Publish and be Damned
Two Decades of Scandals
Author: Chris Steyn-Barlow
368pp; size 242 X 168mm
32pp of black and white and colour pics
Published by Galago
Bar code: 9-7819-854205
Chris Steyn-Barlow became a journalist by an unexpected twist after she took a secretarial post at the Sunday Tribune's Johannesburg's bureau. She
proved herself a useless secretary but her boss, the legendary Viv Prince, sent her out on stories instead of firing her. Her first job was to interview British fashion guru, Mary Quant, and ask if it was true she had her pubic hair shaved into a heart shape. Horrified at the prospect, she still passed her first journalistic test by asking that question. Quant answered in the affirmative!
Her short stint on the Sunday Tribune was followed by two-and-a-half years under The Citizen's very difficult Johnny Johnson. The late Johnson had started his career as a copy boy at 13 and went on to become the longest serving editor in SA press history. She learned the craft of investigative journalism the hard way under his tutelage; on the city's back streets writing stories about politics, crime, disasters and tragedies; rubbing shoulders with criminals, drug addicts and prostitutes.
Poached by the Rand Daily Mail she continued to develop her own hard-nosed style of reporting. Spells at The Star and the Cape Times followed. She
was subpoenaed to give evidence against witnesses to the so-called zero-zero hand grenade incidents in the East Rand where the fuses had been covertly converted to instantaneous settings by the Security Branch C later admitted by them at a TRC hearing. Chris fled to the UK and worked for The Times of London to avoid giving evidence until the subpoena was withdrawn and she was able to return home.
After her return she was arrested for taking part in a demonstration where journalists protested the new emergency regulations that had placed onerous restrictions on press freedom. For many of her stories she dug in sensitive political areas where many editors were afraid to trespass, one describing her as an 'unguided missile'.
After a second spell at The Citizen she spent time writing murder mysteries and freelancing for magazines. In her final years as a reporter Chris was appointed editor of the Independent Newspapers Investigative Unit where she uncovered major political and criminal scandals.
Do you remember the headlines about the Stander gang, paedophile Gert van Rooyen, the security police’s dirty tricks around the Boesak affair or the National Intelligence Agency bugging scandal? The Bronberger interviewed Chris Steyn Barlow about the crime, cruelty and corruption uncovered by this newshound who married the founder of Executive Outcomes and started the
near Rayton with him. Chris Steyn reveals all in her book Publish and be Damned with the tantalising sub-heading Two decades of Scandals. Cowboy School
Bronberger - Pretoria
Publish and be Damned contains saucy stories of South African scandals. As a seasoned journalist the author saw and experienced a lot. This book presents a unique insight into news occurrences.
Chris Steyn-Barlow entered the world of journalism the way women have always entered the career world — as a secretary. But her incompetent fielding of phone calls and her uncanny knack for finding the truth in a story led her through SA’s newspapers and politics and into its courtrooms and legal system.
Somewhere between exile and arrest, Steyn-Barlow investigated stories she believed needed to be printed whether scandalous, outrageous, politically incorrect (and from both sides) or just plain seditious.
Steyn Barlow went behind the lines, below the belt, over the top and slipped under the fence to get to the truth. In this biographical look at her own life, we can join her on a journey of 20 years of eye-opening journalism that helped shape the country we have today.
The Citizen — Sheana Campbell
If you really enjoy reading detective thrillers and novels about undercover secret agents plus scandal at the very highest level, you will certainly want to read this book. The one great difference is that everything you read is based on fact and deals with real life South Africans who had been front page characters in all of our media over many years. Facts are revealed that were often suppressed and even played down by some in the media. Few journalists were willing to dig as deep as Chris Steyn-Barlow did. The fact that she is still alive to tell all the shocking details is a bit of a miracle. We also learn how difficult it is to run a newspaper and for editors to take decisions that could land them in serious trouble. Often they are criticised by fellow editors for taking a stand and publishing details of corrupt and shady dealings of high profile personalities that some media would prefer to ignore. There is no doubt that after reading this work one must have greater respect for journalists, their editors and their papers. They are in the forefront of a battlefield filled with landmines.
