Mail & Guardian

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The Mail & Guardian is a South African weekly tabloid newspaper, published by M&G Media in Johannesburg, South Africa, with a strong focus on politics, government, the environment, civil society and business.


The Rand Daily Mail

The Weekly Mail

The newspaper was initially started as an alternative newspaper by a group of journalists in 1985 after the closures of two leading liberal newspapers, The Rand Daily Mail and Sunday Express.

The paper, originally known as the Weekly Mail, was launched on a shoe-string budget of R50 000 (about $7 000), and relied for its survival on the often unpaid labour of a small staff and part-time volunteers. The early shareholders were liberal professionals, academics and business leaders who contributed a few thousand rands each as a gesture towards maintaining a tradition of critical journalism in an increasingly harsh political climate.

Since the fledgling company could not afford to buy mainstream technology, the paper was produced entirely on personal computers, becoming one of the world's earliest examples of Apple Macintosh-based desktop publishing.

During the Eighties, the Weekly Mail built up an international reputation as a vocal apartheid critic, leading to a number of clashes with the government that culminated in the paper's suspension in 1988.

The paper became a must-read for anyone interested in South African politics, and it built up a readership ranging from the still-jailed Nelson Mandela and the exiled African National Congress (ANC) leadership to key foreign policy decision-makers in Washington, London and Bonn. Indeed, it was an article in the Weekly Mail (describing plans for secret talks with the ANC) that precipated the resignation of apartheid president PW Botha.

In a frightened era when newspapers routinely vilified the ANC and its leaders as "terrorists", this was the first paper to put human faces to ANC leaders and provide balanced accounts of their activities and policies. It was also the first to discuss sympathetically such "fringe" issues as environmentalism, gay liberation and gender.

It was the first paper whose news selection was colour-blind. All South African newspapers of the 1980s were aimed at racially defined markets, either black (Sowetan) or white (Business Day). Those newspapers that did reach black and white audiences (such as The Star, or The Rand Daily Mail) provided separate "white" and "township" editions.

It was also the first newspaper to cover the emerging indigenous culture that arose in the early non-racial bars in central Johannesburg such as Jameson's, Kippies and the Black Sun; the fringe cabaret; and "cross-over" music.

In 1991, the Weekly Mail, together with The Guardian in London, broke the "Inkathagate" scandal, which described how police funds were being secretly channelled to the Inkatha Freedom Party to block the ANC. Two Cabinet ministers fell from grace in the wake of the scandal and the weakened National Party government of FW de Klerk was obliged to reopen its stalled talks with the ANC.

Inkathagate was also the beginning of a closer relationship between the Weekly Mail and The Guardian, which bought a large share in the Weekly Mail and helped stabilise the small paper's precarious finances for the first time.

The Mail & Guardian

In 1995, The Guardian became the majority shareholder in the paper, which was renamed the Mail & Guardian.

With the arrival of democratic government in 1994, many observers predicted that the Mail & Guardian would lose its purpose – and its voice. But in fact it has adapted admirably, and average circulation has gone up from about 25 000 a week to between 40 000 and 50 000 per week. Its bumper year-end Christmas edition, famous for its extensive report cards on all ministers in the Cabinet, sells easily double that.

The newspaper has demonstrated it is capable of being no less critical of the new dispensation than the old, without deviating from its former humanist philosophy. It is now particularly well known for its investigative reporting, particularly into corruption.

It has an acclaimed arts section, titled Friday and containing features and reviews as well as extensive entertainment listings, and a popular business section. Its Monitor section focuses on good governance and social development. It also carries international and Africa news.

The paper has also found international credibility, winning the British IPD Best International Newspaper Award in 1995, and the Missouri Medal for Distinguished Journalism in 1996.

In 2002, The Guardian reduced its shareholding to 10%, selling a majority share in the newspaper of 87,5% to Newtrust Company Botswana Limited, owned by Zimbabwean publisher and entrepreneur Trevor Ncube. Having relocated to South Africa, Ncube also took over as CEO of the company.

The Mail & Guardian newspaper and Mail & Guardian Online (see below) position themselves in the market as South Africa's quality read, aimed at the intelligentsia. The paper has been criticised for being expensive and ignoring its roots in the alternative press.

The newspaper's headquarters are in Rosebank, Johannesburg, with smaller bureaux in Durban and Cape Town. The editor of the Mail & Guardian is Nicholas Dawes and the CEO is Hoosain Karjieker.

The Mail & Guardian Online

In 1994, the Mail & Guardian Online was launched in conjunction with the predominantly Afrikaner-owned Media24, becoming the first internet news publication in Africa.


For more information

See the M&G website at

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