21 Icons: Zubeida Jaffer

The Journalist Publisher Honoured

I believe that I am part of a common humanity. One South Africa, one world, one universe. I’m a child of God. I’ve got many identities but I am not prepared to accept that I’m one thing only. We have to get people away from this idea that they’re pink and blue and white and grey. In the end, we are very close, all of us, to one another. We have the same feelings and if we get hurt, we feel the same.

Zubeida Jaffer
- The Journalist Publisher

This Sunday 2nd November 2014 at 20h27 on SABC 3, the acclaimed series 21 ICONS South Africa will feature the fourteenth icon of its second season: Zubeida Jaffer, award-winning South African journalist and author. Holding a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York, she was the first South African woman to receive the USA’s Foreign Journalist Award in 1994. She also received an award from the New York Foreign Press Association for outstanding academic and professional work.

It is a fitting honour… 2nd November is International Day to End Impunity for crimes against journalists. This day is about acknowledging the defense and promotion of freedom of expression. It is a very dangerous time for journalists and they face daily threats, attacks and intimidation from private individuals, non-state actors, and government officials who seek to silence them. The overwhelming majority of these crimes are committed with impunity. Jaffer is one such journalist who suffered as she used journalism as a weapon to oppose the domination of the Apartheid regime and was imprisoned twice for reporting news against the government.

21 ICONS is a showcase for the South African spirit; a tribute to the men and women who have helped to shape our country and, indeed, our world. The series is part of an annual project that features unique narrative portraits and short films by Adrian Steirn, one of the continent’s pre-eminent photographers and filmmakers.

On her selection as an icon Steirn comments:

“I think Zubeida has high levels of integrity because during Apartheid being a journalist that didn’t censor the facts was a huge responsibility and telling the truth and exposing the ills of that era came at a huge price. Her sacrifice and commitment to journalism is an important lesson to impart and reflect on ‒ by telling the truth she experienced many challenges as a journalist and as an individual and that is admirable.”

Steirn’s portrait of Jaffer appears in the Sunday paper alongside the collectible poster. The beautiful portrait included in the project will be sold at a charity auction next year. She has nominated a charity of her choice to be the recipient of the funds.

In an intimate conversation with Steirn, Jaffer talks about her journey as a journalist who always seeks to uncover the truth and give people who can’t extend their own voices an outlet to share and express their views, opinions and thoughts.

Born in Claremont, Cape Town in 1958 she was aware at a young age of the Group Areas Act and her segregation of children and people of other races.

Not afraid to expose the truth, Jaffer was detained by the South African authorities for two months in 1980 after exposing police killings. During her detention, she was held in solitary confinement where she was tortured and beaten. In 1986, after editing community and trade union papers, she was detained again, while she was several months pregnant. She was released after six weeks, only to be re-arrested nine weeks later and jailed again with her infant.

She became a member of the Independent Media Commission for South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. After this, she went to Columbia University in New York City to deepen her skills and received a master’s degree in journalism in 1996.

She is the founding editor of Independent Newspapers’ parliamentary bureau and was also a political analyst for the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. Jaffer is currently based at the University of the Free State as Writer-in-Residence where she has been tasked with reshaping the journalism curriculum.

Looking to the future, she wants her students to have the confidence to understand that they are bigger than the small areas that they come from.

Jaffer publishes two websites, Zubeida Jaffer: www.zubeidajaffer.co.za and The Journalist

21 ICONS South Africa is an annual collection of photographs and short films of South Africans who have reached the pinnacle of achievement in their fields of endeavour. These men and women have been an inspiration through their extraordinary social contribution. It is not a definitive list and does not denote any ranking.

The short film-series documents the conversations between Steirn as the photographer and filmmaker and the icons. Each short film provides insight into both the subject and photographer’s creative approach to the portrait.

Season two debuted on Sunday 03 August continuing for another 20 weeks, one of 21 short films will be screened every Sunday on SABC 3 at 20h27.

On each of these Sundays, a poster of the icon’s portrait, taken by Adrian Steirn and his creative team, will be published in the City Press to form a memorable collection that everyone can own.

Media partners include SABC 3, City Press (Media 24), Provantage and Mxit.

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