Chris started in a secretarial post at the Sunday Tribune’s
bureau but was sent out by her boss, Viv Prince, to interview British fashion expert Mary Quant. That proved a success and from there she moved to The Citizen under Johnny Johnson, who was a tough relentless editor who started his career at the age of 13 as a copy boy and became the longest serving editor in South African press history. From him she learnt the craft of investigative journalism the hard way, to cover stories on the back streets, writing about politics, crime, disasters, and tragedies, rubbing shoulders with criminals, drug addicts and prostitutes. She later also worked for the Rand Daily Mail, The Star, The Cape Times and for a while, The Times in London. She was eventually appointed editor of Independent Newspapers’ investigative unit, where she uncovered major political and criminal scandals. Johannesburg
She writes that some stories are quickly forgotten, even by those who write them, if not by thosethey are written about, Other stories are neither forgotten nor forgiven. The ‘Boesak Affair’ was such a story. She had no way of knowing that it would transform her from an accidental journalist into an enemy of the state. She adds that many staffers at The Star doubted that Harvey Tyson would have the guts to publish the Boesak story. They were wrong because he ran with the story.
Then there is a chapter titled Sex and Death in the Cabinet which concerns the then Minister of Environment and Water Affairs, John Wiley, who apparently committed suicide, and the sexual goings on at
. Bird Island
A great deal is written about her close links with General Hendrik van der Bergh of BOSS, whom she respected highly and who often gave her inside information that few other journalists were privileged to. Then there is the sensational bugging story that appeared on February 21 1995 when the National Intelligence Agency had tried to spike, under headlines such as ‘Govt bugging exposed’ and ‘Big Brother is listening’. The introduction to the story read: ‘Thousands of international of international as well as local telephone calls and fax communications are being intercepted — many unlawfully and unconstitutionally — by the South African intelligence community from a to secret facility.’ Steyn-Barlow also revealed that even the office of the Commissioner of Police George Fivaz was being bugged. The Minister of Justice, Dullah Omar, reacted by stating that the story was false and ‘he accused critics, including private espionage companies run by agents of the former government and the media, of trying to undermine South Africa’s newly integrated intelligence service’.
To this the Pretoria News, amongst others, commented: ‘Equally predictable Mr. Omar took refuge in politics in answering to parliament last week. It was a hoary political dodge, trying to shift attention from the issue at hand by raising suspicions about the motive for disclosures. It is known as shooting the messenger. This newspaper and others in the Independent stable published the report because the State activity was news, unlawful and unconstitutional.’
These are only a few titbits of the personalities and events that she so professionally covers and that should be of great value, not only the toe average reader but to anyone doing research on the events of the past half century.
Cyrus Smith —
She (Steyn-Barlow) relates her role in reporting matters as diverse as the Stander bank robbery gang, the Van Rooyen paedophile horror and the NIA bugging scandal where government was caught spying on its own ministers. She recounts the progression of her stories in minute detail . . . What comes out of such blow-by-blow reporting is an insight into how all parties — editors, reporters and government officials — respond to emerging facts and how they all work their separate agendas, sometimes courageously, often not. The bugging story for example shows up the bravery and cravenness of prominent media figures and Mo Shaik is revealed as the bullyboy who’s quick to intimidate in his attempts to have a story quashed.
Steyn Barlow spent some years in exile after police ordered her arrest over her refusal to give evidence on the Duduza dirty tricks mission in which rigged explosives killed eight liberation fighters . . . Publish and be Damned has some interesting nuggets on stories that made the headlines from the late apartheid era into the transition to democracy.
This is a peek behind the headlines. Chris Steyn-Barlow’s journalistic career started as a secretary at the Sunday Tribune. Twenty years later she’s one of
’s best investigative journos and this book chronicles the fascinating stories behind some of her scandalous headlines. South Africa
Woman & Home, South Africa
We're rather short of investigative journalists in this country,with reporters preferring, as a whole, to sit at desks and wait for the phone to ring rather than go out and shake the bushes until the rats start running. What a pity that Chris Steyn-Barlow, with whom I once worked, is no longer active in the field.
When I first met Chris she was very young, very keen and quite unhyphenated. When last encountered, at the funeral of our former editor, Johnny Johnson, she was accompanied by the cause of the nominal modification, husband Eeben Barlow, the Executive Outcomes founder.
