Big Issue SA – 15 years. 192 editions. Still going strong

15 years. 192 editions. Still going strong
15 years. 192 editions. Still going strong

The Big Issue SA celebrates a decade and a half of job creation

The Big Issue South Africa is celebrating 15 years of fighting poverty, creating jobs, and restoring dignity and independence to unemployed, homeless and marginalised adults with a special birthday edition.

The edition carries a cheeky, fun cover produced in partnership with ZA News and featuring three of South Africa’s key figures: Nelson Mandela, Jacob Zuma and Helen Zille. “There’s also a fourth surprise guest, who readers will only discover once they buy and open the magazine,” said Melany Bendix, editor. “I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but I can reveal that readers will see a lot more of a certain suspended youth leader than they ever imagined they would, even in their wildest dreams.”

Cheeky cover aside, the 15th birthday edition is a poignant, fascinating and at times quirky look at The Big Issue’s place in South African history.

“The Big issue is, and always has been, so much more than ‘just a magazine’. It is, fundamentally, about people — from the people who went against all predictions of failure to launch this social enterprise, to the vendors who are the life force of the street paper,” said Bendix. “So it is fitting that our 15th birthday edition pays tribute to the pioneers, our vendors and, importantly, our readers, who are the single biggest reason for our success.”

The tribute kicks-off with Ray Joseph, former editor, taking readers back to the beginning of the dream, where a group of determined people plotted the launch of Cape Town’s first street paper over a kitchen table.

“It was born out of a real need, and a sense that something had to be done to offer the desperate and marginalised street people of Cape Town an alternative to begging or petty crime,” writes Joseph.

Four long-time vendors then pick up the story by reflecting on their journey with the organisation over the years.

“The magazine was very risqué at that time, but I liked that they took risks and it was so in-your-face,” recalls Stella Phillips, a vendor for 13 years.

Global perspective
Vendors from sister street papers across the globe — from Slovenia to Japan — also wrote on what birthdays mean to them.

This moving and insightful collection is juxtaposed with a humorous piece on weird and wonderful birthday traditions around the globe — from getting bumped on the noggin for every year of your life to the hiring of a scary clown to stalk your loved one in the run-up to their birthday.

“We of course also had to take a trip down memory lane and look at the most iconic covers published over the past 15 years, and we placed these into context of the big history-making moments and headlines for each year,” added Bendix.

Notable South Africans — everyone from Helen Zille to the Parlotones, Jack Parow and Nic Rabinowitz, to name but a few — sent The Big Issue their birthday wishes. And the public is being encouraged to join them by signing the online birthday card on, tweeting wishes to @BigIssueSA or posting their message on the Facebook wall: The Big Issue South Africa.

“For our birthday we also wanted to give back to readers, so we’ve lined up a host of great competitions — from Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts to Table Mountain Aerial Cablecar trips and shows at Theatre on the Bay,” said Angie McErlean, marketing manager.

News and views remain
Although it is largely a tribute, the special birthday edition does include much of the magazine’s usual content readers have come to expect.

As always, the magazine breaks social advocacy news from the ground, including an investigation into the growing allegations of abuse at the Maitland Refugee Centre and a report on the alarming number of South Africans at risk of starvation.

The arts and entertainment section carries theatre and art previews, book and CD reviews, photos from Africa’s largest tattoo convention and an interview with the founder of renowned live Hip-hop event, Party People.

“The Big Issue has been providing a quality read for 15 years and this edition’s no different,” said Trudy Vlok, managing director. “Our birthday wish is that Capetonians will celebrate this milestone with us and support their nearest vendor by buying a copy of this special edition.”

Visit the birthday website of Big Issue here.

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