC’s refusal to appoint the news editor in a letter.

Moreover, in 1986 a mass meeting was called where students would vote on whether the editor of 1986, Frans Viljoen, must resign. The ASF (Afrikaner Studentefront) was behind this motion because they felt that Viljoen was not in touch with Tuks students. If the editor was dismissed the entire editorial would be vacant.

Later that year a letter from the editorial mentioned that another editor had resigned earlier that year after the SRC refused to confirm the appointment of the in-depth news editor.

 

A changing media mindset
For years the SRC controlled Perdeby, checked their content and appointed the paper’s editors. This started to change in the 1980s as perceptions of the media and the media’s reaction to outside interference changed. During this time media freedom also became a more sought-after right.

An Afrikaans Student Persunie conference called for greater student media independence in the 1980s. The editor of that year, Thys van der Merwe, wrote that Die Perdeby needed to publish stories about things that were happening rather than protect and build the university’s reputation and image. Van der Merwe stated that the SRC censored the paper and that the SRC only liked Die Perdeby when they published positive articles about the SRC. He likened Die Perdeby’s problem with the SRC to that of the South African media and the apartheid government.

In 1984 Die Perdeby was blamed for damaging the university’s reputation. The editor of that year, Danie Moller, said that Die Perdeby had a watchdog role and must write about what happens on campus, whether that news was negative or not.

In 1985 an article explained the SRC’s relationship with Perdeby. The article stated that Die Perdeby was the mouthpiece of the SRC and that the SRC chairperson and the SRC member with the media portfolio could demand to see all articles before the newspaper went to print.

Braam Greeff, the editor of Die Perdeby in 1985, resigned after the SRC would not approve the appointment of Ben Zaaiman for news editor in that year. During September the outgoing editorial would choose an editor and deputy editor. The editor would then appoint the other section editors who needed to be approved by the SRC. In this case, the SRC would not approve Zaaiman’s appointment because of his beliefs and because he might impress those beliefs on Perdeby. The SRC argued that that would damage the image of the university. Greeff did not think that this was a valid reason and said that freedom of religion was a basic right. The SRC did not go back on their decision.

 

Perdeby’s political criticism
In 1966 editor Frans Viljoen wrote in his editorial that 60% of students saw Die Nuwe Perdeby as tame. The paper was regarded as more conservative than liberal. But the editorial said that Die Nuwe Perdeby was not aligned with any political party and that it wanted to be balanced.

In contrast, local newspapers labelled Die Perdeby as a right-wing organisation in 1986. The editor of 1986, Dricé Odendaal, said in response to these allegations that Die Perdeby’s role was to inform students, to act as a watchdog, to be balanced and not to emphasise one way of thinking over others. She said that Die Perdeby wanted to stay objective

There were instances when Perdeby editors commented on political situations. On 24 February 1989 Die Perdeby wrote about the SRC’s prohibition of the magazine Skryfskiet. Skryfskiet was released in February in that year and had a picture of a silhouette of Nelson Mandela on the front page with that year’s Rag theme used as a headline: “Waar’s daai man” and “A face not seen for 25 years”. The editor of Skryfskiet discussed Mandela’s possible release from prison in the edition. Apparently, an SRC member said that Skryfskiet did not fit in with the Afrikaans identity of the university and that the SRC was afraid that Skryfskiet was going to align Rag with political situations and damage its reputation. Die Perdeby saw this prohibition as an infringement on press freedom.

 

A long walk to freedom
In 1989 the SRC decided not to read through the entire Die Perdeby before it went to print and the newspaper started to be seen as an independent media entity on campus. But this did not mean that Perdeby was completely independent.

In 1990 a new constitution was formed allowing for a Perdeby Control Committee. The committee was chaired by Prof. Nick Grove according to the Ad Destinatum 1993.

Despite the 1988 editor Paul Dijkstra’s decision to remove Die Perdeby from the SRC, the paper became part of the SRC again in 1992. In order to keep the paper’s objectivity, Die Perdeby decided only to vote on matters concerning the paper. But in 1994 Die Perdeby gave up its voting right on the SRC again because voting on the SRC went against journalistic ethics.

