South Africa: Wandile Fana, founder of the Skawara News

Wandile Fana, founder of the Skawara News in South Africa

Rampant unemployment, a lack of state support, corruption – after graduating as a journalist, the South African Wandile Fana decided to set up a newspaper to report on these social ills. On behalf of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ is assisting the South African Government to improve its public services. As part of this mandate, it also promotes local media services like Fana’s Skawara News, which takes a critical stance.

You set up the first newspaper in your region. How did that go?

My wife and I were still students when we decided to set up a newspaper. We never had a newspaper in our region before, let alone one with investigative articles in the local language isiXhosa. The tiny bit of start-up capital we had meant things were anything but easy. Our breakthrough only came about when someone donated a digital RISO printing machine: while in 2007 we started out with 2,000 copies a month, we can now print 20,000. And: black and white is a thing of the past – today our readers are treated to brightly coloured issues.

Where do you get your stories from?

For me it’s important to keep abreast of the latest developments. That’s why I go out a lot and talk to all sorts of people. We have a few online platforms in action, like Facebook, where people discuss various issues and introduce new topics. I even sit in on a council meeting now and then and ask the mayor for his opinion on things. And last but not least, local may be ‘lekker’ – the Afrikaans term for ‘good’ – but people should look a bit further afield. That’s why I research national issues online. I am supported by my team – seven well trained and motivated journalists.

Which topics are more likely to sell?

You need the standard mixture. People here are really interested in local politics, in discussions and decisions that affect them directly. But they enjoy the gossip column, too.

Which story sent sales soaring the most?

Our top seller was actually in our very first issue in 2007. We found out that our mayor was corrupt. Ultimately our reporting led to his resignation.

If you could pen the headline for South Africa’s biggest newspaper – what would you write?

I would lead off with ‘Language is the very essence of a culture’. Regardless of whether we want to advance economically or at a personal level within the community, for me the most decisive thing is language.


        
    
Early morning at Skawara News: Wandile Fana researches the latest topics. Photos: Sascha Glowik
Early morning at Skawara News: Wandile Fana researches the latest topics. Photos: Sascha Glowik

        
    
Editorial meeting: Skawara News employs seven journalists on permanent contracts. Internships are organised regularly too via the Eastern Cape Communications Forum.
Editorial meeting: Skawara News employs seven journalists on permanent contracts. Internships are organised regularly too via the Eastern Cape Communications Forum.

        
    
Fana likes flat hierarchies: He likes to hold discussions with young journalists at his alma mater – Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elisabeth.
Fana likes flat hierarchies: He likes to hold discussions with young journalists at his alma mater – Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elisabeth.

        
    
On his trip round town, Fana pays a visit to his regular customers. A lot of shops have his newspaper on sale.
On his trip round town, Fana pays a visit to his regular customers. A lot of shops have his newspaper on sale.

        
    
The saleswoman trading on the roadside likes to read the paper: 80% of Skawara News is written in the local language Xhosa.
The saleswoman trading on the roadside likes to read the paper: 80% of Skawara News is written in the local language Xhosa.

        
    
Fana thinks it is important to focus on those topics that really concern the people in his region. He welcomes every opinion he gets - for him they are a source of inspiration.
Fana thinks it is important to focus on those topics that really concern the people in his region. He welcomes every opinion he gets - for him they are a source of inspiration.

        
    
Until a few years ago no newspaper was published in this region. Now there is Skawara News – in Xhosa and in colour. And the locals love it.
Until a few years ago no newspaper was published in this region. Now there is Skawara News – in Xhosa and in colour. And the locals love it.

        
    
Unemployment in the region is around 80 per cent. The Skawara News vendors are grateful for this lucrative job: 50 per cent of the sales price is theirs to keep.
Unemployment in the region is around 80 per cent. The Skawara News vendors are grateful for this lucrative job: 50 per cent of the sales price is theirs to keep.