The following appeared in the 1975 Guild Blue Book, which, as far as can be ascertained, was the first one ever published.
The need for some form of association to represent South African motoring journalists became apparent in the early sixties, at a time when the motorcar was becoming freely available again after a long period of shortages, and when motorsport began its slow climb to the remarkable popularity it enjoyed.
These two events brought about increased awareness on the part of newspapers and journaled the importance of motoring news, and thus enhanced opportunities for motoring journalists to make a worthwhile living and to display their skills and knowledge.
From the small handful of motoring journalists, most of them on a part-time basis, who were involved at that time, the number increased rapidly and today assume a strong group, considering the size of the South African population.
While journalists are the people who record history, unfortunately, they invariably have no sense of their own history. So, the early days of the South African Guild of Motoring Writes went unrecorded and there are no documents existent of the first meetings.
To reconstruct the beginning of the organisation, it has been necessary to rely on the memories of those involved.
If in the reconstruction, some events have been overlooked, then understanding is sought for the lapses of memory that may have occurred with some of the pioneer members.
The two prime movers behind the foundation of the Guild were Barry Curtis, Motor editor of The Star, and Kenneth Maxwell, who wrote under the by-line of Camshaft of the Rand Daily Mail. Both were members of the London-based Guild of Motoring Writers.
Taking the underlying principles of that organisation, they drafted the requirements of the South African scene on to that constitution to produce a “grondwet” for a South African Guild. Basically, the desire was to create an organisation that could speak for the profession of motoring writers, to represent I in negotiations with management, if necessary; to act as a liaison organisation with the motor industry; to help in the betterment of working conditions; and to be a medium for the organisation of social occasions connected with motoring.
The objects were thus set out in the original constitution as:
The ensuing years have shown that these objects have been met most successfully, to the benefit of the Guild members.
Originally, membership was by invitation only and those eligible for membership as full members were required to write or broadcast regularly for the press or radio or be specialist motoring photographers.
To allow those who were not regular writers, or who had connections with the motor industry, to join, an associate membership category was established.
Motorsport, and the South African Grand Prix in particular, has always been a major factor in the Guild’s existence.
The first gathering of what was to become the Guild, took place on Saturday, December 29, 1962, in the Grand Prix Club enclosure at East London, after the final practice session for the year’s South African Grand Prix.
The dozen or so journalists present agreed that some form of organisation should be established. They decided to do something about it, but nothing concrete occurred during the ensuing twelve months.
Another meeting took place at East London on the morning of the Grand Prix run on December 29, 1963. A larger gathering of journalists covering the event was again held in the Grand Prix Club enclosure, and once again it was decided that an organisation was needed and something should be done about it.
This time, something did happen. Early in 1964, a gathering was held in the Press box after a meeting at the Kyalami circuit at which an ad hoc committee was formed, with Barry Curtis as chairman. The draft constitution was agreed upon by this committee and invitations extended to eligible people to become members. A provision in the constitution for postal ballots to be held proved most helpful in those early days as it was possible for the ad hoc committee to conduct ballots to obtain the thinking of members all over the country and to obtain agreement for actions taken.
Motor Sportsman of the Year
The first occasion where the Guild made news for itself took place in July 1965 when it elected John Love the Motor Sportsman of the Year and presented him with a mounted steering wheel.
Another important event was the opening of the Tiger’s Tail Press Box at Kyalami which occurred in October 1966. This presentation by Esso was a notable recognition of the growing importance of the Guild. Whilst it is possible that the tiger’s tail may have been twisted by one of the committee members, the Guild nevertheless found itself the proud owner of a well-equipped press room, which was immeasurably better than the somewhat crude facilities previously available. Unfortunately, no records exist of the period up to the holding of the first Annual General Meeting, which took place at Sturrock Park, Johannesburg on December 31, 1967 – again the day before the Grand Prix, now run at Kyalami. There were nineteen members present. In terms of the unwritten agreement that the chairmanship should alternate between representatives of the English and Afrikaans newspapers, Sieg van Niekerk, of Die Transvaler, was elected the Guild’s second chairman.
By the middle of 1968 membership had risen to 48, with the list showing the members divided into the designations of writers, photographers, commentators and associates. This list was circulated to the motor industry and trade, to form the first link of what has grown to be a very strong and healthy relationship with the industry.
There can be no doubt that the Guild has fulfilled a most useful function in the area of assistance to its members and the industry. The benefits have shown both ways and increased with each year. Through this action the Guild has been able to persuade the industry that its members are responsible people and in the important matter of road tests, the industry now prefers not to provide cars to writers who are not members of the Guild.
Further evidence of the excellent relationship with the industry was the introduction of the Volkswagen Award – a gold floating trophy together with a free visit to Europe to the Motor Shows – generously provided by Volkswagen of South Africa and administered by the Guild.
Later there were to be awards from Toyota and Mazda.
The second Annual General Meeting was held at the Kyalami Ranch, on the eve of the 1969 Grand Prix. An important addition to the constitution was made at this meeting to cover members’ behaviour and permit the disciplining of any member who was thought to have breached the high standard of professional conduct and behaviour required of Guild members.
The ensuing years have seen the Guild grow in stature and importance, with membership rising to some 70 people in 1973, though it reduced by a change in the constitution which tightened up eligibility and dropped the associate membership category.
Important events during these years have included an invitation form the Administrator the Transvaal to send a deputation to discuss road safety; affiliation with the Federation Internationale des Associations de Journalistes a l’Automobile; the gift of a car by Datsun to raise funds for charity; negotiations with circuit operators for improved facilities for journalists and particularly photographers; and the setting up of local committees in Cape Town and Durban.
FOUNDER MEMBERS OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN GUILD OF MOTORING JOURNALISTS
John de Oliveira
Leicester ‘Sy’ Symons