In 1995 many changes were made to the university structure to aid transformation in the university after South Africa became a democracy. A Multiparty Congress (MPC) was formed in 1995 and a new constitution for the university was drafted. In this year the first central and executive student council was elected. Students started to vote for parties instead of individuals during the elections and the student structure was renamed the Student Representative Council.Die Perdeby along with Rag, Radio Tuks and Student Culture became service providers under the new constitution. This meant that they could operate on their own with their own elected management structure. But the service providers would still be accountable to the SRC.

In 1998 the university formed a media ombudsman to handle complaints around Die Perdeby and Tuks FM. The Media Complaints Commission was implemented to ensure a high standard of reporting, a free flow of information, accountability of campus media and the freedom of speech of Tuks students.

 

A phoenix-like rebirth
Perdeby faced several struggles in the late 1990s and 2000s.

The SRC shut Perdeby down in 1999. The argument for the paper’s closure was that the paper had lessened in quality since 1998. The SRC said that the university’s image was being tarnished and decided that drastic action must be taken.

The SRC argued that the quality of the paper was reduced after 1994 because Perdeby received greater independence from the SRC. The editor of the time, Willie Basson, argued that the newspaper was catering to an audience that had drastically changed over the years. “The central problem appears to be accountability,” he said. The SRC and editorial met and decided to appoint a committee to review Perdeby’s constitution. In the meantime a control committee was formed that was aware of Perdeby’s constitution. Once a new constitution had been written Perdeby would get its service provider status back and a new editorial would be appointed. Basson acknowledged that the paper had some problems and hoped that the new constitution would solve them, but he did not think that the process that was followed was the best one.
Perdeby was closed down in 2001 again because of administrative, financial and business problems. The university also claimed that Perdeby was closed because it did not adhere to its 50% English and 50% Afrikaans language policy.
In 2002 the birth of a new student newspaper was announced. Perdeby’s management structure was rethought and changed. A permanent manager was appointed to oversee the newspaper’s production process and to take responsibility for the paper. The editorial aimed to create a professional newspaper and wanted to be a newspaper about students, for students.


A new era for Perdeby

In 2004 a new editor-in-chief, Kobus Schoeman, was appointed to head Perdeby after it closed a few years earlier. He was also a journalism lecturer and the 2004 editor Tarien Roux hoped that this would bring professionalism to the paper.
However, Perdeby’s troubles did not end there. In 2007 Perdeby was caught between the conflict of an SRC candidate and university management. The paper’s publication schedule was put back by two days when the candidate went to court because he wanted his name put on the candidate list.

In March the 2007 editor Carel Willemse said that, “Controversy surrounded the Perdeby office Thursday evening just before we had to go to print. This is the third time I had to change my editorial. I have to censor my thought on this subject because I might just get sued.” Later on 26 March 2007 a “censored” front page was printed because of this. SRC candidate Cobus van der Linde was responsible for the interference with Perdeby and according to university authorities he did not qualify to run for the student body but resorted to court action to be included in the SRC nomination list. In the end he was allowed to run in the election.

In 2008 Perdeby was made an independent organisation on campus. The paper aimed to be a balanced newspaper.
The 2000s also marked the new online era in journalism. In 2009 Perdeby had 20 000 unique visitors on its website each month. Perdeby joined the social media scene in 2009 when a Facebook page was created. In 2010 Perdeby sent out its first tweet on Twitter on 11 April. The 1995 tweet read “Hello, Twitter! Check us out on perdeby.co.za”.
Perdeby’s online presence grew steadily in the 2000s. As people’s involvement online grew, so did Perdeby’s. The paper received 30 000 unique viewers on its website each month in 2011.

 

In 2013...
After many years of struggle Perdeby turned 75 years old in 2013. Ten thousand copies are printed every week to keep the tradition alive. Although the progression toward online content has been slow, Perdeby has created a new and more modern website and receives 45 000 unique viewers on the website each month.

In 2013 an online local news service was also started on the website called Daily Roundup. It offers local, international, sport and entertainment news. Most of the newspaper’s posts are linked to Facebook and Twitter. This is only a small step toward generating online content, but with time appropriate changes can be made.

Perdeby has not only survived for 75 years but has also become a legacy.

 

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