19 October 2011 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

The beat goes on

Drum Magazine is a famous South Africa publication. While today it is a sister publication to Huisgenoot and You magazines, with a weekly circulation of 120 000, in its heyday it gave a unique overview of township life under Apartheid. Each month 240 000 copies were distributed across Africa-more than any other magazine at the time.

The magazine’s impact on South African and African journalism, literature, gender configurations, African resistance, and urban South African culture is well documented by academics and scholars.

All journalism students study how Drum Magazine in the 1950s, reflected the dynamic changes that were taking place among the new urban black South African communities and, how the magazine became an important platform for a new generation of writers and photographers who changed the way black people were represented in society. Its satellite projects throughout Africa cemented Drum’s reputation as the leading magazine newspaper in Africa, with each edition eagerly anticipated in west and east African countries.

This year marks its 60th anniversary.

In celebration of this, there are reports that Media24, current owners of the title, are planning a big birthday later this month, and releasing a commemorative edition of the magazine in November, Drum 60 (and hosting a party at Emperors Palace on October 26).

According to Drum editor, Makhosazana Zwane-Siguqa, Drum 60 will highlight important moments in the magazine’s and South Africa’s history, as well as showcase the characters behind Drum, along with a new generation of authors, journalists and social commentators who have been inspired and motivated by Drum journalists like Henry Nxumalo, Nat Nakasa and Can Themba. There will also be story on Drum’s iconic covers and the famous photographs by photographers such as Peter Magubane, Alf Kumalo and Jürgen Schadeberg.

There is a wealth of information on Drum’s impact and legacy on journalism and popular culture online.  South African History Online, for example, has compiled an interesting history of Drum magazine in honour of its 60th birthday.

The magazine’s covers alone have a cult following, and are often referenced in popular culture and contemporary media in Africa and abroad. For example, Nigerian film maker and photographer Andrew Dosunmu references Drum in his work, Cameroonian photographer Samuel Fasso’s style was influenced by Drum and Nkhensani Nkosi’s fashion label, Stoned Cherrie, has paid homage to Drum in its designs.

Bailey’s African History Archives hold 40 years of material from all the editions of Drum magazine and its various sister publications, as well as a wealth of information on African politics and culture. Earlier this year, its historical covers were celebrated in an exhibition at the Bailey Seippel Gallery.

In 2004, the story of Drum was made into a Hollywood feature film, directed by Zola Maseko and starring Taye Diggs as journalist Henry Nxumalo. The plot follows the story of Nxumalo’s life, and documents the rise of Drum and life in Sophiatown during the institutionalising of apartheid in South Africa in the 1950s.

In 2008, Joburg Style paid tribute to the famous cover that featured legendary South African songbird Miriam Makeba. The magazine’s editor, Clive Vanderwagen commissioned well-known photographer, Steve Tanchell to recreate the image.

There are also a number of great books on Drum, such as “Still Beating the Drum: Critical Perspectives on Lewis Nkosi” edited by Lindy Stiebel and Liz Gunner, “Underground People” by Lewis Nkosi, “Requiem for Sophiatown” by Can Temba, “The Drum Decade: Stories from the 1950s” edited by Michael Chapman, “Azanian Love Song” by Don Mattera and, “Black and White fifities: Jurgen Schadeberg’s South Africa” by Jurgen Schadeburg.

The beat does go on and, I’m looking forward to getting my copy of Drum 60.

Image: The Daily Maverick: “Drum; the original beat of sophiatown’s heart, 60 years later.
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