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Sun, 02.11.1951

Drum, South African Magazine is Published

*The publication of DRUM is celebrated on this date in 1951. This is a South African (now) online family magazine.

Drum is noted chiefly for its early 1950s and 1960s reportage of township life under apartheid. In 2005 it was described as "the first black lifestyle magazine in Africa", from July 2020 the magazine became an online magazine.  Drum was started in 1951, as African Drum by former test cricketer and author Bob Crisp and Jim Bailey an ex-R.A.F. pilot, son of South African financier Sir Abe Bailey.

Initially, under Crisp's editorship, the magazine had a paternalistic, tribal representation of Africans, but within a short time Crisp was replaced and the emphasis moved to the vibrant urban black townships. The paper in its early years had a series of editors: Anthony Sampson, Sylvester Stein, and Sir Tom Hopkinson.  Drum's heyday in the 1950s fell between the Defiance Campaign and the tragedy at Sharpeville. This was the decade of potential Black emergence, the decade when the Freedom Charter was written, and the decade when the ANC alliance launched the Defiance Campaign.

The aim was to promote an equal society. The Nationalist government responded with apartheid crackdowns and treason trials. It was also the decade of the movement to the cities; it was a time of optimism and hope. DRUM was a "record of naivety, optimism, frustration, defiance, courage, dancing, drink, jazz, gangsters, exile and death". DRUM described the world of the urban Black; the culture, the color, dreams, ambitions, hopes, and struggles. Lewis Nkosi described DRUM's young writers as "the new Africans cut adrift from the tribal reserve – urbanized, eager, fast-talking, and brash."  

DRUM's cast of Black journalists included Henry ("Mr. DRUM") Nxumalo, Can Themba, Todd Matshikiza, Nat Nakasa, Lewis Nkosi, and others. Together, they were known as "the DRUM Boys". This group lived by the dictum "live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse". Most of these journalists went on to publish works. The other journalists who worked there include Bessie Head, Lionel Ngakane, Richard Rive, and Jenny Joseph. It was not only the writers–the pictures were also important.

The main photographer and artistic director were Jürgen Schadeberg, who arrived in South Africa in 1950 after leaving a war-ravaged Berlin. He became one of the rare European photographers to photograph the daily lives of Black people. He trained a generation of rising black photographers, including Ernest Cole, Bob Gosani, and later Peter Magubane. Magubane joined DRUM because "they were dealing with social issues that affected black people in South Africa. I wanted to be part of that magazine". Alf Khumalo was another well-known photographer on the staff. Henry Nxumalo was the first journalist and specialized in investigative reporting. Todd Matshikiza wrote wittily and informed jazz articles about the burgeoning township jazz scene. Dolly (the agony aunt) helped many a confused, young lover to get their lives back on course.

The "Dear Dolly" letters were written by Dolly Rathebe, a popular actress, pin-up, and singer. They were ghosted by other DRUM writers, notably. The office telephonist, David Sibeko, became the leader of the Pan-African Congress.  DRUM also encouraged fiction, from 1955 to 1957 editors encouraged and guided this. During that time over 90 short stories were published. These stories described the people of the street; jazz musicians, gangsters, shebeen queens, and con men and were written in a uniquely Sophiatown-influenced blend of English and Tsotsitaal. This creative period has been called the Sophiatown renaissance.

The backbone of the magazine was crime, investigative reporting, sex (especially if across the color line), and sport. This was fleshed out by imaginative photography. The formula worked and made for compulsive reading. Each issue of DRUM was read by up to 9 people, passed from hand to hand on the streets, in the clubs, or on the trains. It became a symbol of Black urban life. 240,000 copies were distributed each month across Africa. This was more than any other African magazine.  DRUM was distributed in 8 different countries: the Union of South Africa, Central African Federation, Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

Because of the (then) immovable force of apartheid the promise and dreams it described turned to frustration and despair. In 1955 Sophiatown was bulldozed, and the writers died or went overseas, and "...The creative output of the Sophiatown Renaissance came to an end as the bulldozers rolled in."  In the 21st century, it is mainly aimed at black readers containing market news, entertainment, and feature articles. It has two sister magazines: Huisgenoot (aimed at White and Coloured Afrikaans-speaking readers) and YOU (aimed at demographically diverse South African English-speaking readers of different ethnicities to inform, inspire, and entertain them by offering its brand of coverage on current events and interesting people).



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