Mono Badela

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Biographical information

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Synopsis:

Eastern Cape Journalist, particularly known for his journalism that helped to put major trade unions, along with the PE Black Civic Organisation (Pebco) and the Congress of SA Students (Cosas), on the national political map (1970s)

First name: 
Mono
Last name: 
Badela
Date of birth: 
circa 1937
Date of death: 
November 2002

The biography below is from a tribute to Badela written by Prof Guy Berger, the head of the department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University (2002).

"Mono Badela - South African journalistic legend"

"How does a young white South African become a journalism professor, getting there via political imprisonment, time in exile and a job in the alternative press? The answer is: the influence of Mono Badela - a veteran East Cape journalist who passed away this week at the age of 65. Two strokes, diabetes and high blood pressure took their toll on a life that had been tough, yet nothing could ever quash the pressman's characteristic optimism.

That quality was evident in Badela's bylines that came to national prominence on this paper's predecessor - the Sunday World, banned in 1977. His articles caught my eye as a young student at the time because they brought inspiring news of otherwise-unreported heroic struggles.

It was Badela's journalism that helped to put major trade unions, along with the PE Black Civic Organisation (Pebco) and the Congress of SA Students (Cosas), on the national political map.

It was thus an awesome occasion when I met the man in person in 1979. Commenting on him this week, a former colleague and now editor of The Star, Moegsien Williams, described Badela as a uniquely "generous, kind, friendly and warm person." These characteristics shone very brightly at that first encounter in 1979.

Even more impressive at that time was his confidence and complete lack of fear. It was no big deal for Badela to take us to a whites-only Wimpy Bar and to turn a blind eye to the security police tailing him. The same cops showed a special interest in him when interrogating me a year later, yet they could never quite convict him in court. So they harrassed him instead - in 1980 banning him - thereby prohibiting his writing, as well as ordering house arrest for a full three years.

What also riled the racist authorties was his founding role in the non-racial Kwazakhele Rugby Union (Kwaru), which began to attract white players like the Watson brothers. The police also resented him chairing the Media Workers Association of SA (Mwasa) in the Eastern Cape, (and again in later years when he helped to found the Association of Democratic Journalists).

Strengthened by Badela, I got deeper into struggle activity, soon ending up with three years in prison. Released in 1983, I met this hero once more when the United Democratic Front got off the ground and I did media work for the movement. He translated into isiXhosa a text written by Valli Moosa, now Minister of Tourism and the Environment. "I've added some pepper and spice to this," he chuckled.

But in 1985, his house was devastated by three petrol bombs, and he was later kidnapped by political elements opposed to the ANC. They warned him to resign from City Press, his employer at the time, and left him severely assaulted, with a gaping wound in his head.

When I returned from exile and ended up as editor of the alternative Cape Town weekly paper, South, in 1992, Badela was already there as one of the paper's top correspondents. At short notice, he could find an amazing story for the front page. He could call sources like General Bantu Holomisa at all hours - and was so liked by his sources that he never trod on sleepy toes.

By that point, he and his wife Vivian had paid another price and experienced the pride - and the pain - of parents whose first-born joins the armed struggle. Brenda, who is now 39, was a former Cosas leader who left the family to spend eight years in exile and the ANC underground.

"My father strived and made a difference to South Africans and the press in general," she said this week. Her former husband, Andile Ngcaba, now director general in the Department of Communications, commented: "He was one of the people who pioneered the press freedom which we have written into our Constitution today."

The man's passing leaves behind his wife Vivian, children Brenda, Phikolomzi and Zwelethu and grandchildren Khusela and Anda. Besides Badela, the Eastern Cape is known for another outstanding South African journalist - Donald Woods. And just as Steve Biko educated and inspired Woods, so did Mono Badela transform my life. Both figures had much wider impact of course. But for a wide-eyed boy from the white suburbs, Badela made a profound mark and has left a powerful legacy for me".


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Last updated : 30-Sep-2011

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011