Former press ombud remembers colleague Nat Nakasa

Joseph Nong Thloloe, is a veteran journalist with over 50 years’ experience in print and broadcast journalism. From 1977-1994 Thloloe was a writer and reporter for publications such as The World, Rand Daily Mail, Golden City Post and Drum magazine, where he worked closely with renowned journalist Nat Nakasa. This week the remains of legendary South African journalist Nat Nakasa were brought to South Africa from the United States. Thloloe was at Nakasa’s welcoming back into the country.

Veteran Journalist, Joe Thlole. Photo: Provided

Veteran South African journalist and , Joe Thlole.
Photo: Provided

Nakasa had written for Drum Magazine, the Rand Daily Mail and the Golden City Post (now City Press). Nakasa won a fellowship to Harvard University but was refused a passport by the Apartheid government. Instead he took an exit permit, which would not allow him to return to South Africa, and began his life in exile in 1964. He committed suicide in New York over a year later.

How do you feel about Nakasa’s remains being brought back to South Africa?
Yesterday’s event generated a turmoil of emotions for me – joy, sadness and anger.
Joy that Nat’s remains were finally home after decades of efforts.
Angry that South Africa could have treated such a talented young man the way we treated Nat, and sadness that his family and relatives were not meeting Nat in the flesh.

What is it that you will never forget or hold closely about Nakasa’s personality and professionalism?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Nat was prophetic in his writing and his lifestyle. He refused to bow to the dictates of the National Party, raising the possibility of a non-racial South Africa, and living in what he called a “fringe society” People of various colours lived and played, an island of non-racialism in the middle of apartheid.

What do you believe is most fundamental to his legacy?
He will always be a symbol of what should never ever happen again in this country.
The apartheid government attempted to curb his freedom of expression, freedom of movement and his freedom of association. We should never allow that to happen in this country.
For journalists, he will always be a reminder that they need to ask the hard questions, and get to the truth, whatever the consequences.

Were there any decisions on Nakasa’s formal burial ceremony date?
His will be buried at the Chesterville Heroes Acre [in KwaZulu Natal] on September 13.

From Orlando East township to the stage of the Wits Great Hall


A WONDERFUL AND WELL-DESERVED HONOUR: Joseph Thloloe, a respected South African journalist, received his honourary doctorate from Wits University on April 3, 2014. He is pictured here at a celebratory lunch. Photo: Luke Matthews

Growing up on the dusty streets of Orlando East, Joseph Nong Thloloe never imagined himself standing on the stage of one of South Africa’s most prestigious academic institutions.

Known to many as Joe, Thloloe, one of SA’s most respected journalists, was awarded his honourary doctorate by Wits University earlier today.

Thloloe humbled and honoured 

“It is very humbling being recognised for the small decisions I’ve made throughout my life,” said a clearly-emotional Thloloe.
In his speech at the graduation ceremony in the Wits Great Hall Thloloe said, “Even in my wildest imagination, I never conjured up a moment like this, where the University of the Witwatersrand would honour me”.

“Today’s scene wasn’t in my mind as I was growing up in the dust of Orlando East … it wasn’t there as I languished in police cells and nursed tortured body and soul after police interrogations”.

Thloloe went on to thank Wits for the honour and congratulated the graduands of 2014, inspiring them to “celebrate … and prepare to move on to even greater heights”.

The Wits Journalism department nominated Thloloe for the honourary degree, noting in their nomination that he has “worked tirelessly from his teenage years for the general betterment of his community, for political change and for socially responsible journalism”.

Thloloe absolutely deserving of the recognition

The nomination also hailed Thloloe “for his role in campaigning against apartheid, a principled non-violent stance that he held to staunchly” and his position as a senior editorial member of the Sowetan, where he was “instrumental … in promoting alternative and public forms of citizenship and nation building among black South Africans”.

According to Nita Lawton-Misra, Wits acting registrar, Thloloe was awarded his “Doctor of Literature for his valuable contribution to South African society in the field of journalism”.

[pullquote]”I think he’s a fine role model for the kind of commitment and courage that we hope to cultivate in students”.[/pullquote]

Anton Harber, head of the Wits journalism department, feels Thloloe’s achievement “was wonderful and overdue”.

“Joe absolutely deserves the recognition, but from the point of view of our department, I think he’s a fine role model for the kind of commitment and courage that we hope to cultivate in students”.

Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, project coordinator of Wits Justice Project, believes, “The more we move away from 1994, the more we forget what people like Joe went through”.

“He’s a stalwart and really someone to look up to”, said Erfani-Ghadimi.

Thloloe was also awarded an honourary doctorate in law in 2011 by Rhodes University for his political activism in the fight against apartheid. He is the former South African press ombudsman and now director of the South African press council.