DIE KNOTT-CRAIGS VAN DIE KAROO: ‘N OUDREDAKTEUR VERTEL

Die Knott-Craigs was dekades lank sinoniem met die Karoo, met name die Graaff-Reinet Advertiser en ander koerante wat op Karoodorpies uitgegee is. Hulle was koerantmense uit ‘n vorige era, die eienaar-redakteurs wat eens die ruggraat van die plattelandse koerantbedryf was.

In sommige gevalle was hulle sommer nog setters ook. Dit was die era van loodsetwerk en drukperse wat intussen skrootwerwe toe geneem is. ‘n Bykans vergete era. Een wat maklik in romantiek toegedraai kan word, maar dit was nie maklik nie.

Gelukkig het Arthur Knott-Craig, voormalige redakteur van die Advertiser, in ‘n praatjie voor die Erfenisvereniging op Graaff-Reinet gesels oor sy familie se betrokkenheid by verskeie koerante. 

Ons behou die oorspronklike Engels:  

“The Knott-Craig family arrived in Graaff-Reinet (from Worcester) on January 3, 1943 on my 12th birthday. The next day, on my dad’s birthday, he turned out the first KC-run Advertiser (KC=Knott-Craig). He was such an accomplished journalist that in a year the circulation rose from 30 copies a week to 1 000.

“I would often get angry when I heard The Advertiser called ‘The Rag’ until I learned that it was a sincere word of endearment. He started the business with a capital of R1 000 and linked up with such successful businessmen as Max Kroon and Bob Murray and the community to re-introduce a newspaper, the fourth oldest in SA (1861).

“The Wharphdale we printed on in that year was what we called the Fairbarn press. You will remember that he fought Governor Lord Charles Somerset for the freedom of the press while in Grahamstown. He was closed down and The Advertiser bought the Wharphdale printing press from him.

“It was a hard to leave the Boland with its grape vineyards and beautiful mountains, and eating the best grapes from the Worcester vineyards, hanging from a four-horse dragged cart, to the dusty Graaff-Reinet, the fourth oldest town in SA. But we sent down roots into this soil and ate juicy quinces, picked from the hedges, and drank water from the Mackies Put ground furrows …

“In Worcester I often visited my dad in his Worcester Standard and Advertiser offices in Adderley Street, and loved the warm smell of paper when I went to greet the staff in the printing area. I smelt that same homely smell when I used to go in at 6 am to switch on the ‘pots’ which melted the lead for the linotypes and intertypes, which set the news and adverts for the make-up team.

“We KC’s had printer’s ink in our blood. My grandfather, John Ziervogel Craig, who is buried in the Anglican Church cemetery, apprenticed as a journeyman with the famous compositor Saul Solomon in Cape Town at the age of eleven years. During his working years as master printer in Kimberley he met up with Cecil John Rhodes who suggested he go into the diamond trade.  He refused as he had just been appointed Government Printer in Basutoland. 

“My dad studied accountancy at the UCT, but when eighteen years old he was appointed as a reporter at the Worcester Standard and Advertiser. Within eight years, with his ability for scoops, he was appointed editor.

“The Advertiser board acquired The Aberdeen Pos, followed by the Oudtshoorn Courant from the Pocock family, Karoonuus (Willowmore),  the Langkloof Uniondale Medium, and then the Jansenville Chronicle (May 1963). Then we also started the Murraysburger, which was established at the request of the community in 1950.

Die eerste uitgawe van Die Murraysburger wat ‘n leser iewers ondek het en aan ons gestuur het. Die koerant is destyds deur die Knott-Craigs begin, maar die krimpende ekonomieë van die platteland het metterwyl die einde van hierdie en ander kleiner dorpskoerante beteken.

“In 1964 we won the Hultzer Trophy for the best improved country newspaper, and we were thrilled when Dr Anton Rupert sent us a congratulatory letter. The Advertiser and The Northern Karoo also received merit awards.

“We also bought Karoo Auctions from Tickey and Tiny van Niekerk where the McNaughton’s bookshop is now, because we needed space for the growing staff. Then we had to translocate the stationery store to Wilbur Buildings in Caledon Street, now called Caledon Chambers. Then when CNA opened here we returned to the Karoo Auctions business. CNA also closed down after a few years when the supermarkets arrived. “I can remember how scholars came to buy their books at our stationery store. My mom, Rae, with staff, even my wife, Jenny, were employed as it became very busy.

