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Central News Agency history


Today, CNA is one of the biggest book and stationary retailers in the country. But their start was a humble one, in the newspaper and publishing business a little over 100 years ago.

In 1896 two entrepreneurs, Michael Davis and Albert Lindbergh, paired up to sell newspapers on the dusty streets of the mining town called Johannesburg. By coordinating teams of newsboys who delivered papers by foot and on bicycles, the Central News Agency was founded. The first newspapers sold were The Star, The Standard and Diggers News.

Davis and Lindbergh were continually trying to increase their shares of street sales. They soon moved into the sale of books, periodicals and stationery and began acting as advertising agents. Newspapers, however, were their greatest interest.


By 1899, the business had outgrown the Harrison Street base. Bigger premises were needed and the choice was a large building on the Corner of Commissioner and Rissik Streets. Forty years later, CNA Head Office moved to the opposite corner - Laub Street - but the Commissioner Street branch continued to operate until 1993.

In 1901 the partners began opening bookstalls at railway stations across the Cape. New branches were opening all over the country and the first suburban branch was opened in Jeppestown, Johannesburg. By 1904, the company was nationwide.

CNA GOES PUBLIC! [1902-1903]

In 1902 Davis and Lindbergh clinched a huge deal-the Argus and the Cape Times placed their entire publishing contracts with CNA. CNA experienced phenomenal growth and in 1903 was floated as a public company. With a capital of £120 000 in £ 1 shares, joint managing directors were appointed and a board of directors was constituted.


The worldwide publishing house, Gordon & Gotch, had been operating in South Africa since 1891. They had long been associated with CNA, for whom they obtained bulk supplies of magazines from London.

Gordon & Gotch watched CNA's phenomenal growth and subsequent flotation with much interested. And in 1904 the two companies reached an unprecedented agreement - Gordon & Gotch would become the sole agents for CNA in Great Britain, while their branches in the Cape and Natal would be taken over by CNA.

This agreement afforded CNA great strength, both nationally and internationally. It paved the way for Davis' acquisition of the sole agency in South Africa, for a number of important and popular overseas newspapers and periodicals.

CNA GRABS THE RAND [1904-1906]

Later in the same year the CNA-South African press relationship was strengthened. Lindbergh and Sir Abe Bailey joined forces to take over the 2 year old Rand Daily Mail. In 1906 the Sunday Times was founded and Lindbergh was once again a member of the owning syndicate. Both the Rand Daily Mail and Sunday Times were published by CNA.

And it was all happening in the corrugated iron structure in Commissioner Street, Johannesburg.

WAR! [1907-1921]

With the Advent of World War 1, CNA had to meet the growing demands of a public hungry for written information. And they produced it in the form of newspapers, periodicals, books and other literature. Although shipping losses were frequent and the strain on the staff who were not doing active service was considerable, the company was strong.

And when the war ended, new branches continued to open all over the country. Soon a new range of "fancy goods" was introduced into the stores - toys, cutlery and leather goods.


In 1922 the strike on the Rand left it is mark on CNA. But CNA had met the challenge by delivering newspapers to cutoff Reef towns by aircraft.

CNA MOURNS DAVIS! [1928-1932]

In 1928 Michael Davis, one of CNA is founding fathers, retired. He died four years later; the end of a chapter in CNA is history. By this time the company was publishing most South African newspapers. They were also the sole agent for 92% of all British newspapers and periodicals distributed in South Africa, as well many American publications.


Between the two World Wars, Albert Lindbergh became the sole Managing Director. The 10-storey building in Commissioner Street became CNA Head Office, new branches were opened and premises in Cape Town and Natal were expanded.

Structural reorganisation of CNA took place in 1936 with the foundation of the holding company, CNA Investments. CNA and all other wholly or partially-owned companies were grouped under CNA Investments.


In 1938, for the first time CNA was suddenly faced with major competition. It came in the form of the Schlesinger organisation, who distributed a number of weekly and daily newspapers. A fierce and expensive circulation war ensued, which only cooled when an agreement was reached shortly before World War 2. The Schlesinger organisation eventually disposed of its interests to CNA Investments.


In 1939 CNA's remaining founding father Albert Lindbergh died. Lindbergh and Davis, the two entrepreneurial gurus, had guided their company with imagination, shrewdness, and most of all hard work. They were responsible for transforming CNA from a couple of newspapers sold on a dusty street corner in Johannesburg, to a great commercial success throughout South Africa.

Lindbergh was succeeded by JH Crosby as Chairman with two long standing employees, MC Friedman and NC Wayne, as joint General Managers.

WW2 - THE BIG ONE [1939-1945]

South Africa was thrown into World War 2. Submarine warfare was intense and hindered shipping and Gordon & Gotch, CNA's London suppliers, were bombed in a blitz. Still, the company stayed strong.

Friedman died during the war years and 1947 brought new changes to the development of the group, including Adam Berrill from Britain who succeeded Crosby as Chairman.

CNA NOW IN AFRICA [1946-1953]

After the war South Africa experienced a developmental expansion phase. CNA mirrored this phase and established itself in Rhodesia with one of their partially-owned subsidiaries, Kingstons Ltd.

Black readership was established in 1951, via a subsidiary company called Banner News.

CNA GROWS AGAIN [1955-1982]

During the period 1961 to 1975, CNA grew so extensively that it managed its own dispatching of imported merchandise in the Cape, to enormous transport fleets in the Transvaal that managed the entire country. The success of this process can be attributed to the progressive management style and the proactive focus on remaining up-to-date with technology.


In 1983 CNA merged with Gallo Africa. When Layton Slater retired he was succeeded by Tony Bloom of Premier as Charmin of CNA Gallo. With the merger, it was agreed that the chairman of CNA Gallo would alternate between Premier and Argus.

In 1987 Ian Outram was appointed Managing Director of CNA, taking over from James Lowman who remained on as Chairman of the company.


In 1990 CNA Gallo acquired 50% shares in Nu Metro. In 1992 the remaining 50% shares were bought out and Nu Metro became a wholly-owned subsidiary under Gallo Africa.


On the 27 April 1994, South Africa had their first ever Democratic elections and the ANC took over government of the country. This was a period of uncertainty for business as many had predicted a civil war.

South Africans pulled together and the transition to a new government proved to run more smoothly than expected. In July 1994, Ian Outram stepped down as chief executive to become involved in a revolutionary re-engineering program. Andries Smith, previously Retail Director, was appointed Managing Director. By 1994 the CNA base had expanded to 316 stores. In 1995 a rationalisation process was initiated and today there are 350 stores nationwide.

Linked toMichael Davis

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