For many years since becoming a journalist, Maud Motanyane had envisioned a publication that would pay homage to black excellence that thrived in the midst of oppression. BLQ sat with the pioneer and reminisced about Tribute Magazine.

 

We can never forget the role that Tribute played in re-imaging and redefining the black experience in South Africa 

 

When the opportunity came for Maud to be part of a magazine that would celebrate the achievements of an emergent black middle class, she did not hesitate. Over two decades into our democracy, we can never forget the role that Tribute played in re-imaging and redefining the black experience in South Africa. 

 

The Story of a  Black Publication

An ever-exuberant spirit, founding editor of Tribute Maud Motanyane has worn many hats in her career: social entrepreneur, board member, spa-owner, and journalist. “I’ve reinvented myself many times,” she says, as she reflects on her professional journey. It was as a journalist in 1987 that she took up the role of being editor of Tribute. Tribute was born from her own longing to create a publication for black people and an opportunity presented by Greg Psillos, a publisher who owned two major lifestyle magazines that were targeted at the white English and Afrikaans speaking middle class. “The story of a black publication lived in my head for a very long time. And then I saw an advert in The Star, placed by Greg Psillos, who thought it was a good idea to start a publication addressing the black middle class.”

At the time that she had seen the advert, Maud wasn’t entirely sure of the role that she would play at Tribute but she reached out to Greg with much enthusiasm, knowing that this was not an opportunity she could pass. “I said to him, ‘I don’t care what I come to do there, but I want to be a part of that.’”

When Maud joined Tribute, they were still ironing out the finer details and putting together the concept of the magazine. The publication was intended to be purely a lifestyle and social magazine but Maud had greater plans for it. Upon joining, Maud dedicated herself to finding an editor and writers who would deliver on her vision for the magazine. At the time, as Maud recalls, it was taboo to show off your wealth – being middle-class was perceived by many as being counter-revolutionary; you were seen as participating in a capitalist system that thrived on the oppression of black people. They approached various people, offering them the opportunity to be involved with Tribute, but there were no takers.

Coming across writers who saw the vision and were willing to be associated with Tribute was no easy task. Those who did agree to write wanted to do so anonymously. Maud then decided to approach Professor Es’kia Mphahlele. “I was looking for someone to write opinion pieces with substance.  I thought of Professor Mphahlele. Before approaching him, I prepared my speech. I had read Down Second Avenue. I knew everything I needed to know about him. I told him who I am and what I wanted to do. I said only one sentence and he got it. And he said I’m in.”  Soon after getting Professor Mphahlele’s buy-in, Maud managed to get her colleagues from The Star to jump on board.

 

 

“Tribute Magazine was started in February 1987 in response to a wave of optimism in the budding black middle class that the tide was irrevocably against the apartheid system in South Africa. The addition of Professor Mphahlele – Head of Wits Department of African Literature, internationally accomplished scholar and cultural activist – to the editorial team of Tribute magazine was an endorsement that reinforced the publication’s position in the marketplace.” – Maud Motanyane.

 

Tribute sought to affirm the place of black people in South Africa

 

One of the challenges that Maud faced was explaining why the magazine was called Tribute. She would often be asked, “a tribute to whom? There is the PAC and the ANC, to whom are you paying Tribute.” Maud’s answer was simple: “You can honour any black person, anywhere…it was a tribute to black excellence.” It became very clear to everyone that Tribute was not going to be a partisan publication; it was going to be about honouring every single black person who was making great strides in a time when blackness was associated with poverty and stagnation. As Maud so beautifully articulates, the objective of Tribute was to show South Africa that “black people survived and prospered in spite of Apartheid and not because of it… If you understand the spirit of resilience, you know that it doesn’t come only on the war front, there are many ways in which people fight and advance the struggle – the essence of the magazine was to highlight that.”

A month before the launch of Tribute, they still had not found an editor for the magazine. Maud recalls, “The publisher calls me a month before and says, ‘We don’t have an editor, what are we going to do?’ So I said, “I’ve edited the magazine, I will be the editor.’ That’s how I became the editor of Tribute. He was not totally confident, nobody was. But I was confident because the idea was in my head and I felt it in my heart.”

