The first edition of Toverberg Indaba

In 1990, Maeder Osler, founder of Toverview, founded a monthly Colesberg newsletter called Toverberg Indaba, and served as its co-editor until its closure in 1997. All the issues published over those seven years are being digitised, and can be accessed elsewhere on this website. In this article, Maeder reflects on how Toverberg Indaba started, its first issue, which appeared in July 1990, and its implications for the Colesberg of today.


TOVERBERG INDABA emerged in July 1990 in an unlikely place and at an unlikely time — after years of grinding political conflict and social tensions, and at the very start of the transition to democracy. At the same time, South African society was already changing rapidly, and the effects were also felt in rural communities.

It was only six months after the unbanning of the ANC, PAC and other organisations and the release of Nelson Mandela and other leaders, and only two months after the historic Groote Schuur talks, aimed at setting the constitutional negotiations in motion. It was a time of change but also of great uncertainty, and people swung between hope and despair. This turbulence also extended to the media, whose established (and largely sectional) publishing models were suddenly being called into question, and mainstream and rural publications were doing their best to adapt and survive.

In this febrile atmosphere, I thought the time was ripe to put a long-held dream into practice, namely to establish a monthly newsletter for the entire Colesberg community. After local consultations, I asked Franz Kruger, then head of the Eastern Cape News Agency (ECNA, who currently reaches journalism at Wits University), to facilitate its establishment. Franz was initially wary, but eventually dispatched an ECNA representative, Graeme Arbuthnot, who drove for five hours from Grahamstown (today’s Makhanda) via Cradock and Steynsburg, and then along the long gravel road running west towards Hanglip Farm.

Spectacularly, just before getting there, he lost control of his car, and smashed through the fence of neighbouring Alartsfontein Farm, then owned by Albertus Geldenhuys. Generously, Albertus repaired the fence at his own cost while Graeme and I drove the 40 kilometres from Hanglip Farm into Colesberg. Our destination was the Karoo Law Clinic in Colesberg’s main street, run by Advocate Antony Osler on behalf of Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR).

The founding meeting

At that time, the Karoo Law Clinic was the only place where this sort of meeting could take place. There was a lot to do. Graeme helped us to debate and decide on our aims, strategies, policies, structures, and processes. The Law Clinic bravely decided to host the journal. Oupa Mpekula, one of two para-legals at the LHR, agreed to serve as voluntary co-editor. Charles Mayaba, the other para-legal, and Antony Osler agreed to contribute on a voluntary basis. Other volunteers somehow appeared to help us launch the publication, and keep it going. We went on to choose a name, decide on a format, and design a masthead and logo.

Charles Mayaba on the stoep of the Karoo Law Clinic, 1991. Photo: Leadership Magazine.

We also decided to publish  items in three languages — isiXhosa, Afrikaans and English — thereby reflecting our intention to reach all members of our community in practice. This complicated production, but we managed to maintain this policy until the end.

Design and layout

Production was a complicated and often frustrating process. Desktop Publishing (DTP) had begun, but we were slow adopters, and revert to a hybrid form of phototypesetting, using paper galleys instead of phototype. A Canadian NGO had kindly donated a word processor and laser printer to help us with production.

Production was managed by Peter Westoby, who had retired to Colesberg following a career in advertising in Gauteng and West Africa, and was an expert in design, typography and photography – albeit in ageing technology.

Moe specifically, the news reports and articles were formatted on the desktop computer and then printed out on the laser printer. These were cut out in the correct widths and lengths and pasted on to master pages or templates, together with the headlines and captions. Spaces were left for the photographs.

This was a laborious process, which kept on changing from one edition to the next. The master pages were then taken to the printers where the photographs were screened, mainly by Peter, and pasted in as well. The pages were then photographed, and plates were finally made.

Westoby was a demanding and meticulous worker (and also quite eccentric). The process was always volatile, marked by highs and lows, excitement and panic, always ‘on edge’ until the print run and collation.


Toverberg Indaba was an A4, 12-page newsletter, made up of three A3 sheets which were folded and stapled. It was first printed and bound at the Komweer Drukkery in Phillippolis by a flamboyant (and helpful) printer, Gey van Pittius. who said he had previously been a missionary. Every so often, his old printing press would break down. He would then load it onto his bakkie and take it to a nearby farm to have it fixed – usually by means of welding.

When we started, it was midwinter, and bitterly cold. Peter Westoby and I drove the 65 kilometres to Phillippolis several times, sometimes returning  quite late at night. Occasionally Peter would stay over when there were major problems in screening the photographs. A pleasant and obliging young worker from the local township helped where she could. The rest of the town was enveloped in silence, but they seemed to be watching …

Eventually, to our great delight, the first copies rolled off the presses and were collated. We then drove through to Colesberg to start distribution. As far as I remember, the initial print order was 1 000.


Copies were placed for sale at about 15 distribution points, including two garages, the law clinic, and several cafes and restaurants. Copies were also sold on the streets, in the town centre and in the townships. The initial sales price was the princely sum of 20 cents.

While in principle Toverberg Indaba was meant to be sold, this remained problematic. It was difficult to recover the sales revenue from the various outlets, and many copies were simply given away. After a few years, we decided to hand out the newspaper for free. Very few businesses were bold or brave enough to advertise, so from the start, advertising and sales revenue were heavily outweighed by print, telephone and travel costs, among others, and remained that way until the end.


The entire first edition can be accessed elsewhere on this website. Looking back, it vividly evokes events, concerns and community life at that time. Given that we were embarking on something of a tightrope, we chose a relatively ‘safe’ environmental issue for the page one lead. However, more contentious issues were also covered. Some of the volunteer contributors and people mentioned in the various articles are still alive, and can still be traced today.

While no major provincial or national issues were covered, this first issue does speak of change. At that time, cell phones and the internet did not exist – at least, not where we were – and there wasn’t very much to read – a few magazines, and a conservative, Afrikaans-language newspaper published in Bloemfontein, three hours hours away on the N1. At that time, TV was restricted to a privileged few. We would like to think that we made a positive contribution. Looking back, the initiative was as democratic as it could be in a rural area at that time.

The key issue

When one looks back at this issue, published some 33 years ago, on the cusp of the transition to democracy, it strikes one that some issues have since faded, but others remain relevant. This raises the question: what has changed since then, and what has remained the same? Put differently, to what extent has the transition to democracy fulfilled its promise embodied in the constitution of 1996 to create a better life for all South Africans, in the cities and the rural areas? This issue is becoming increasingly relevant in the run-up to next year’s general elections, and we intend to canvas it in depth on this website in the months to  come.

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