Selling sex, crime & soccer to South Africans

Africa, October 31, 2016 – Afrol

South Africa’s popular and successful ‘Daily Sun’ has published its 1000th edition, after reaching a brand new readership among poor South Africans with its focus on violence, sex and sports. Front page images of the controversial daily are often shocking, but revealing of township realities.

This month, the ‘Daily Sun’ has published its thousandth edition – something very few media analysts expected as Deon du Plessis launched the paper four years ago. Nobody expected a newspaper targeting poor blacks living in South African township to be able to survive for a long time – simply because this big segment of the national population did not read newspapers.

Now, they do, thanks to Mr du Plessis’ publication. And the daily has developed into an incredible success story. By now, some 500,000 copies are sold each day, making it South Africa’s most circulated newspaper, read by an estimated 4 million people daily. And it has made its owner, Media24, a profitable company, even if a copy of the tabloid only costs rand 1.50 (euro 0.16).

According to Mr du Plessis, an almost 100 percent of the readers of the ‘Daily Sun’ are black, live in townships outside the centres of South Africa’s main cities. Most are men and ordinary workers and poor. As a favourable factor, in contrast to the rest of Africa, this underclass is not analphabetic.

How did the ‘Daily Sun’ make this large population segment buy newspapers for the first time? The answer is obvious. It writes about issues concerning the township population – ordinary people and their problems with crime and violence dominate the front page, added with stories about sex and soccer.

‘Daily Sun’ front pages are always controversial and only seldom a pretty sight. On 13 June this year, a photo of the maimed face of taxi driver Michael Xulu documented the mistreatments by his chief – Mr Xulu was “forced to drink petrol and set on fire” – after his taxi was stolen.

On 3 February, it documented the gang-rape of a 13-year-old girl by 18 schoolboys. On 2 October, the dead body of a man struck by high voltage dominated the front page. On 24 October, a photo of a mob beating a thief as “the cops didn’t come, so the people took action” was on the front page. Chief editor Themba Khumalo calls it “woderful picture,” because it shows that people are “tired of these criminals and start defending” themselves, according to ‘Der Spiegel’.

Violence and crime – committed by and against poor blacks – this correlated with the issue township dwellers experience as their gravest problem. Despite the statistical fact that murder and heavy crimes are indeed becoming more seldom, the fear of crime and the feeling that the problem is only expanding is general in South Africa.

Also lighter title stories are published, including stories saying that “werewolves really exist”, reports on “dogs eating their owner,” “pythons in our taxis” and a woman falling off a flying carpet (“I think it was too small for all of us”). Reports on witchcraft are daily. Only stories about the white and the rich are mostly missing in the ‘Daily Sun’.

This populist editorial line also has brought the ‘Daily Sun’ much criticism. It accused of cementing racial segregation through its focus, of contributing to spread unnecessary fears, of sensationalism and of contributing to stupidity in readers. Prominent South Africans, such as media researcher Guy Berger and South African Editors’ Forum chairman Joe Thloloe, claim the ‘Daily Sun’ is not into real journalism.

This criticism is however far outweighed by the respect the publication has earned for “making new newspaper readers out of millions of South Africans,” as a government website admits.

As for the horrible front page photos, which would be rejected by almost all other media, South African the press council on several occasions has commented that the ‘Daily Sun’ is only documenting realities in the townships. No complaints against the paper have so far led to any negative reactions by the council, let alone by the judiciary.

‘Daily Sun’ staff know they are only reflecting realities in the townships, and consciously try to part of that life with an aim to improve the living conditions of its readership. Contrasting other media, Sun staff also is counselling its readers, wanting good advice on how to tackle daily problems. An average of 200 persons comes each and every day, underlining the paper’s position as an important institution in the townships.