An Apartheid-Era Journalist Returns to South Africa

Now retired, Don Knowler was dismayed by what he found.

When Don Knowler journeyed back to the site of some of his most historic reporting, he was treated like a celebrity. Once fellow tourists on the South Africa tour bus learned that he had chronicled for The Star the Soweto anti-apartheid uprising (which began on the morning of June 16, 1976), they wanted to pose with him for photos.

The broader message of Knowler’s piece in Australia’s The Mercury newspaper is much more sobering. For a great many members of the black majority that rose up, life these days for them and their offspring is not much better:

To say I was disappointed on return is an understatement.

Having written about the black struggle for so many years — I became The Star’s correspondent in the last two years of the Rhodesian liberation war leading to the independent Zimbabwe — I had expected more from the new South Africa, as I had expected from the emergent Zimbabwe. I had hoped the wealth and affluence of the white suburbs of Johannesburg, and indeed South Africa, might have transferred to the black population in general. From what I could see the daily grind and struggle was much the same as during the evil days of apartheid.

Knowler goes on to detail some of the sights that drew him to this conclusion, which include the emergence of Sandton and Gateway as alternative city centers. A powerful and eloquently written piece. Knowler is retired now, but used to work as an editor for The Mercury.

Some readers may recognize Knowler’s name from The Falconer of Central Park. He recently republished his 1984 book about life in Central Park, written when he was a London-based journalist, adding a new introduction.

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@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.