A towel on his knees against sunburn, a thermos of coffee and boiled eggs: Frans Hugo, 90-year-old editor, begins his weekly 1,200 km journey through the South African Karoo desert to deliver his newspapers .
The energetic old gentleman is used to it. It's been forty years since Charl Francois Hugo, known as Frans, climbs into his faithful sedan every Thursday for this long journey from Calvinia, less than 3000 souls in the middle of this immense far-west, in the south of the country.
If he stopped, his Afrikaans-language newspapers -- The Messenger, Die Noordwester and Die Oewernuus -- would probably die with him.
His little transistor wedged into the steering wheel, the car radio capitulated a long time ago, he begins his loop towards the northeast, then the south... "I stop in all the small towns", confides- he told AFP during a recent tour.
Departure 1h30 for a return 18 hours later. The time to deposit his batteries, using his cane, in a multitude of localities. Some have seen the recent influx of new inhabitants, artists, solitaries or originals fleeing the hustle and bustle of the big cities.
Like Frans, many here express themselves frankly, with simplicity. Living in such a lost corner requires autonomy, resourcefulness. A bit of eccentricity can't hurt.
“In the Karoo, we speak of a 'pompdonkie', a regularly moving water pump that empties the reservoirs. “I became a pompdonkie myself. I leave every week with the regularity of a metronome. I will stop when I am no longer physically able to do so,” he predicts.
Born in Cape Town in 1932, he worked there as a journalist for twenty years, then in neighboring Namibia for ten years. “We worked day and night. I was less able to bear the pressure so I settled in the Karoo,” he says.
Survive the decline
“I was catching my breath when the owner of the print shop in Calvinia came over and asked if I was interested. My daughter was so I thought with my son-in-law they could run the business and I would help them. After a few months, they got bored and I found myself with it on my hands,” he sums up with an amused wink.
The Messenger was founded in 1975, the other two local newspapers in the early 1900s. Frans, his wife and three employees continue this heritage at a time when so many printed newspapers around the world are struggling to survive in the digital age.
These weeklies of eight pages in Afrikaans, one of the eleven official languages in South Africa, inherited from the Dutch colonists, sometimes publish, here and there, a paper or an advertisement in English.
Frans, white mane and looking like an old sea dog, is annoyed by those who consume their information online. "We are printing fewer newspapers." But at 1300 copies per week, the need for local information remains relevant, he believes.
Its newsroom looks like a museum with its old Heidelberg-type printing press and its guillotines (paper-cutting machines here called guillotines), which had been abandoned in favor of computers for thirty years.
A bravado, he says he is not worried about the future of his small press group. “No idea what will happen to him in five or ten years. But no, that doesn't worry me."
Actress Charlize Theron caused a scandal in South Africa in November when she claimed that her mother tongue, Afrikaans, was only spoken by “roughly 44 people”.
For Frans, the survival of his dear diaries shows on the contrary that the isolated inhabitants of this semi-desert Karoo need to maintain a link. And as long as the journalist has the strength, they will receive news every Thursday, without fail.