Nieman News

Text from a Nieman news release issued in 1987.

Zwelakhe Sisulu, an opposition newspaper editor jailed by South African authorities, has won the 1987 Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism, the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University announced.

Sisulu, 37, editor of the Johannesburg-based New Nation, was chosen for the award by a vote of the 20 members of the Nieman Fellow Class of 1987. The award, named in honor of former Nieman curator Louis M. Lyons, recognized Sisulu’s courage and dedication in providing South African blacks with an alternative voice amidst harsh efforts by the South African government to quell a dissenting press. Sisulu has been detained without trial under South African emergency regulations since December 12, 1986.

“As far as I can tell, Mr. Sisulu’s only ‘crime’ has been to speak his mind,” said Mike Pride, editor of the Concord Monitor, who with other American and South African journalists nominated Sisulu for the award. Pride and Sisulu were members of the 1985 Nieman Fellows class.

In the letter nominating Sisulu, the New Hampshire editor praised the New Nation for “vibrant, aggressive reportage and a desire to be a voice for justice and reason in South Africa. This is a logical extension of Mr. Sisulu’s previous efforts as a reporter, an editor and a leading organizer of black journalists. These earlier endeavors led to better conditions for black journalists, but the cost to Mr. Sisulu was banning and imprisonment.”

The weekly tabloid is sponsored by the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and it was founded by Sisulu in 1985. Last summer Sisulu was detained for several weeks only to be released and arrested again in December. He also served several months in detention in the late 1970’s and he was “banned” between 1981 and 1983. He was a founding president of the country’s black journalists trade union and a reporter and editor for several daily newspapers in South Africa.

The black journalist is a member of a prominent family of antiapartheid activists. His father, Walter a leader of the outlawed African National Congress, was convicted of treason along with Nelson Mandela and six others in 1964. His mother, Albertina, has been a leader of the umbrella opposition group, the United Democratic Front, and his brother Max is an exiled ANC leader.

“Zwelakhe Sisulu is an activist and a leader in a struggle,” said Albert L. May, chairman of the Nieman awards committee “His weapons are ideas and the printed word against an opponent who answers with force. It is in honor of that journalistic tradition and Mr. Sisulu’s courage that we bestow this award. Freedom of the press has yet to flourish elsewhere in Africa but in South Africa there is a government that claims a democratic western tradition and then makes a mockery of it by putting editors in jail.”

May noted that Sisulu is the third South African journalist to win the Lyons award in the last five years. The 1983 award went to Joseph Thloloe, who was jailed for owning a banned book, and Allister Sparks received the 1985 award for courageous reporting in South Africa.

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