End of an era for Catholic newspaper

The Southern Crosss staff, most whom have been retrenched, are, from left, Erin Carelse, Pamela Davids, Desirée Chanquin, Michelle Perry, Rosanne Shields (chair of the board), Bishop Sylvester David, Jean van der Westhuizen, Günther Simmermacher, Mary Leveson, Claire Allen, Yolanda Timm, and Sidney Duval (director). Picture: Claire Matheson

July marked the end of an era as South Africa’s only Catholic newspaper, Southern Cross, published its last print edition.

The publication, which was meant to celebrate its centenary this year, announced that it was shutting down its print edition and retrenching 70% of the staff.

Editor Gunther Simmermacher said in a letter that the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant crashing economy had affected their capacity to continue operating as before.

“Our financial reserves are exhausted, and with churches still not reopening, or doing so under heavy restrictions, there is no immediate prospect of assured income which might allow us to retain our staff.”

He said staff were loyal to the newspaper and the church, and had made great sacrifices to keep the newspaper going.

The publication, which is based in Roeland Street, was looking at the possibility of relaunching as a monthly magazine.

“Indeed, discussions were already under way, before the coronavirus changed everything, to turn the newspaper into a magazine. That was a project for 2021. Circumstances and, we believe, the Holy Spirit have accelerated that plan,” said Mr Simmermacher.

The publication’s readers have started to raise funds for The Southern Cross.

Retired Archbishop William Slattery said the publication ensured that the Catholic family of South Africa shared each other’s joys, celebrations and struggles for almost 100 years.

He said he felt for the staff who worked passionately each week to bring out a new product and were now facing retrenchment.

“As dedicated people, how sad it is to know that you will no more have the joy of holding each new weekly printed copy in your hands, another job well done.

“It is very sad to see something beautiful to which you have dedicated years of life fade from sight and be no more. There is a death in our family this year,” he said.