Editor of The Journalist’s Pioneers section, Phindile Xaba, will be at the Abantu Book Festival next weekend, speaking to festival goers about some of the historical media pioneers The Journalist has covered over the past four years. But her work is not as simple as dusting off volumes of the past, instead it’s a conscious effort to write back into history those black media pioneers, particularly women, who have been written out of the archives.

For the first time at the Abantu Book Festival, The Journalist will be displaying work around black female media pioneers previously covered in the publication. Phindile Xaba, who digs into the archives and does most of the writing to bring historical black media figures back into our present discourse, says that through the decades women have had to push through patriarchal barriers to enter into the male dominated world of media.

“For women, who made a late entry into the media, most were either forced out of the continent through generational slavery or exiled due to political volatility and have had to face further prejudices – gender inequality, inadequate education, and patriarchal professional gate keeping which explains their late entry into the profession,” says Xaba.

Many women who managed to push through these barriers were forced to have multiple careers ranging from being authors, lawyer and educators while holding down a journalism. “[They were] duty-bound to address challenges facing women in the media, champion women’s legal rights, and advocate for women’s increased access to education and other resources,” says Xaba.

But getting hold of information for these women is not an easy task. Xaba says much of the information from the late 19th and 20th century pioneers is buried in physical and electronic library archives, sometimes information can be gleaned from old, torn and dusty books hidden in library stacks. Often information can only be unearthed from interviews with human depositories who have family memories of the pioneers along with old cracked photographs. She maintains that the work is worthwhile.

“Researching pioneers takes us to all corners of the world – usually armed with our notebooks and pens, recorders, and any form of tool that would aid us record this important part of history. We meet with their family members, historians, authors, do desktop internet searches, email communication exchanges with academics and other researchers and the circle constantly grows bigger as we continue to publish more of these pioneers’ stories posthumously,” says Xaba.

“It is worth unearthing the history. That normally leads to different branches of information. Like archaeologists with chisel and hammer, digging into the ground to crack it open and discover fossils with loads of information towards timeline of humanity,” she says.

Common denominators in all these pioneers, according to Xaba is that many of them were legacy builders as far back as the 1800s and through to the early 1990s who defied the British, and the subsequent erstwhile apartheid rules, only using the might of the pen to address socio-political ills of the day. Their contribution to the media had common threads – most started out their media or journalism careers as activists/commentators and somewhat progressed to exploit the media as their mouthpiece.

“The information we gather varies and sometimes surprises, as not all of the pioneers were straight jacketed activists using the pen to advocate for their fellow Africans causes. However, all information is important, and facts are worth recording in doing this work. It can only enrich the literary world,” says Xaba.

The hard work that Xaba and her team have put into researching these historical giants has paid off and last year they attended the Jozi Book Fair where Xaba curated a discussion and put up an exhibition on Women Media Pioneers. Shining the spotlight on South Africa’s Black Resistance Press and how it gradually overshadowed mainstream colonial propagandist journalism and media attracted attention and Xaba engaged in discussion with attendees, drawing inspiration when suggestions from readers, researchers and academics were forthcoming on further pioneers to be profiled.

She is also planning a book in the near future which will serve as a tangible record of her work.

Catch the exhibition at the Abantu Book Festival which runs from 6 to 9 December 2018. And check out the Pioneers section for Xaba’s excellent work.