Welcome to the website of Zubeida Jaffer. Zubeida Jaffer is a journalist, author and activist. She is a graduate of the University of Cape Town and Rhodes University. She also holds a masters degree from Columbia University in New York where she won the best foreign student award in 1996. She is presently Writer-in-residence at the University of the Free State and associated with the Communication Science Department. Find out more about Zubeida Jaffer here. Visit the media page to view the latest TV and Radio interviews where Zubeida Jaffer talks about her latest book title "Beauty of the Heart"
Zubeida Jaffer: Open Letter To Cyril Ramaphosa
Many of us were not silent observers or inactive young people when faced with the crushing reality of apartheid. I always say to students that our generation did what we had to do when we had to do it. It is for them as young people to take up the challenges of today and move us forward.
It was special for me when you were elected as President of the ANC at the 54th Conference in December because you were there during those difficult days.
I was seated on the floor in front of the stage amongst the hordes of journalists, all awaiting the outcome of the elections. Before all of you were ushered off the stage to clear the way for the new officials, you smiled at me and lifted your hand in acknowledgement. I wondered then whether you would make it to the top position and what would happen if you did not. I would have liked us to have a female president, but Mam Zuma’s timing was off. She had also associated herself with a tendency in the organisation that had brought the organisation and the country into disrepute. I do think she is a great asset and I sense that you will draw on her skills and experience.
When you were swept onto the stage, I had to smile. You were Madiba’s favourite and it has taken 18 years for his wish to be realised. He was concerned that we had to break with the ethnic dominance of Xhosa and Zulu leadership in the ANC. Jakes Gerwel confirms this in Ray Hartley’s recently published book, Ramaphosa. He chose you above Thabo Mbeki, said Jakes, not because he valued Thabo less but because you were Tshivenda-speaking and come from the smallest language group in the country.
This milestone potentially marks the burial of traditional ethnic loyalties that remain in a country such as Nigeria. Nigerian intellectual, Kole Omotose, says in his book, Achebe or Soyinka, A Study in Contrasts, the political and the economic rivalries of the three major ethnic nationalities of Nigeria – the Hausa-Faulani, the Igbo and the Yoroba – have been the dynamo of the Nigerian political and social instability.
The fanning of ethnic rivalries was central to colonial and apartheid governance. Your election will always be associated with communities reaching a level of maturity for ethnicity to no longer matter so much. We seem not to be too conscious of what the country has just achieved.
After conference, I have sensed a collective sigh of relief from a wide range of people who were very discouraged over the past few years. This is coming not only from former activists but also general members of the community. People not only breathed a sigh of relief… everywhere I go I see concerned people smiling again, even laughing. I have cautioned them that your election can be both good and bad for us. It is good in that there is a real shift in leadership under way, but it is bad because we are once again focusing on a single leader to make his magic work.
As you are well aware, the challenges we face as a country are substantial. It requires a leadership group that can create a conducive space for all of us to be motivated to solve the problems. I understand why team Silili Lamaphosa (as you are affectionately called) has had to work quietly behind the scenes to pave the way for your win. But let’s break with the closed approaches once you become president. Let us see you creating teams of talented people irrespective of party affiliation to become visible champions of certain challenges. Huge sections of the public have become activated by their anger at the bad leadership shown over the past period and would wholeheartedly back strong creative leadership to bring about renewal. Many people are very willing but never called upon to help especially in the school sector where there are layers upon layers of retired teachers and principals.
I often watch in horror when our best minds are used for point scoring rather than problem-solving. We are paying our politicians not to serve us but to grandstand and insult one another. Will you be able to help create a different ethos, end the corruption, lavish expenditure and pointless egoism?
The opening of parliament is expected once again to be a display of stupidity. President Zuma is prepared to sit tight and further disgrace us. Please use your influence to ensure that the opening is low key and not hyped up with military performance. It is unnecessary for the media and opposition parties to be obstructed in any way. The focus should be on the water crisis in Cape Town that has been so monumentally neglected in the province. The DA has only one province to run. I cannot imagine what they will do with five. Nevertheless, the opening of parliament should be about real problems facing us.
In the end, God is in the detail. I cannot listen to another speech that promises magical transformation or job creation. Your commitment to time keeping recently has come as a breath of fresh air. These small actions that everyone can implement is what will make a big difference down the line.
Time keeping is important, physically cleaning up our neighbourhoods and our schools and keeping them clean. Showcasing examples where business, labour and government are working together successfully creating jobs will mean more than abstract figures that promise billions in expenditure.
Your team will also have to be strong enough to watch your back. At the ANC conference, they slipped up badly. When you announced that the Integrity Commission has been given teeth to act decisively, you did not know that your secretary-general Ace Magashule and some of his supporters had stopped this decision in plenary. Since then you have hurriedly come back and instructed the changes of the ANC constitution to be in place by June 2018. Unfortunately, this will remain a strong feature of the political game in the years ahead and you and your team will have to be more vigilant.
I would like you to seek assistance to change the narrative that gives local business the right to hoard their resources at the expense of the public. They cannot expect you and your team to encourage foreign investment while they hoard resources that all of us have helped them create. The present Steinhoff scandal is such a clear illustration of this. With its collapse goes the pensions of many of our civil servants and there is hardly a whimper from the business sector.