So began the journey of Tribute, with Maud at its helm. When the first issue came out, congratulatory messages started pouring in. People started seeing and believing in Maud’s vision. “People started buying in and feeling it. When you see it, it resonates. It’s something that you feel in the gut. You can’t explain it, you feel it.” 

 

Promoting the Development of Dynamic Black Potential

“Tribute Magazine is the member of the battalion of the mighty force of the continental movement for change and renaissance. By honouring these distinguished and gallant Africans today, men and women, you are confirming this long-held view that out of Africa comes excellence. By reporting on the positive images of Africa without glossing over the negatives you are in your small way making a dent against Afro-pessimism so dominant out there.” – Thabo Mbeki speaking at the Tribute Magazine Forum on Africa Day, 25 May 2001.

In a time when black people were regarded as lesser mortals incapable of making a significant economic and social contribution to South Africa, a time when the government wanted nothing more than to stultify black existence, there was a need for a different narrative. Tribute came into the scene to dissociate blackness from images of poverty and constant torture. “Tribute’s philosophy at the time was very simple: There was no virtue in poverty.”

All of the content, including the magazine covers, was about celebrating men and women who were vehemently working towards redefining economic and social power in South Africa. The content in Tribute highlighted the achievements of individuals who, as articulated by Sbu Mngadi (editor in 1995), while “still very much on the fringes of the mainstream economy, were also laying the foundation for economic emancipation.”

 

 

The writers of Tribute included the likes of Lizeka Mda, Chris Moreko, Nokwanda Sithole, Sol Magaputlane and Jon Palmer. “We attracted a lot of people who could be somewhere else but chose to be at Tribute.” The notable Es’kia Mphahlele wrote for Tribute between 1987 and 1998; his monthly column, ‘From My Notebook’, dealt with issues ranging from education, social consciousness, political analysis and criticism, to the exilic condition and the difficulties of returning home.

 

Black people survived and prospered in spite of Apartheid and not because of it

 

Nokwanda Sithole, who was editor in 1991, once explained that the purpose of Tribute was to “represent and to realise those areas of the black South African experience in which lifestyle signifies a challenge to the rhetorics and actual physical boundaries through which apartheid tried to secure white superiority.”

In its own unique way, Tribute was a revolutionary publication that sought to affirm the place of black people in South Africa and in the world. The magazine played an important role in showing people that blackness exists outside of subservience to whiteness. Tribute thus became a powerful symbol of black pride and black aspiration.

While Tribute was established as a lifestyle magazine targeted at the upwardly mobile black middle-class, it focused on so much more than fashion and high society news. Maud was faced with the challenge of convincing Greg Psillos to see that Tribute needed to offer more than social pages. “I had always believed in the importance of having good role models … but we also set out to strike a balance by covering the politics and the economic and corporate struggles of black people at the time. Tribute had to be contextualised and we had to struggle hard for it to be accepted.”

Maud and the editorial team at Tribute always made sure that they selected covers that represented everything that Tribute stood for. The covers transcended visual aesthetics and beckoned the reader to be introspective. “It was not about celebrating fluff. We had made a decision that our covers were going to speak to the essence of the magazine.” The beautiful Innocentia Meophuli – award-winning model and ‘it girl’ of the time – graced the cover of the first issue of Tribute. We see her adorned in a headscarf, her face demanding the viewer’s attention and her piercing gaze shouting, “I am here.” Her appearance on the cover represented, as articulated by academic Sally-Anne Murray, “visible black success within a predominantly white and white-owned South African commodity industry.”

“I am certain it would not be far-fetched to compare the journalism of Tribute Magazine with the kind of journalism that seeks to affirm an African perspective that sees its mission as primarily being to build, develop, trumpet and take pride in the achievements of our communities.” – North West Premier, Edna Molewa, speaking at the re-launch of Tribute Magazine in 2006.

 

 

Continuing the Legacy of Tribute

Through its articles, essays and poetry, Tribute played a remarkable role in highlighting what black people can achieve in the midst of adversity. The magazine was successful in saluting the unsung heroes and heroines who were quietly changing the face of society and providing black youth with positive role models.

As we continue to strive for excellence in our professional and personal lives, let us remember those who came before us. Let us remember the brave and determined men and women who paved the way for our success. The road is long and there is still so much to be done for the black child, but we are achieving greatness day by day. May we continue from where Tribute left off and celebrate black excellence in all spheres of society.