Zwelakhe Sisulu

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Zwelakhe Sisulu
Born(1950-12-17)December 17, 1950
Died4 October 2012(2012-10-04) (aged 61)
ResidenceJohannesburg, South Africa
NationalitySouth African
EducationOrlando High (Soweto)
OccupationJournalist, editor, newspaper founder
Years active1975–88
EmployerSouth African Associated Newspapers
The Rand Daily Mail
Sunday Post
New Nation
Known foranti-apartheid activism and journalism against Apartheid
Notable work
1976 Soweto uprising
Home townJohannesburg, South Africa
TelevisionSouth African Broadcast Corporation
Political partyAfrican National Congress
Movementanti-Apartheid activism
Spouse(s)Zodwa Sisulu
Parent(s)Walter Sisulu
Albertina Sisulu
AwardsNieman Fellowship[1]
Louis Lyons Award for Courageous Journalism[1]
International Human Rights Law Group Award[1][2]
Union of Swedish Journalists Award[2]
Rothko Chapel Award for Human Rights[2]

Zwelakhe Sisulu (17 December 1950 – 4 October 2012)[1] was a South African black journalist, editor, and newspaper founder. He was president of the Writers' Association of South Africa, which later became the Black Media Workers Association of South Africa (or Mwasa), and he led a year-long strike in 1980 for fair wages for black journalists. He was a victim of the Apartheid-era government in South Africa and was imprisoned at least three times for his journalism.[3][4][5] After Apartheid ended, he became the chief executive officer of the South African Broadcast Corporation.[6]

Personal history[edit]

Zwelakhe Sisulu's family is well known for its struggle against Apartheid in South Africa.[7] He was the son of anti-Apartheid activists and African National Congress members Walter Sisulu and Albertina Sisulu. He was the brother of Max Sisulu, Speaker of the National Assembly, and Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Public Service and Administration. His father was sentenced to life in prison in 1964 when Zwelakhe Sisulu was 13 years old.[1]

Sisulu and his wife Zodwa had 2 sons and 1 daughter.[8]


Zwelakhe Sisulu began his career in journalism in 1975 when he worked as an intern for South African Associated Newspapers. He then became a journalist for The Rand Daily Mail where he covered the Soweto uprising in 1976 and remained there until 1978. He was news editor of the Sunday Post (South Africa) until his ban in 1980.[1][4] While at the Sunday Post, he was sentenced to prison for his refusal to reveal information about sources of one of his reporters and he led a 1980 strike which resulted in his ban from journalism for several years. After his house arrest, he was a Nieman Fellow. After his fellowship was complete in 1985, he worked for Sowetan. In 1986, he founded the New Nation (defunct since 30 May 1997),[9] before he was arrested by police and held without a trial as part of the emergency and mass arrests in South Africa at the time. The newspaper was editorially aligned with the African National Congress, which stated on its masthead: "The media of the powerless." At the time it was South Africa's largest black newspaper.[10] After his release from a 2-year detention and after the ban was lifted on the ANC, Sisulu served as Nelson Mandela's press secretary and also the director of information of the African National Congress.[6][11]

In post-Apartheid South Africa, Sisulu became the head of the South African Broadcast Corporation in 1994.[6]

After his stint at SABC, Sisulu founded New African Investments Limited, which is known as the first black-owned business on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and black empowerment.[12] Holdings of the company include the publishing house David Philip, Soweto TV and Primedia Broadcasting.[5]

Early activism[edit]

Zwelakhe Sisulu walked a fine line between journalism and activism already while at The Rand Daily Mail. In 1977, he became president of the Writers' Association of South Africa. As president, he led a march with his fellow black journalists and then was briefly jailed. Sisulu's editor admonished him for his explanation that he was making use of his freedom of assembly. His editor told him, "You don't march, you write."[6]

Sisulu first came to international attention in a case involving the surveillance of black journalists. While an editor at the Sunday Post in 1979, Sisulu was questioned by authorities about his knowledge of a source used by journalist Thamsanqa Gerald Mkhwanazi. Sisulu was sentenced for nine months in prison for refusing to co-operate. For the first time, police acknowledged in his case the practice of using wiretaps on journalists' telephones, which had been widely suspected.[13]

Strike and arrest[edit]

Zwelakhe Sisulu was the leader of the union during Mwasa's strike for fair wages for black journalists in 1980. It was the first strike by black journalists.[1] After the strike was over, he lost his job, was banned from journalism, and ordered under house arrest for three years until 1983. Zwelakhe Sisulu's arrest on 30 June 1981 was attributed to the Internal Security Act. Other leaders who shared the same fate were Phil Mtimkhulu, Mathatha Tsedu, Subri Govende and Joe Thloloe.[4]

He was a Nieman Fellow from 1984–1985.[4]

New Nation and 1986 arrests[edit]

Zwelakhe Sisulu was arrested twice in 1986.

