Refiloe Rantsieng

In October, Zubeida Jaffer received the prestigious 2020 Allan Kirkland Soga Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her sustained and extraordinary contribution to journalism, including her impeccable ethics and craft excellence.

South Africa is fortunate to have a generation of writers who fought for democracy and justice and who continue to practise their craft post 1994. Zubeida Jaffer is one such figure. She continues to inspire a new generation of journalists with her intellectual prowess, creative proficiency and abiding humanity in our quest for stories, archiving and shaping of history.

I first met Zubeida at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein in 2016, when I was a first-year journalism student who stumbled upon journalism by default, engulfed by the determination to find my voice and to become a writer. Her demeanour was quietly alluring and welcoming, as she displayed her intellectual rigour with a determination to impact on the academic and professional practice of the journalism landscape.

Our meeting took place during the height of the Fees Must Fall movement, so it was unavoidable that when she told me about The Journalist, a publication that contextualised stories, history, and culture focusing predominantly on the South African narrative, I wanted to make a difference and learn. I immediately began to determine what kind of storyteller and journalist I was going to become.

Zubeida was visiting the Bloemfontein campus during her fellowship at the UFS. I had missed a meeting between her and The Journalist circle but was fortunate enough to bump into her one evening as I was on my way to study. I forget what our conversation was about, but whatever it was she certainly motivated me. Joining The Journalist circle afforded me with a great sense of direction and affirmed the labour of love experienced by the writer in their need to get a story out.

In one of our early Saturday morning exchanges, I replied to a message from Zubeida. She was stunned that I was up and reading before 7AM. I laughed and said it was the fire to document story ideas that kept me up. I continued to laugh as I said that she’s equally guilty of a trait demonstrated by Larry King – enthusiasm beyond retirement. Zubeida told me she was working on an important story and I knew from that moment that I wanted to carry that amount of dedication and commitment to journalism and to shaping the conversations needed in order to transform society.

The prestigious 2020 Allan Kirkland Soga award presented to Zubeida Jaffer is a great practical and symbolic way of paying homage to a valiant stalwart who fought for democracy and justice and who continues to safeguard our constitutional values. She will always be a tender-hearted combatant of love.

(AK Soga was an influential African intellectual in the first decade of the 20th century. He was editor of Izwi Labantu and played a leading role in the early years of the movement for liberation.)