South African Jewish journalist awarded country's top honor

The Order of Ikhamanga is presented to those with exceptional accomplishments in the fields of journalism, literature, art and culture.

May 13, 2019 03:49
3 minute read.
South African Jewish journalist awarded country's top honor

South African Jewish journalist receives the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver from President Cyril Ramaphosa.. (photo credit: COURTESY/GCIS/GOVERNMENT OF SOUTH AFRICA)

South African Jewish journalist Benjamin Pogrund has been awarded South Africa’s highest honor for his major contribution to the fight against apartheid.

Last week, the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver was presented to Pogrund, a veteran journalist, by South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa in a special ceremony.

The award is presented to those with exceptional accomplishments in the fields of journalism, literature, art and culture. It is the highest honor the president of the country can bestow on a citizen and members of the international community.

At the award ceremony, the South African president told Pogrund: “You have shown that as South Africans, we can render service to the republic in many different ways. I wish to congratulate you. You have done your duty. You have made your country proud.

“His informative writing shone a light on our country during some of the darkest days in our history,” Ramaphosa said. “He defied those who deceived the world.”

Pogrund was the deputy editor for the Rand Daily Mail, “a fiercely anti-apartheid” newspaper, which was eventually closed down by the nationalist government.

In an interview prior to the event, the veteran journalist said that he “was fortunate because of the brave and wonderful people I dealt with.”

“I trusted them to tell me the truth. More importantly, they trusted me with information and thoughts, even at risk of their own liberty,” he said, referring to many anti-apartheid stalwarts from that time.

This included the late former president Nelson Mandela, activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Luthuli and Pan African Congress founder Robert Sobukwe, who was considered to be so dangerous by the National Party government that its parliament enacted the “Sobukwe clause.”

Pogrund recalled that all of these figures and numerous other anti-apartheid activists became his close friends.

“It’s important to remember that whatever I did as a reporter to expose and denounce apartheid was possible only because of the support and protection of my esteemed editor, the late Laurence Gandar – who transformed journalism in this country – and his successor, Raymond Louw,” Pogrund continued. He added that because the Rand Daily Mail was “too fiercely anti-apartheid for the Nationalist government at the time and the business interests at the time, we were closed down.”

He said that this made him “unemployable,” and he was forced to go into exile in Britain. He lived in the United States as well, and later moved to Israel where he still resides.

Pogrund covered several landmark events, including the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which 69 people were killed and more than 249 injured when a crowd of about 7,000 protesters went to the township’s police station to demonstrate against the newly instituted pass laws, and were mowed down by police at the scene.

He covered many events in the black townships. In 1965, he authored a series on beating and torture of black inmates and maltreatment of white political prisoners.

During his valiant South African career, Pogrund was put on trial several times, imprisoned once and had his passport revoked. He was also investigated as a threat to the state by security police.

Throughout his career, the veteran journalist also worked as a South African correspondent for the Sunday Times, The Boston Globe and The Economist. After spending time in the UK and the US, he immigrated to Israel in 1997.

Pogrund has also authored several well-known books, including a biography on Sobukwe and a memoir from his early days as a journalist.

He has also authored several books and articles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which he has advocated that Israel is not an apartheid state, despite the claims of many groups who advocate for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

His latest book, Drawing Fire: Investigating the Accusations of Apartheid in Israel, was published in 2014.

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