“The School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University is delighted that Zubeida Jaffer has been recognised for her years of service to the the journalism profession. This is such a well deserved award and congratulate her and we celebrate her,” said the Acting Head of the School, Professor Anthea Garman.
Jaffer, an alumna of the JMS, received the prestigious 2020 Allan Kirkland Soga Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognises a sustained and extraordinary contribution to journalism. The winner will have demonstrated impeccable ethics and craft excellence. Their work will have enriched South African public life, their accomplishment achieved in the face of obstacles.
Jaffer completed her journalism degree at Rhodes at end of the 1970s at a time and space when black students had to get permission to be allowed on campus and its residences. Instead of the customary three years, she completed her journalism degree in two years.
Here is an extract of Zubeida Jaffer’s journalism career:
This year’s winner’s rich journalism career spans 40 years. It begins when as an 18-year-old University of Cape Town student she walked into the Cape Argus newsroom seeking a holiday job. Little did she know that she was stepping into her future role as a news reporter and an inadvertent anti-apartheid activist. “I did not choose journalism. Journalism chose me,” she says.
She had sent applications to seven companies for a holiday job and only the Argus Company had replied. She was called in for an interview and offered a job. She had expected to run errands and do odd jobs for the editor. The news editor had a different idea. Her first assignment was to take down details from a random caller, who was organizing a camp for underprivileged children. She wrote her first report and she was hooked.
By 1980, she was firmly at the Cape Times, this time as a qualified reporter, and would also spend a short while at the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg that same year. All the while volunteering in developing the community newspaper, Grassroots, initiated by a group of local journalists. Grassroots helped bring together local community organizations. These organizations would grow and eventually combine to form the United Democratic Front (UDF) that led the uprising against apartheid.
Her reporting life started at the time of the uprisings in the Cape and within six months led to her arrest and detention after exposing police killings on the Cape Flats. She was charged with possession of three banned books and acquitted. In 1981, her passport was withdrawn the day after she reported on University of the Western Cape (UWC) students burning the old South African flag. She was denied a passport for the next nine years.
She left the Cape Times and produced community and trade union media, helping to give voice to local communities. This led to another detention in 1986. She was pregnant at the time, was tortured but released without charge.
After her release and becoming a mother, she went to head up the media department at UWC between 1987 and 1989, covering the student and academic protests on the campus. By 1990 through to 1995, she became the southern Africa correspondent for Africa Information Afrique (AIA), an African-Canadian news agency. In 1994 she was elected to serve as one of seven media professionals on the Independent Media Commission for South Africa’s first democratic elections. In 1995, she left for New York where she obtained a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University.
Upon her return to South Africa in 1996, she became political editor of the Daily News in parliament. That same year she appeared at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to give her testimony of the atrocities she had endured under apartheid. The following year she became the founding editor of the Independent Newspapers parliamentary bureau.
Her work has earned her numerous local and international awards. These include the Muslim Views Achiever Award as well as the Honor Medal for Distinguished Service to Journalism from the University of Missouri in the USA. In 1994, she became the first woman on the African continent to receive the Percy Qoboza Award from the National Association of Black Journalists in the USA.
She has continued to write for newspapers and do radio and television interviews over the years but has also moved into writing books.
Her memoir, Our Generation, eloquently tells the story of her emotional journey through the years of South Africa’s turbulence into a new democracy. It has been translated into Arabic. Her second book, Love in the Time of Treason, is the story of Ayesha Dawood of Worcester who was charged with treason alongside Mandela in the fifties. It is published internationally under the title, On Trial with Mandela.
Her third book, Beauty of the Heart, the Life and Times of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke, tells the story of a formidable South African woman leader who also became South Africa’s first black female graduate. She wrote the book as writer-in-residence at the University of Free State (UFS). She remains associated with the university as a research fellow. This has allowed her to co-edit a fourth book, Decolonizing Journalism in South Africa: Critical Perspectives, with three other academics. The book will be released in 2021.
While at the UFS, she founded an online platform, www.thejournalist.org.za, to introduce students to stories of African pioneer journalists that are ignored in university curricula. This portal links up with students and academics across the country and will soon be extended to the African continent and the diaspora. This has been entirely created with local funds and represents an effort to decolonize journalism education.
She also curates her own news portal under her own name, www.zubeidajaffer.co.za, where she publishes her own articles and a selection of writings that have attracted her attention.
Later this year, she plans to launch her own publishing company called No 10 Publishers in an effort to build her own independent voice free from the vestiges and restrictions of past oppressions.
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