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Big birthday bash for 10-year-old KZN newspaper

The isiZulu-language daily title Isolezwe - a star performer both in the Independent Newspapers stable and in the South African media industry generally - marked its 10th anniversary with a celebration at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Thursday, 19 April 2012.
Pictured at the celebration are from left: Mazwi Zaba editor of Isolezwe, Phillida Ellis KZN Marketing Manager and Independent News and Media chief executive officer, Tony Howard.
Pictured at the celebration are from left: Mazwi Zaba editor of Isolezwe, Phillida Ellis KZN Marketing Manager and Independent News and Media chief executive officer, Tony Howard.
Isolezwe (Eye of the Nation) was launched on April 8, 2002 - the first ever isiZulu daily. After an uninterrupted decade of publishing, the newspaper now attracts an average 912 000 (AMPS 2011B) readers every weekday.

Independent Newspapers CEO, Tony Howard, who participated in the celebration, reflected on the success and development of the newspaper whose daily circulation (103 647 ABC Q4 2011) continues to show impressive growth despite the generally declining sales trend in the print industry.

"Isolezwe is a knockout newspaper success story made even more impressive because of its continual growth. This title just keeps on breaking sales barriers showing the sky's the limit when you get things right," said Howard.

"And, of course, the good news is not limited to the daily edition. It extends to our new kids on the block - Isolezwe's Saturday and Sunday editions, Isolezwe ngoMgqibelo and Isolezwe ngeSonto, which continue to make excellent progress in the weekend market.

"As we savour and cheer a decade of Isolezwe, the company's heartiest congratulations go out to the editor and his team as well as the current management structure. At the same time we remember and salute the former editors, staff and management teams for the hard yards they all put in," said Howard.

Editor, Mazwi Xaba says a major highlight of the newspaper's decade for him was launch day. "The morning of April 8, 2002, which happens to be my birthday, lives in my memory. I had been involved in relaunches and redesigns of existing papers but the launch of a new product, now that's something else!

"When the first ever edition started rolling off the presses at Independent Newspapers it was exciting frightening and exhilarating all at once."

What has been a real standout for Xaba is the incredible commitment shown by staff over the years. "I can confidently say that no staff member comes to work to simply do a normal eight-hour shift. Everyone understands that Isolezwe is more than just a newspaper.

"It's about helping our province grow and protecting and promoting the language of our ancestors which is under great threat despite the fact that it's one of the 11 official languages and one of the most widely spoken in South Africa.

"IsiZulu is not only spoken but written and read every day of the week partly because of Isolezwe's existence. That is very rewarding for me."

Philani Mgwaba, Isolezwe's founding editor and now editor of the newspaper's sister title in Durban, The Mercury, said the vibe in the newsroom before the launch was spine-tingling. "In the days leading up to the launch and even months after the first issue some of the senior people in editorial were putting in 16, sometimes 18 hours at work on average, just to get the newspaper out. In fact, the three years I was there, I rarely, if ever, worked less than a 14-hour day!

"It was a brave decision to be involved, especially because a lot of people told us the newspaper would fail, that Ilanga was too entrenched and there was no market for a daily newspaper in isiZulu," said Mgwaba. "Once sales showed the people liked us I felt vindicated and was very happy for my team. I was very fortunate to work with a core of very dedicated colleagues who were passionate about the newspaper and its potential. They made a huge difference."

Circulation growth was phenomenal which kept him thinking the bubble had to burst some time. "Market research had found that our ceiling would be 50 000 copies a day. But we took off like a fighter jet and the success put the editorial team under huge pressure to do better every day," said Mgwaba.

"Thankfully, it got better every day and is still going strong. I couldn't be happier and feel very privileged to have been part of the original team."

Visit the Isolezwe 10th birthday bash gallery.

25 Apr 2012 08:32

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