Sunday, March 26, 2023

Tribute to a ‘jokesmith and wordsmith’

I feel rather ashamed to pen this tribute almost two weeks after the ‘departure’ of Charles ‘Charlie’ Mogale, who is now probably settled in Heavensville. Or is it Paradise?

The news of Charlie’s death only reached me this past Saturday, the day he was buried at the Jacobskop Cemetery in Vereeniging. It had been eight days since Charlie took his last breath on the Friday of 10th August and I only got to know about it from Botsalo Ntuane who sent me a message that read in part, “The legendary raconteur and joker; ex Botswana Guardian editor, Charles ‘Charlie’ Mogale is gone. A veteran scribe….and not even a piece in the local papers!”
And he was right.

The failure by our local newspapers to report on the death of Mogale is the reason I remained in the dark about his death. I must admit for the past few weeks I haven’t been following events in South Africa, well, save for the brutal killing of miners by the South African police and that I got to know through a friend, Settie Sebera, because Btv jumped for the story with such unbridled zeal.

Even though I had no access to South African newspapers in the past two weeks, all that time I never missed any local newspaper and those who know my appetite for reading will tell you that once I grab a newspaper, I read from the first to the last page and, as such, I’m very certain none of our local newspapers had found the passing away of Mogale as news worth sharing with the nation.

It’s sad because even though he was a South African citizen, the story of Botswana journalism can’t be complete without the inclusion of names such as Charles Mogale, who was Editor of Botswana Guardian between 1985 and 1987.

On the 10th of June 1987, Mogale was arrested by the Botswana security operatives for what was only explained to be ‘security reasons’. Mogale was among foreign journalists who suffered the wrath of presidential deportations in the 1980s when a number of foreign journalists who were working for the private media were declared Prohibited Immigrants (PI) under Presidential Orders.┬á He counts among the likes of Gwen Ansell who was renowned for reporting on arts and culture. He was bundled into a police van and ordered to leave the country for good.

Another journalist who was declared persona non grata during those years was yet another former Botswana Guardian editor, John Mukela, who succeeded Mogale and originated from Zambia.

Reasons for his deportation aside, the role played by Mogale in the midwifery of our private media cannot and should not be downplayed or go unacknowledged. While some of us had only started our primary schooling during his short time in Botswana, we followed his mighty pen across the border when we eventually joined the newspaper-reading world.

A raconteur, as rightly described by Ntuane, the man was good at telling stories in an interesting and amusing way. He was ultra humorous. He was an inspiration to some of us who enjoy writing about serious issues without pulling serious faces.

Mogale, a versatile journalist, was one of the founding editors of Sunday World, a tabloid that was re-launched after an unsuccessful stint as a broadsheet.

At the time, many people never really regarded tabloids as a serious genre of journalism. Mogale ensured that this form of journalism was not only recognized, but that it also told the serious South African story. 

Mogale worked hard and brought an unprecedented reader traffic that saw advertisers scrambling for space in the newspaper.

It is through the hard work of people like Mogale that today South African tabloids rake in loads of money through newspaper sales and less from advertisers.

Many of his former colleagues who have been paying tribute to him remember him for his sense of humour and irrepressible nature. Most fondly remember him as a funny man who had an uncanny ­ability to bring laughter to a ­serious situation.

Retired journalist Sekola Sello – who worked with Charlie at City Press – described him as a “jokesmith and a brilliant wordsmith”. A close friend and colleague of his, Horatio Motjuwadi, is reported to have said though Charlie, as Mogale was affectionately known, was sick, his death was a hard blow to take.

“It was very difficult to put Charlie down. He could ride over storms easily,” Motjuwadi is quoted as having said about the late journalist.

Armed with only a Diploma in Journalism, Mogale had an illustrious and mouth-watering career in journalism, spanning over three decades.

Mogale began his journalism journey in 1977 as a reporter for the Rand Daily Mail. In 1978, he moved to Sunday Express, still as a reporter. In 1979 he was reporting for Sunday Times. In 1980 he was Editor of Sowetan until 1985 when he came here to become Editor of Botswana Guardian.

After President Sir Ketumile Masire kicked him out of Botswana in 1987, Charlie went back to South Africa where he became Assistant Editor of City Press. Between 2000 and 2002 he was Editor of Sowetan Sunday World. He went on to become Editor of Drum magazine, Kulane Walch Media, Daily Dispatch and Sunday World. At the time of his death, Charlie was associate editor at Sowetan.

While his colleagues across the spectrum of the profession have written hundreds of obituaries reminiscing about the good times they shared with him, for me it is his satirical pen that has left an indelible memory about this journalist extraordinaire. 

In his popular column, Flipside, of April 8 2010, Charlie wrote about a subject that attracted a lot of mixed reactions from the readers. He wrote about God, or rather the existence of God.
He wrote: “God would be mean if He gave us the mental capacity to question stuff, such as His existence, and when we come to conclusions that cast doubts on the very fact that He exists, get mad with us.”

That was Charlie for you!

Charlie was born in Evaton on January 2, 1956. He is survived by his wife Betty and two children, Boitumelo and Kgosi. I hope they will find solace in the knowledge that God wanders in his garden and picks the best fruits.

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