Greens and guns: a former journo reminisces

Let me thank all those readers who found the memories of my newspaper career expressed in a recent column, entertaining.

Here are two more.

PERSONA NON GRATA: The author will never forget the time Transkei president Chief Kaiser Matanzima told him the Daily Dispatch had been banned from the Bantustan
Picture: FILE/DAILY DISPATCH

Many of you will remember Donald Woods, a renowned former editor of the Daily Dispatch who fought so courageously against racial discrimination in this country and whose steadfast beliefs had him banned from his career at the Dispatch in the 1970s.

Woods deprived people in this part of the world of a warm-hearted thoroughly decent human being when he left the land of his birth for life in exile. Wherever he went, the charismatic Woods was the source of optimism, laughter and rare wit.

The first of these reminiscences is a joyful recollection and the second a little more serious.

Both will remain in my mind as long as I live and happened a long time ago.

The first concerned a casual Saturday morning golfing encounter involving myself, David Denison, Ted Holliday and Woods.

Denison was the Dispatch golf writer and the only regular golfer in the group.

Hollidy was at the time a Dispatch assistant editor and a former Fleet Street journalist, later a valued colleague of mine at The Rep in Komani and a personal friend of Wood’s.

It was a lovely morning at the East London Golf Club.

The first incident came on one of the front nine holes, which caused great mirth.

It was Holliday’s honour to drive first. He addressed the ball carefully, as he approached everything in life, whacked down on it and we all duly gazed into the middle distance to see where it had landed. No sign of it.

It had landed – this is the gospel truth – in his shirt pocket!

By some freak accident, Holliday mistimed the drive so much that the club must have clipped the ball in a way that made it jump vertically off the tee and landed slap bang in his top pocket.

Holliday and the rest of us dined out on that for many years to come!

The other equally comical episode concerned Woods at the 18th hole.

In those days, the 18th was endowed with a gentle incline to the top where it dog-legs to the left and then downhill to the final green alongside the clubhouse.

It was a truly disastrous hole for Woods. He topped his drive and the ball rolled a few metres off the tee.

To cut a hilarious story short, he hacked his way forward until his fourth stroke put him in a great position for an unimpeded shot at the green.

Truly a man for the occasion, he stepped up and struck a magnificent wedge which saw the ball slowly drift in on a whisper of an easterly breeze to plop down a metre or so from the pin.

He duly holed to the warm applause of onlooking golfers enjoying a pre-lunch drink in the clubhouse who believed it to be a birdie three. In fact, Woods had carded a six. Always the showman, this didn’t deter him from doffing his cap and bowing to the crowd.

And that, dear readers, is grace under pressure.

Alas, all three dear and talented friends have laid down their pens so to speak and departed this earthly life.

And then there was the time in Komani (Queenstown back then), in the late 70s or early 80s I think, which still evokes a small smile but wasn’t amusing at the time.

I had arrived at work one morning and the switchboard operator told me in awed tones that Paramount chief Kaiser Matanzima, president of the Transkei, was on the line and wanted to talk to me.

I took the call in my office.

“Mr Beningfield,” he said, “would you do me the honour of meeting me at my Great Place tomorrow morning at 9am? There is something important I wish to discuss with you.”

I agreed, not knowing for what reason I was being summoned.

The president’s Great Place was near Cofimvaba, about 80km outside Komani.

I duly arrived there the following morning, parked the car in the driveway whereupon half a dozen heavily armed men sprung from the shrubbery and escorted me inside.

The president was extremely courteous, apologising for any inconvenience caused.

He wasted no time in informing me that he was banning the Daily Dispatch from the Transkei with immediate effect and wanted The Representative to be the Transkei’s official newspaper.

Apparently one of the Dispatch journalists had got up his nose after being warned several times not to write about a certain subject.

Would I accept?

I said I would give it serious consideration.

“Very well then”, he said.

“My brother George, the Prime Minister, will attend to the details, go and see him in Umtata.”

Later it occurred to me that I had not told the chief that The Rep and the Dispatch fell under the same umbrella!

So the next morning I made the trek back to the Great Place, where the chief told me it was of “no matter” to him. Well, the matter caused quite an upheaval in East London, with executives scurrying around to find an amicable solution. I never did find out what that solution was but after a week or two the ban was lifted and things returned to normal.

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