Zubeida Jaffer: "The Journalist" as intervention

14 May 2017 - 10:00
Zubeida Jaffer


On Tuesday, 8 May, renowned journalist and UCT alumna Zubeida Jaffer introduced CFMS to the online media initiative The Journalist.


Jaffer explained that today’s students are clueless about certain aspects of the anti-apartheid struggle and the role the media played in South Africa’s liberation movement. “They don’t know the things I knew as a student, that I took for granted.”  

Jaffer said that she had had a different relationship with the nation’s universities than students have today. She was included in UCT only on special permission, and university wasn’t a welcoming place for her. At the time, students of colour were not allowed in sport or to stay in residence. “We did what we had to do, but left and went home, we tutored and taught people back home, because we couldn’t live out our feelings on campus.”


Jaffer recalled seeing student uprisings on campus in 1975-77 and that the leaders of the movement had made a big impression on her. “They showed us Langa was burning. That was our context. Through that opposition and protest we learned a lot of things we didn’t learn at university.” She explained that they learned about black poets and the Black Consciousness Movement outside of campus, for example as they had attended memorials of activists.


In her recent experiences working with universities, Jaffer has learned that journalism students know little about the context of South Africa’s media history or our journalist greats. “I was furious, I was blind angry actually. I got angry at the textbook. I couldn’t believe what students were taught: the textbook started in the 1990s with the SABC.” According to Jaffer there is a vast media history in South Africa pre-SABC that is crucial for young people to learn, which is why The Journalist acts as a platform to share that information and research.


The Journalist was launched in August 2014 at the University of the Free State. The site offers various categories of knowledge, of which Jaffer regards the Pioneers as most crucial. This section features many of South Africa’s journalistic heroes – their context, background, and written pieces. For example, Jaffer recommended looking at Keabetswe Magalo’s The Soft Punch, and the Khoisan storyteller //Kabbo from Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley’s recent work to get an idea of what the site offers. Contributors to the site write voluntarily.


The Journalist aims to solve the problem of access to historical information, particularly for academics in training institutions. It also aims to provide students with a platform to gain more practical journalistic experience, hence the launch of The Journalist (TJ) circle. The TJ circle meets every Wednesday to discuss story topics, and their experiences writing these stories. Jaffer explained that recently students were assigned to go home and write about their local ward – to describe it, highlight important issues, discuss their ward councilor and local politics. “We chose 14 stories, and The Argus picked it up. They produced two major pieces of all these stories. It gave such insight of what’s happening at local level. We’ve got an army of people that can potentially bring great copy to us, we need to collaborate,” Jaffer said.


The University of Johannesburg has joined The Journalist, and they also have a circle at Rhodes University, but it has not officially joined. The initiative looks to expand to other African countries to increase knowledge of their media pioneers, and they are also hoping to launch TJ radio in the near future.