Tuesday, 19 April 2011

South Africa's Drum magazine turns 60 this month!

Drum was first published in Cape Town in March 1951 under the title African Drum moving in September 1951 to Johannesburg under a new publisher, Jim Bailey. Drum flourished, eventually achieving a circulation of 400,000 copies distributed not only in South Africa but also in Ghana, Nigeria and East Africa.

Anthony Sampson who was editor of Drum in Johannesburg in the 1950s, later writing a memoir of this time entitled Drum: an African adventure and afterwards says of the importance of Jahannesburg, , “Of all South Africa's cities, Johannesburg was the chief magnet. The gold mines below and around the city absorbed thousands of contract workers. They arrived from the rural areas to be kept in batchelor compounds. Then, months later they were sent back to their homes when their contracts expired. This world existed alongside a much more sophisticated black Johannesburg of shebeens, dancehalls, snappy dressers - where life was lived fast, and on the streets. And it was this world which provided much of the creative talent in the magazine Drum.”

Drum walked a fine line in dealing with the subject of apartheid. As confronting apartheid head-on would have led to the publication being - as other publications were to be over the following years, Drum attempted to expose the evils of the racist system without actually condemning official policy.”

While Drum opposed racism and apartheid, some of the key events of the Liberation Struggle were not published. Jim Bailey did not approve the publication of any reports or photographs of the Sharpeville massacre, nor the terrible work and living conditions of migrant workers on the mines.

More information on the history of Drum, is available on the South African History Online website.

The Baileys African History Archive  houses the Drum collection and has digitised many of the images from the South African Drum and its sister magazines across Africa. Images can be searched, viewed and purchased from this site.

The Institute of Commonwealth Studies holds Dorothy Woodson's Drum : an index to "Africa's leading magazine," 1951-1965 , and copies of Drum are held at both SOAS and the British Library.

(with thanks to the Archival Platform)

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