‘We’re going to the newspapers about this!’ — Memories of Newspaper House

Newspaper House ©Independent Newspapers

Newspaper House ©Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 22, 2024


So, ​recently I saw and shared the video of Independent Media moving out of Newspaper House in St George's Street in Cape Town. ​

End of an era, old photographs, bygone days, and a lovely sense of nostalgia. Thanks to Ian Landsberg​ for the video.

I first stepped into that building in 1971, thanks to my late gran, who took her family on a cruise from Durban to Cape Town over New Year.​ There were 12 of us, my gran, four of her five children, and their kids. A mix-up with departure of the Pendennis Castle, and additional fees due by passengers, had my gran in top f​orm. ​We'd all booked out of the old Claridges Hotel in Green Point, but were not permitted on board. Everyone was getting so worked up, not being able to board to sail back to Durban after a glorious holiday.

"Come, we're going to the newspapers about this!" ​gran fumed. We left part of the family at the terminal to look after our luggage, and the rest of us traipsed from the ​harbour (long before the V&A) to Newspaper House, where my gran said she wanted to speak to the editor of The Argus about the entire palaver.

The receptionist le​ft, and we wait​ed in this semi-passage area, with a piano against the wall. Waiting.

"Come on, T, play us a tune," my gran suggested to me, amid the tedium.

So there I am playing The Sting, with typewriters and loud conversations going on in the background​ in the newsroom beyond.

Soon enough, a reporter emerged, and my gran told him all about how we're not paying "a cent more" to stay on the ship an additional night.

We walked all the way back, by which time a photographer and reporter were ​already in action, with angry passengers and the captain and crew at loggerheads in the terminal building. Flash-guns, ​interviews, everything.

In a flash, we're all told to board the vessel, without further fees due, or hard feelings.

"All aboard!', ​my late uncle Douglas yelled, and we're back on the grand old dame.

My gran was one of my heroes, always ​working hard, saving her money and travelling abroad, on her own or ​with her sister, aunty Tom. Coming back with stories and gifts, and hugs and encouragement. ​That day in Newspaper House my gran introduced me to journalism, and the power of the press​, its duty-bound quest to look out for the ordinary folk. ​Speaking Truth to Power.

She also got my young mind thinking about apartheid and racial discrimination. She’d often be heard saying: “I don’t like the way the Nats (ruling apartheid government) treat black people.”

My gran was always so proud that I was a journalist, telling everyone.

So a few years ago, I walked back into Newspaper House for the first time since the ​dramatic near-mutiny, but this time as an employee of Independent Newspapers.

I paused in a passageway, near the marble lift hallway, on my way to HR.

At that moment, I held my gran close to my heart. I cast my mind back, heard the lilting, teasing notes of The Sting, the sound of typewriters clanging away, and the vibration of the printing presses gr​owling away below.