Percy Tseliso Peter Qoboza (1938 - )
The Order of Ikhamanga in
Profile of Percy Tseliso Peter Qoboza
In South Africa today, a generation of journalists still swear by the name Percy Qoboza. Percy Tseliso Peter Qoboza was born on 17 January 1938 in Sophiatown, Johannesburg. He completed a Theology degree in Lesotho and began his journalism career in 1963 at The World, a newspaper for black readers in South Africa. He was appointed news editor of The World in 1967 and its editor-in-chief in 1974. His tenure at The World coincided with the highly repressive apartheid era in South Africa, when the political resistance, particularly of the oppressed black population, had been effectively paralysed through ruthless measures in the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960.
During this repressive political climate, Qoboza built The World into the largest daily newspaper that articulated the concerns and aspirations of black South African. He criticised the apartheid government relentlessly for its racist and oppressive laws against black people, making him an unmistakable enemy of the regime.
Nonetheless, in 1975, he won the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University, where he learned much about race relations as well as advanced journalism. Fired up by the academic stint at Harvard, he continued to criticise the government on his return in 1976 and his influence on the people was far-reaching.
After the 1976 Soweto Uprisings, Qoboza continued his condemnation of the oppressive laws in the country, and he was frequently subjected to intimidation, interrogation and arrest. He was one of the few who dared report on the Soweto Uprisings while journalists were banned from the besieged township.
In 1977, Steven Bantu Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness Movement, met his brutal and lonely death at the hands of the security forces and Qoboza criticised the murder profusely in his newspaper. In the subsequent crackdown against opposition activities, two newspapers, The World and The Weekend World, were banned.
Qoboza was again arrested without charge and detained for six months. He was released in March 1978, following an international outcry, and worked for another black weekly, The Voice, which was to suffer the same fate of banning. Following this, he worked as editor of the Transvaal editions of both the Daily Post and the ostSunday P, which had considerable black readership.
Political pressure and harassment forced Qoboza to move to the United States of America (USA) where, as guest editor at Washington Star, he raised the plight of South Africans. In various other forums and capacities, such as editor of Third World and UN Affairs, he laid bare the brutality of the apartheid system to the world.
He returned to South Africa in 1985 and became editor of the weekly, City Press, whose readership subsequently swelled to about 200 000. Although it was owned by the pro-government Afrikaans press group, Nasionale Pers, he was allowed unfettered editorial space, which he used to criticise the apartheid system in its last years.
Percy Qoboza was an achiever of his time in journalism, who is immortalised for the timeless values that he embraced. An avid author and journalist, he was a symbol of the fight for press freedom, journalistic excellence, black readership and equality in the society till his death in 1988, the year he celebrated his 50th birthday.
Qoboza received numerous awards, including the Ethical Humanist Award from the New York Society for Ethical Culture in 1978, for striving for human rights and justice in South Africa in the face of the worst repression and harassment.
He also received honorary doctorates from Tufts University and Amherst College in the USA and was awarded the Golden Pen of Freedom from the International Federation of Newspaper Proprietors.
Today, the Percy Qoboza Award, named in his honour, is still conferred by the National Association of Black Journalists in the USA to international journalists who overcame serious obstacles to produce quality journalistic pieces.