Talking of names, I'd better make it clear at this point that I wasn't the naughty sub-editor who, she complains here, once changed her by-line on The Citizen to Christ Steyn.
Anyone who worked for Johnson, and who picks up Publish and be Damned, is guaranteed to first check every index reference to this malign but hugely talented editor. We can't help it. He was that kind of person. But it's a mark of Steyn-Barlow's maturity that she's able to be fair about him without pulling her punches. Some of his behaviour was detestable and she bore the brunt. But she admits, too, just how much she learned.
There are eerie precursors of present-day scandals in Publish and be Damned. Take, for instance, the photo of smarmy drug dealer Vicky Goswami in an ingratiating close-up with Nelson Mandela. Goswami became one of Chris Steyn's targets and her disclosures effectively forced him out of
when the usual police ineptitude would have let him continue his foul work. South Africa
As for the title of Steyn-Barlow's book, on the surface it's flippant, even irresponsible. It comes, of course, from the famous retort of the Duke of Wellington, when top tart Harriet Wilson threatened to publish her memoirs and his letters. But if you think investigative writers like Steyn-Barlow don't give a damn about the effects of their writing, then I urge you to read her account of the Boesak affair.
She's utterly honest about the excitement of being the first to break a major story; equally so about the agonies of introspection., the fears of being used for someone else's agenda, or being set up to take a fall. In the Boesak affair case, of course, the old SA Police Security Branch were unveiling the man's tacky behaviour for their own ends.
For both journalists the activists, the fact that Boesak was a courageous, effective fighter against apartheid should have secured him for exposure by the liberal, English language press. The editor of The Star at the time, Harvey Tyson, thought otherwise. And events much later, which culminated in a prison sentence for the Teflon cleric, confirmed that no one, however eminent his struggle credentials, should be exempt from critical examination.
When I knew her at The Citizen, and later at The Star Chris Steyn came in for a lot of flak, usually from those who hadn't a fraction of her dedication, or confused political correctness with journalism.Malicious and very silly gossip sought to make a point about the fact that she was, and is, attractive. Yes, I saw some hugely talentless women get jobs with Johnny Johnson because he fancied them and while slavering after them, would write and re-write their mediocre copy. Steyn, however, had both talent and application.
Another allegation was that Steyn was a government spook. Curious, calling someone an apartheid spy when she caused as much embarrassment and chagrin to the old regime as anyone else. But that's what jealousy does. She comments, after putting up with such nonsense: 'I also have the small satisfaction of having found out that some struggle journalists who looked down on me had themselves unwittingly worked for the Security Branch and other apartheid spy agencies. They had been false flagged to believe they were in fact working for the British or another foreign agency. Serves them right for wanting to join an intelligence agency in the first place while working as a journalist!'
I also enjoyed the way Steyn personalised her account and wrapped up the story. Anyone who takes up fencing and manages to become a national repesentative in her 40s, as she did, is tough.
Read this book to understand the thrill of the chase for the truth.
Jim Mitchell, The Star
"a brave journalist"
I have to confess a bias - I've met the author. But her book is a revelation for women in journalism and for the history of investigative journalism in South Africa in the 1980's. And equally a good read for women who want to find their own limits. The stories she tells are good, and so is the woman behind the stories.
Christine Gordon - as reviewed on www.amazon.co.uk
Congratulations on compiling a phenomenal book! I was riveted from the first moment I picked it up until a few moments ago when I finished!
I enjoy all literature dealing with the ‘former unpleasantness’ in South Africa and was astounded to note how many of these events were covered by you! You manage to convey these stories in a very informative and entertaining manner and lead me to a level of understanding which I previously did not have!
Your mention of BOSS/NIS/NIA spooks, listening centres and dirty tricks left me craving more, whereas your description of events surrounding Gert van Rooyen, and possible involvement from government officials, sent chills down my spine...
Regrettably I cannot convey my appreciation and enjoyment of your book in quite as elegant a tongue as you have written it in, but being held spellbound over the last week is the greatest compliment I can offer.
Do take care, and please advise when you’ll allow the rest of us in on the deliberate blanks left..