The Humble Beginnings of a New Era

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By Cassius Tarsisius Masego Moetie It was at the TransNamib Training College, opposite the cemetery in the Pionierspark suburb of Windhoek, during January 1990, that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, under the political head of the first Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Hidipo Hamutenya, gave birth to the New Era Corporation Limited. Hon. Hidipo Hamutenya, better known as HH, was deputized by the late Daniel Tjongarero and Bob Kandetu as Permanent Secretary, and the trio were in charge of the ministry responsible for communicating Government policies, new legislation, developmental programmes and, by so doing, positioning Namibia as the Land of the Brave to the SADC, the African Union, the Non-Aligned Movement and ultimately the United Nations. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting assembled about 26 Namibian men and women from all walks of life at the TransNamib Training Centre, ‘locked them all up’ to undergo a 3-year training programme in journalism to be completed in the space of six months. Experts in the field of journalism were flown in from the UK and South Africa to conduct this comprehensive and very intensive training programme meant to produce excellent journalists to enable the New Era Corporation Limited to penetrate and crack the hard nut of the then Namibian press. The Government of the Republic of Namibia identified the lack of press coverage on the activities and standard of living of the rural people as well as the inadequate newspaper reporting of Government activities and developmental programmes in the vernaculars of Namibia. Hence, the bold step to create the ‘New Era’, despite vigorous resistance by the press and people from certain sectors of the economy. Upon completion of the six months’ journalism training course at the end of July, a graduation ceremony was held on Thursday, August 2, 1990 where only 17 of the total number of 26 completed the programme with flying colours; a few others passed above average, while about three or so dropped out along the way. While the training course was underway, the people’s paper saw its first edition on Tuesday, March 20, 1990, the day that Hon. Pendukeni Ivula-Iithana strongly motivated Sam Nujoma as SWAPO’s presidential candidate to become the President of the Republic of Namibia at a session of the Constituent Assembly, chaired by Hon. Dr. Hage Geingob. ‘New Era’ had a print run of 25 000 copies distributed countrywide at most major outlets where the ‘The Namibian’, ‘Die Republikein’, the ‘Windhoek Observer’ and ‘Algemeine Zeitung’ were for sale. The ‘new kid on the block’ battled for space on shelves and was often concealed under various other magazines. ‘New Era’ was a weekly newspaper with a N$1.50 price tag. The Independence (March 20, 1990) edition was free, unlike all the editions following. The English and Afrikaans dailies at the time always carried one or two articles about ‘New Era’ referring to it as the ‘new error’. Week after week, plenty of ‘New Eras’ were returned unsold from outlets and replaced with new editions carrying excellent and well-written, ‘hard news’ stories, features, profiles and sports, with virtually no advertising in it. The leadership of ‘New Era’ had a very tough assignment and challenge. Rajah Munamava, a seasoned journalist who was exposed to and coached by the internationally acclaimed Gwen Lister during his time at ‘The Namibian’, led ‘New Era’ as editor. Three outstanding foreigners were brought in to help break the monopoly held by ‘The Namibian’, ‘Die Republikein’, the ‘Windhoek Observer’ and ‘Algemeine Zeitung’ and they were all reluctant to welcome ‘New Era’ wholeheartedly into their game. A Zambian national, the late Fred ‘Cheetah’ Mule, referred to as the walking dictionary and expert in the Queen’s language, was the Chief Sub-Editor; Williams Nkuruh, a Rwandese, was the Sub-Editor, and Scottish Hania Janiarek was responsible for the design and layout of the newspaper, while the South African Duncan Guy held the position of News Editor for a short time and was succeeded by Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro. Former mayor of the City of Windhoek, Vivienne Graig, was the Business Manager and experienced the biggest quota of stress for lack of advertisements, poor sales, high returns, lack of space to store old newspapers, and Treasury refusing to grant permission to dispose of old papers or donating them to schools. This was not as a result of incompetence, but merely because the market was difficult to penetrate and the playing field was not levelled for ‘New Era’ to compete fairly. I was in the newsroom, responsible for producing stories on education, trade unionism, politics, health and other hard news as assigned by the news editor. I had colleagues like the late Desmond Basson who was an excellent sports reporter and who could easily and single-handedly fill four sports pages every week. I had other colleagues such as Eve Black, Dr. Ben Mulongeni (before he was appointed Editor of the ‘Namibia Review’ magazine), Alexactus Kaure, Theodora Nandjaa and Fred Mwilima, with information officers, and we were tasked to fill 32 pages every week with quality news that could sell the paper. One Thursday morning, during March 1992, Rajah summoned me to his office to inform me of a directive from management to redeploy me to the marketing department to assist the business manager in generating more income through advertising revenue. I was flattered by the request, and accepted it instantly. I considered taking a crash course seeing I had had no previous exposure to this new challenge. This was promised, but never materialized – again Public Service restrictions made it extremely difficult for ‘New Era’ to adapt to the challenges confronting the paper. I immediately realized the challenge and quickly applied the saying “it is not the strongest who survives, but the most adaptable,” and decided that I needed to teach myself through trial and error. I