“My brothers, Alan and Derek, translocated to Oudtshoorn to reopen the Oudtshorn Courant offices and printing establishment, and under their reign they built up the Oudtshoorn Courant (established in 1879), revived Het Zuid-Westen , C.J. Langenhoven’s  old newspaper, and called it Het Suidwestern, which circulated in towns from George to Swellendam.

“In the Graaff-Reinet area we established the Northern Karoonuus which served the Karoo Midlands region and circulated from Steytlerville in the south to De Aar in the north, and Beaufort West to Cradock and Somerset East is the east.

Die Karooboer is as bylae tot al die Knott-Craigs se koerante gevoeg.

“My brother Angus was chief sales director for the whole group, a part he played well in a difficult field.

“When my dad became known as the press baron of the Eastern Cape,  we were printing on a Heidelberg Cyclinder, at the rate of two pages at a time and with circulation of about 10 000 copies. If there was colour we would have to repeat the whole operation.

“The Advertiser used to be published twice a week, on the Monday and on a Thursday. We discontinued this when the advertising dropped, and concentrated on the broadsheet for all our weekly newspapers.

“It was a hectic rush, from Monday to Friday, especially in the early days when the Oudtshoorn Courant was also printed here. I can remember rushing down to Oudtshoorn on ground roads twice a week to deliver their newspapers for a Wednesday and Saturday .

“I can also remember having to ride to meet At Gouws, our Middelburg correspondent  on Lootsberg so that he could bring us all the news from the north at 6 am every Tuesday morning. The setting machines were hungry every day except on Saturday and Sunday, when we started collecting news for the next week.

Die Advertiser was met sy groen mashoof baie herkenbaar, maar later het dit ‘n rooi mashoof gekry soortgelyk aan ander koerante in die Group Editors-groep. Dit was tekenend van die koerant se verlies aan onafhanklikheid en eiesoortigheid. Maar dit hét die blad se voortbestaan help verseker – vir die oomblik.

“The Advertiser from the 1940’s had a policy of “local news” and I had to attend meetings of town and divisional councils, school board, farmers’ branch meetings, women’s organisations, attend courts, gather and report on as much sport as possible. Puggy Munnik, Theuns Theron and Ulrich Cronje, former head of the HVS, were stalwarts.

“We even trained journalists who went on to the dailies to become the top men and women. Here they learned to do a wide scope of work, and one even became deputy editor of a Bloemfontein Afrikaans daily.

“The Advertiser also employed and trained staff in the printing firm, and at one time we employed about thirty people. Jackie was a Xhosa, and when apartheid came to SA, we retained him despite the laws, and he eventually retired when he reached pensionable age.

“We as young scholars earned 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence) on Mondays and Thursdays. Welcome pocket money. This process was continued when my sons were available, but they earned more.

“Once during a national ‘wool battle’, which started in The Advertiser, we were mentioned in parliament only a few times less than the forerunner, the Sunday Times.

“In the days when Graaff-Reinet people owned most of the businesses, the farmers ran ‘Shop Locally’ campaigns in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce. The Graaff-Reinet Advertiser supported it wholeheartedly because businesses complained that after the divisional councils started tarring the PE road farmers, who were getting high prices of a “pound for a pound of wool ”, were buying in PE. Businesses said ‘we carried you in the droughts’. The farming organisations agreed, and this was ‘their town’, so they backed the campaigns.

“Businesses ran many ‘Wear Wool’ campaigns which the farmers and the town supported. It then went national because it was such great success in the Karoo.

“You must remember that in those early years, we had a big farming population. And we had organised agriculture and wool leaders who spoke with authority. They made the Advertiser great reading.”

Alan het ook vertel van allerlei sportgeleenthede wat op Graaff-Reinet plaasgevind het, telkens met die sterk ondersteuning van die Advertiser. Die blad het uitvoerig (maar versigtig) berig oor heftige meningsverskille oor waterregte. Dit was altyd ‘n netelige saak.

Arthur vervolg:

“It was difficult for a journalist and editor to keep a balance between English and Afrikaans reporting, walk a tightrope when reporting politics. I can recall one election when there were rumours that the municipality was heading for bankruptcy. A ‘leaked document’ on the state of municipal finances was published in a Thursday edition, and the following week, Graaff-Reinet chose a brand new council,” aldus Alan.

