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Interport lecturer Zubeida Jaffer joins community in Mauritius
Zubeida Jaffer, an award-winning South African journalist, joined the shipboard community in Mauritius to talk about her experience as a journalist of color reporting at the time of the uprisings during apartheid in South Africa.
Jaffer was an anti-apartheid activist. She graduated college and went to work as one of three journalists of color at the Cape Times in 1980. It was a historical year for South Africa due to the many uprisings that took place against the apartheid. Professors and students rallied together in protest, workers went on strike and communities boycotted businesses.
Jaffer’s editor sent her to cover most stories during these protests since it was safer for her as a person of color to be in that environment than it was for white journalists.
“As a young reporter, I was fortunate. It was almost unbelievable, because here I was, a young journalist, straight out of college, doing the biggest stories of the day,” Jaffer said.
On June 16 and 17, 1980, as a form of an anti-apartheid protest, the people of Cape Town didn’t leave their homes. The police and military quartered certain areas close to where Jaffer lived and shot many people. The police justified their actions by stating that the people they killed were committing crimes, but Jaffer found out that the victims were mainly women and children.
“I kindly approached them [the police] to ask the names of the people and the details of those who had been killed the next day,” Jaffer said. “They said that if Cape Town wanted the story and wanted the details we would have to find them ourselves – they just shut the door on releasing any information.”
Due to this response from the police, Jaffer went door-to-door asking families if any of their loved ones had been shot. Jaffer found that 26 families out of 42 stated that someone in their family had been shot. She published a story about these deaths. Two weeks after publication, the police came to Jaffer’s home in the middle of the night.
“My dad came to wake me up and he said to me that the security police were here. I was very naïve – I stood up and told my dad ‘don’t worry dad, I’ll go speak to them’,” Jaffer said.
According to Jaffer, one of the policemen that stood on her doorstep was known to be a killer. They came into Jaffer’s home and searched everything, looking for any documents and books that might contain any information. The police told Jaffer that she was going to go away for the week and that she needed to bring some clothes with her.
“It didn’t end up being a week, it ended being two months and it was two months that I went to hell and back. I was beaten, I was tortured, I was drowned and continuously interrogated until I laid unconsciously on the ground,” Jaffer said. “I still can’t easily talk about it in detail about what happened.”
The police thought that Jaffer was working for the African National Congress (ANC) and wanted her to give the names of everyone associated with the ANC. She didn’t know any of the names, she only knew the names of the public leaders.
Once Jaffer was released, she went on trial where she was acquitted. She was later incarcerated because she declined to testify against her lecturer who was on trial for having three banned books. After spending one year in prison, Jaffer was released, but constantly harassed and followed for ten more years. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission declared her a torture survivor.
After her experience, Jaffer has written three books, has her own website and also runs a program where she mentors young journalists and gives them the opportunity to write on a multimedia website.
For information on Jaffer, visit her website here.