Schalk Pienaar (1916 - 1978)
The Order of Ikhamanga in
Profile of Schalk Pienaar
Schalk Pienaar was born in 1916 in a small Karoo village called Merweville. He and his three brothers received their secondary education at Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch. After matriculating, Pienaar went to study at the University of Stellenbosch where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Languages. Owing to his exceptional educational achievements and talent, Pienaar was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University in England.
In 1949, Pienaar took an extended trip through Africa and was inspired by the rising African nationalist sentiments he observed throughout the continent. This experience was to have a profound and life-changing impact on him, and continued to influence the work he produced throughout his life.
Pienaar took up a career in journalism at Die Burger in 1937. Rising through the ranks, he later became the assistant editor and parliamentary columnist at Die Burger – a position that enhanced the influence of his ideas in society. Although a large portion of his journalistic career was with Die Burger, he is particularly remembered as editor of the new national Sunday paper Die Beeld (later to become Rapport) in Johannesburg in 1965 - 1970. He also later returned briefly as editor-in-chief of the new Johannesburg daily paper, Beeld, in 1974. Pienaar earned a reputation as a journalist who carefully used humour not only to entertain, but mainly to enlighten his readership.
Largely through Pienaar’s aggressive and daring questioning of the status quo, the Die Beeld on Sundays grew to become one of the most popular newspapers in the Johannesburg area. Pienaar is most noted for unrelentingly challenging the apartheid government’s racist policies and thus forcing the regime to engage with some really thorny issues facing the people of South Africa. It is widely held that, during this period, Die Beeld published a wider range of political opinions than had been allowed in government-supporting newspapers. Given the ferocity with which the regime dealt with its critics, Pienaar’s opinions were generally regarded as an act of courage and bravery.
Pienaar’s reputation for being an enlightening writer was entrenched in the Afrikaans media. Editing an influential newspaper such as Die Beeld was not only a rare achievement, but was also a position that came with serious challenges and manifold pressures. After five years of editing this newspaper, Pienaar’s health began to deteriorate and he was diagnosed with cancer.
He eventually left the paper, but continued with regularly write high-profile columns on the South African newspaper landscape.
Schalk Pienaar’s legacy is his ability to make other Afrikaners question the morality of apartheid and to enable them not only to ponder the possibility of change, but accept it as a real prospect. Thorough his daring questioning of the status quo, Pienaar led a generation of Afrikaner journalists who were more open and prepared for the transition that took place later on. The transition came to show that Pienaar was a journalist with foresight.
Unfortunately, he did not live to witness the seismic changes that he predicted about the future of South Africa’s socio-political situation. After a long battle with cancer, he finally succumbed to the disease in 1978.