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Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Podcast: Zubeida Jaffer Talks About Her Generation

Our GenerationZubeida JafferZubeida Jaffer is one of South Africa’s most travelled journalists: she has not only travelled the country top to bottom, covering the stories that chronicle South Africa’s transformation from a despotic minority regime to a democracy, but she has an incurable weakness for travel across the globe, and is often found away from home.

Join me on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as I chat to Zubeida about her life as a journalist, and about the process of writing Our Generation, her personal life story, which is seamlessly woven together with the story of the struggle.

Zubeida JafferIn conversation, Zubeida tells of how difficult she found it to write about herself, how awkward to insert her private voice in a narrative that she deemed should more appropriately be owned by all who fought for justice.

Thankfully, she lost her compunction and found the means to enter Our Generation, a book that captures so much of what happened to South Africans during the fifteen years that it spans, from 1980, when Zubeida was a rookie reporter, to post-1994, when she had joined the ranks of our top senior journalists.

Of course, her book is no mere career memoir: it is at once about her, about her family – especially her daughter – and about some of the most harrowing aspects of the old South Africa. It revisits, for instance, such scenes as when she was tortured while pregnant. Apologists for the old order would do well to refresh their memories with this finely written text: those who dare suggest that “things were better during Apartheid” would find it difficult to repeat this nonsense after reading Zubeida’s book.

And then at a certain point he came and he said that they – he knew exactly how he was going to get me to co-operate and that they had prepared – he prepared a chemical for me to drink to – to kill the baby and to – he was going to burn the baby from my body. Now this was – this was a real – this was a real threat to me because of the drug experience that I had during my first detention. And I knew that they could do it, I knew they were capable, I knew that they had drugged me the first time, and so I sat there in the cell not knowing what to do.

from Zubieda Jaffer’s testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Our Generation makes clear that stories of South Africa stand or fall on who is telling them. Reading the book, it becomes plain just why more South Africans who endured the small and large horrors of Apartheid need to tell their stories, because of their importance in shaping our collective memory. As events recede and memories start to fade, it is easier for those who were Apartheid’s accomplices to suggest that it was just a flawed political system, not the calculated crime against humanity that it was.

In a 27-year career, Zubeida Jaffer has covered all manner of stories. She holds an MSc degree in journalism from Columbia University and bachelor degrees from Rhodes University and the University of Cape Town. She began in journalism at the Cape Times, but she also worked for a short while at the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg, and has since written for many publications in South Africa and internationally.

Zubeida has received a number of honours, including the Muslim Views Achiever Award and the Honor Medal for Distinguished Service to Journalism from the University of Missouri in the USA.

Zubeida JafferA highlight of her career, she says, was winning the coveted foreign journalist award from the National Association of Black Journalists in the USA. She’s also very proud of the fact that Our Generation was recently translated into Arabic, and launched in Egypt in December last year.

Today, Zubeida continues with the brand of full-immersion community activism which earned her at least two spells in apartheid South Africa’s notorious detention centres. Visit ZubeidaJaffer.co.za for more information, and of course tune in to our chat:

  • Play now: use the widget links below, or click the link under Latest episodes in the sidebar on the right.
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