Police swept him away from his home for the first time on 27 June 1986. Sisulu later called them "armed bandits." The government announced his detention one week later. There were calls from abroad to release him, such as one from the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE). He was released on 18 July 1986.[14][15][16][17]

Zwelakhe Sisulu had already been appointed director of the Board for a new organisation ARTICLE 19 at the time of his second arrest 12 December 1986. He was detained at John Vorster Square where other activists were also imprisoned.[17] The organization made his case its first campaign. He was released after two years but not allowed to continue his work as a journalist.[2][10][18] Years later, he stated his belief that the publicity of organisations like ARTICLE 19 during the time of his imprisonment saved his life.[5]

South African Broadcasting Corporation[edit]

He was the CEO of the South African Broadcasting Corporation from September 1994 to 1997.[17] Under Sisulu's leadership in a democratic South Africa, the SABC was reorganized and relaunched 4 February 1996. A controversy was created over the redistribution of resources for other languages besides Afrikaans, which had received special privileges under the Apartheid system.[19]

Later, Sisulu was appointed as a commissioner to investigate censorship at the SABC that had been alleged by whistleblower John Perlman.[20]


Sisulu was awarded an Order of Mapungubwe - Gold, posthumously for "his exceptional contribution to quality journalism; and as a reporter exposing the cruelties of apartheid and encouraging unity among the people of different political persuasions to fight for liberation.")[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Murphy, Caryle (11 May 1988). "Sisulu and the Unity of Struggle; A S. African Journalist, Jailed Like His Father Before Him in a Land He Cannot Forsake". Washington Post.
  2. ^ a b c d "Tributes paid to 'revolutionary journalist' | Media". BDlive. 5 October 2012. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  3. ^ Lewis, Anthony (14 April 1987). "Abroad at Home: To Destroy a Country". New York Times.
  4. ^ a b c d Thloloe, Joe (7 October 2012). "Zwelakhe Sisulu: leader black media could trust, 1950 – 2012". Sunday Times (South Africa).
  5. ^ a b c Sisulu, Zwelakhe (11 December 2008). "Statement by Zwelakhe Sisulu on the Occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Founding of ARTICLE 19" (PDF) (speech). ARTICLE 19. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d Gevisser, Mark (16 February 1996). "South Africa SA's Most Powerful Media Boss". The Mail & Guardian. Africa News.
  7. ^ Carlin, John (12 October 1989). "A family to make Pretoria tremble: Walter Sisulu will leave his cell to join a wife and son who have themselves been restricted". The Independent.
  8. ^ Savides, Matthew (14 October 2012). "Struggle icons bury Sisulu". Sunday Times (South Africa).
  9. ^ African National Congress of South Africa (3 June 1997). "South Africa: ANC Marks the Last Edition Of New Nation". AllAfrica.
  10. ^ a b Brittain, Victoria (7 December 1989). "Editor says black South African paper is threatened with closure". The Guardian (UK).
  11. ^ Kifner, John (21 June 1990). "The Mandela Visit: Mandela Gets an Emotional New York City Welcome". New York Times.
  12. ^ Sapa and Mkhulu Mashau (14 October 2012). "Zwelakhe Sisulu laid to rest – South Africa | IOL News". Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  13. ^ Murphy, Caryle (12 August 1979). "S. Africa Increasingly Restricts Press". Washington Post.
  14. ^ "Black editor abducted / Zwelakhe Sisulu in South Africa". The Guardian (UK). 28 June 1986.
  15. ^ Associated Press (29 June 1986). "U.S. Editors' Society Urges Pretoria to Free a Journalist". New York Times.
  16. ^ "Minister frees detained editor / New Nation newspaper editor Sisulu released by South African authorities". The Guardian (UK). 19 July 1986.
  17. ^ a b c Hultman, Tami (5 October 2012). "South Africa: Zwelakhe Sisulu – a Remembrance". AllAfrica. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  18. ^ Findley, Timothy (21 March 1987). "Writing: the pain and the pleasure The power to persuade is mitigated wherever you turn". Toronto Star.
  19. ^ Golding-Duffy, Jacquie; Pearce, Justin (19 January 1996). "South Africa Is TV Relaunching ... Or Re-sinking?". Mail and Guardian (Johannesburg).
  20. ^ Haffajee, Ferial (13 October 2006). "Inside the SABC blacklist report". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  21. ^ "President Jacob Zuma bestows 2016 National Orders Awards, 28 Apr". South African Government. 20 April 2016. Retrieved 8 May 2016.

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