Zubeida Jaffer was horrified to discover that her young journalism students had never heard of Sol Plaatje, Aggrey Klaaste, Percy Qoboza and other famous South African journalists who have helped shape South Africa’s press over the years.
“I became painfully aware of the lack of context in the text books, many of them post 1994, and the gaps in the education of young would-be journalists that leaves them with a limited view of where they fit in,” says Jaffer, an author and award-winning journalist,
A Writer in Residence at Free State University, where she teaches journalism, Jaffer is working to “reshape” the curriculum, which she says glosses over key issues like the role of the alternative Press in the struggle for a democratic South Africa and other key parts of South Africa’s journalism history.
“Unlike those of us who have been around for some time and learned about that history in the trenches, I realised that there were key gaps in what was being taught. I decided then that I would use my time to put together a more inclusive and relevant history of South African journalism, where we could all share our experiences.”
A blurb on the site succinctly sets out the mission and vision of those involved.
“For more than three centuries we have been involved in wars and conflict. We have lived under conditions of peace and democracy for the past 20 years only. Now we at The Journalist are shaping our roles as peace correspondents.
“We are committed to multimedia offerings that will challenge us to delve more deeply into the complex facets of our reality. We don’t tell you what happened. We help you understand why.”
The site is edited by veteran journalist and filmmaker Sylvia Vollenhoven, who says, “A lot of senior journalists feel a bit lost in South Africa and it is often difficult to find things to read that are relevant to us and are engaging. Our aim is to offer good content that offers both good writing and context.
“It’s also about filling in the gaps in South Africa’s journalism history. It’s about giving context on how we got from where we were to where we are now, a bridge from where this country came from to where it is now.”
One the most fascinating sections on the site deals with the pioneers of South African journalism and the roles played by people like Plaatje, ME Rothman – one of the first Afrikaans women to pursue a career in journalism – and S E K Mqhayi, “dramatist, essayist, critic, novelist, historian humorist, biographer, translator and poet at the same time”.
There is also a section focusing on arts writing and writers, a neglected area of journalism in South Africa, while another focuses on ‘The Craft’, which is intended to be where more experienced journalists can share their knowledge and experience with those who are new to the profession.
“We are saying that we are a knowledge bank where people can deposit their knowledge, pass it on to everyone,” says Jaffer.
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