“I saw how Graaff-Reinet was growing to become important economic, agricultural and government centres. First came the supermarkets, big petrol stations, growing schools, the new upgrading of the SAP Academy, the training of nurses re-introduced, the growing educational institutions, which have brought lots of tourists into this town by virtue of inter-school derbies … and other sporting events during the school vacations.”

Maar Graaff-Reinet het, soos talle ander Karoodorpe, ekonomies agteruit geboer. Koerante moes sluit of by ander ingelyf word, soos Die Murraysburger, wat later by Die Karoonuusingelyf is.

Die Graaff-Reinet Advertiser behoort nou aan Group Editors (wat ook die George Herald, Knysna Herald, Mossel Bay Advertiser enOudtshoorn Advertiser besit.

Die blad word nou op George gedruk en oorleef danksy samewerking tussen die susterkoerante. Tog, die blad leef voort en dien dus steeds die gemeenskap van Graaff-Reinet, soos wat Allan Knott-Craig einde 2018 in ‘n brief aan sy ou koerant genoem het. Sy brief het onder meer gelui:

“I want to reassure you that you and your staff have done an amazing task in gathering news and advertisements to keep the fourth oldest newspaper in SA going. I doff my hat to you.

“And I know that Graaff-Reinet has appreciated your work in the times of a new era of technology when everybody sits with a mobile and knows what is going on in this world every second of the day. It’s an impersonal world that has invaded the platteland also.

“The Advertiser has survived and is keeping the tradition going of supplying news to the public in the fourth oldest town in SA. What a dreary town this would be if there was not a newspaper, even with what mobiles can supply in an instant …

“In my days as journalist and editor, the town was rather dusty as most of the streets were gravel roads, big gardens that stretched out for a block or two, with vineyards and fruit and vegetable gardens, a market to sell the goods, water in large mud irrigation furrows, officialdom was represented by councils or committees elected by the inhabitants of Graaff-Reinet, schools and a school board run by locals, and shops owned by Jewish people, Afrikaners and Englishmen.

“These formed Chambers of Commerce and Tourism Associations and a very strong organised agricultural.

“We attended these organised meetings, and if the Advertiser was not there you had to have a good excuse, and they used to give you the minutes of the meetings so you could follow-up on strong stories.

“Sport was very well-organised with rugby, bowls and tennis at the top, and swimming to a lesser degree.

“So, what I am saying, we were able to keep the people of Graaff-Reinet abreast of the affairs of the well-organised Gem of the Karoo. The platteland press was big and organised and held many regional meetings that were eventually taken over by the cities. The Advertiserwas well represented. We fought for water from the Orange River Project, we had a Town Council that was represented in Eastern Cape affairs and were one of the leaders of Tourism in the Province.

“Newcomers soon ran roots in Graaff-Reinet with love and pride in the Gem of the Karoo. Gravel roads were soon replaced with tarred roads in and about town. Independently owned shops were replaced by giant supermarkets and agricultural shops and even petrol stations.

“It was an old era starting from the First World War until the Second World War: then came the era of grouping towns and districts, and regionalising everything. This was when people started losing their pride in their towns, and they died.”

Tot sover die gedagtes van ‘n veteraan-koerantman, wat ook lank as stadsraadslid gedien het. Sy familie se storie én die van Graaff-Reinet is ook dié van talle ander koerante, redakteurs en dorpe.

Dank aan Hugo Redelinghuys, huidige redakteur van die Graaff-Reinet Advertiser, wat die toespraak vir ons opgespoor het.

Naskrif:

Die naam Alan Knott-Craig is bekend in Suid-Afrika. Hy is die man wat Vodacom tot ‘n reus uitgebou het en daarna ook ‘n tydjie uitvoerende hoof was van Cell C. Maar min weet dat Alan senior grootgeword het in ‘n koerantman se huis. Sy pa, ook Alan Knott-Craig, was eers op Oudtshoorn en later op Graaff-Reinet saam met sy broer Arthur by die familiebesigheid betrokke. Ons verneem graag meer oor die Knott-Craigs en die ander koerantpioniers. — Johannes Froneman, kurator