am fortunately an extrovert, and my background and involvement in NANSO as a student activist helped me a great deal. Our advertising revenue started to gain momentum, and more and more responsibilities were assigned to me to represent ‘New Era’ on various structures of our line Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. It was during the same period that I was inter alia nominated as the stock and transport controller, representing ‘New Era’ on an inter-ministerial Economizing Committee (EC). The terms of reference of the EC were to consider, approve and monitor all budgetary expenses of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. I also represented ‘New Era’ on an inter-ministerial Transport Committee (TC) of which the terms of reference were to supervise, monitor and coordinate transport matters and requirements of the ministry. Part of my job was to ensure that the ‘New Era’ newspaper reached the Democratic Media Holding (DMH) – now John Meinert Printers – in time for the printing job to commence. During September 1992, I was selected by government to undergo an extensive training programme in Indonesia, Asia, in the practice of public relations and communication, a course organized and funded by the UNDP Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC) programme. Nine months down the line – in June 1993 – I was nominated by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, amongst other Namibian journalists, to represent ‘New Era’ on Air Namibia’s inaugural direct and non-stop flight from Windhoek to London which they had launched. Johannes Gawachab was the Public Relations Manager of Air Namibia at the time. The paper, which grew in leaps and bounds, brought out one special supplement after the other, all filled with excellent stories and plenty of display and classified advertising. It was mid-December, 1994 that I tendered my resignation with ‘New Era’ to assume the position of Public Relations Officer of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) on January 4, 1995. Having to give Rajah my letter of resignation was a very difficult thing to do. Fortunately, he was out of town for about a week or so, and I was left with no option but to hand this to Fred Mule who was technically acting on his behalf. My resignation was, without a doubt, a bitter pill for me to swallow. I felt I had betrayed the colleagues I left behind, not only them but more than anything the institution, the ‘New Era’. I can today proudly claim to have been partly responsible for the input in – and the success of – one of Namibia’s outstanding dailies. I will always remain indebted to HH, the late Danny Tjongarero and Bob Kandetu for the opportunity I had at the time. Out of almost 1.5 million Namibians, I was seconded in 1990 by Paul Kalenga (who was NANSO’s National Coordinator) and trained by professionals in journalism through an initiave by Government. This exposure made my entrance into the NBC as its Public Relations Officer easy. My experiences as a journalist and marketing consultant were prerequisites which put me ahead of other candidates during a recruitment exercise at the NBC’s Head Office in Cullinan Street in the Northern Industrial Area. I knew that my move to NBC was strategic because Namibia was honoured to host the Miss Universe Pageant Namibia in May 1995. I was attached, as part of the NBC production crew, to the Miss Universe Incorporated PR team based at the Windhoek Country Club & Resorts. Looking back where ‘New Era’ comes from, where it is today and where it is heading, the paper undoubtedly has a bright future. I constantly have that sense of pride when I visit the Daniel Tjongarero House (‘New Era’ head office). I see and find Rajah Munamava still leading the editorial team. I also see people like Albertina Monde and Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro as the only three left-overs since the launch of ‘New Era’. The newspaper has achieved milestones in a very short time. It has earned huge advertising revenue and its editorial quality has also increased sales volumes over the years. It was transformed into a daily and has secured its own premises. I no longer read in the dailies or hear on NBC’s news bulletins any disturbing comments or findings by the Auditor-General reporting to the National Assembly about administrative and operational challenges of ‘New Era’. This newspaper is still very young compared to ‘The Namibian’, ‘Die Republikein’, the ‘Windhoek Observer’, and the ‘Algemeine Zeitung’ that exists just over 90 years or so. ‘New Era’ still has a long way to go, and that’s why ‘The Namibian’ can afford to invest so much money in football sponsorships; that’s why ‘Die Republikein’ can afford to own such a massive building from where they operate. New Era’s growth is obviously evident, and I am sure HH must be proud to see the success of the project he initiated as the first Minister of Information and Broadcasting. I am equally sure that the late Danny Tjongarero, Fred Mule and Desmond Basson who had fallen, failed to form a strong and solid tripod to rest the success and growth of the New Era Corporation Limited on them. As founder-journalist of ‘New Era’, I read every one of its editions and am often critical of its editorial content. The paper boasts fine journalists and writers – the likes of Rajah Munamava, Mbatjiua Ngavirue (long-time reporter of ‘The Namibian’), and Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro, as well as Freddy Philander (former journalist with ‘The Namibian’), Chrispin (former journalist with ‘The Namibian’), and others. Its news editor, Viola Zimunya, reminds me of Fred Mule whom we had as chief sub-editor in the early days – she is cool and always gives that very unique and deep laugh, even during deadline pressure when the paper has to be dispatched to John Meinert for printing. These are the moments I will always miss as a journalist of ‘New Era’. It is with ‘New Era’ that I learnt to manage deadline pressures, but the good thing was that the pressure and stress were always compensated by your by-line.