I am pleased that you have not bowed to international capital and shown a lack of enthusiasm for two key conference decisions: an end to the foreign ownership of the Reserve Bank and to implementing land distribution. Instead you have cleverly linked extensive land redistribution to improved agricultural production, seeing the two as being mutually reinforcing rather than in competition with each other. If handled correctly and taken together with increased free quality education for poor students, this could be a revolutionary moment for the country. We are depending on you to be an astute team player and encourage talent in every community to come forward for the good of all.
The Jakes that we Loved
By Albie Sachs
Former justice of the Constitutional Court ALBIE SACHS reflects on the life of Jakes Gerwel, a contrarian who welcomed critiques of his own leadership
What to do about my Mozambican art collection? After the bomb that nearly took my life in Maputo in 1988, I was flown bandaged and semi-comatose to London, leaving behind my collection of Mozambican art. During the years of what we called the Mozambican Revolution, it had been impossible to buy a teaspoon or curtains, but easy to acquire quality paintings and sculpture by artists such as Malangatana and Chissano. It didn’t make sense to leave my art works in Mozambique, nor to exile them with me in London. I must send them home as an advance guard: watch out regime, we’ll be back soon!
But where to in apartheid South Africa? Even though there was significant contestation within the art environment at that stage, I didn’t fancy them going to the ambiguous space of a state museum... And then I knew – they would be in the right place at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Jakes Gerwel was its Rector and Vice-Chancellor and he epitomised everything I had come to love about the University. It had emerged as possibly the major centre of intellectual challenge to apartheid, overtly dedicating itself to the creation of a non-racial democracy. But more than that, Jakes had consciously helped to break its original Coloured-persons-only mould by enrolling Black African students and staff. Progressive whites, many from Afrikaans-speaking homes, had also been welcomed. The cherry on top had been that he had encouraged open debate and critical thinking; and the cherry on top of the cherry was that he also possessed profound literary and aesthetic sensibilities. If my art works had had a voice of their own, they would have said: yes, that’s where we would want to be.
Under the mantle of its first Rector of colour, Dick van der Ross, working with Jack Barnett, a struggle architect, the campus had undergone a huge physical makeover, giving it the style, aura and pizazz of a sprightly University. So a vibrant home of struggle it would be in South Africa for the beautifully anguished artwork produced at a time of war in Mozambique.
I forget who I wrote to, but the response from UWC was enthusiastic. What I didn’t realise was that Mozambican Customs would be slower than the South African political process and for years my art works would remain trapped in crates in Maputo harbour. Meanwhile in 1990 when the ANC and PAC were unbanned, I received a phone call in London from Dullah Omar asking on behalf of Jakes Gerwel if I could return to Cape Town.
A few weeks later I am back on South African soil as the guest of the UWC Community Law Centre. My first public appearances after 24 years of exile are at UWC. And I meet Jakes Gerwel in person. One consequence of exile is that you get to know people at ‘home’ only by name. The physical reality never seemed to correspond to the imagined person. ‘Jakes.’ I expected a fiery, somewhat bohemian intellectual, wearing a beret, with something of a swagger. Instead I find myself being greeted by an eager, utterly courteous and softly spoken person, surrounded by an administrative team who obviously adore him.
Desmond Tutu had been appointed Chancellor and the University had an excitement, resonance and non-racial character that made me feel immediately at home. Whereas before I had refused to attend my own graduation ceremonies at the Universities of Cape Town and Sussex, at UWC it was a delight to join in a procession led by Tutu dancing and swaying in his gown and encouraging a sense of joy rather than formality. And, happily, the artwork eventually arrived and were exhibited in spectacular fashion in the atrium of the Library.
Yet I noticed a quiet restraint about Jakes Gerwel who was at the centre of this process of changing the whole institutional culture. The process went beyond simply transforming the syllabus and creating a venue for critical debate on the hottest issues facing our country. It affected the manner and style of relationships on the campus. Jakes was impressive because he never tried to be impressive. He saw himself as a team leader. He was a good listener. He took ideas seriously. Having at times been a contrarian himself, he was not bothered by colleagues who challenged his own positions. On the contrary, he welcomed critique. And although the currents of thought at UWC might have been largely supportive of the ANC, there was complete freedom for PAC, Unity Movement, AZAPO and other quite distinctive positions to be expressed.
Working closely with Dullah Omar, Gerwel enabled UWC to become the intellectual engine room for the development of a non-racial and non-sexist vision when negotiations for a new constitution for South Africa started at CODESA. (Interestingly enough, the major university input from the National Party’s side came not from Stellenbosch or Pretoria, but from Potchefstroom, with Professor Francois Venter providing particularly thoughtful contributions.)
A number of key participants on the ANC’s negotiations team, including Zola Skweyiya, Kader Asmal, Brigitte Mabandla and myself, were employed as researchers and teachers at the Community Law Centre. Together with the ANC Constitutional Committee, UWC organised workshops in various parts of the country on issues such as the electoral system, whether to have a Constitutional Court, land redistribution, devolution of the regions and the enforcement of social and economic rights. Scholars and activists from all over the country and many parts of the world participated. Although Jakes himself was not directly involved, he ensured that university personnel would be able to make both organisational and intellectual contributions. Ideas, debate, thinking, an integral part of the national project.
When, in the afterglow of our first democratic elections on 27 April 1994, the news got around that Nelson Mandela had appointed Jakes Gerwel to be Director General in the Presidency, we were thrilled. I don’t know whether Jakes ever had an ANC membership card. I don’t recall him ever speaking at any of our meetings. He certainly would not have been appointed by Mandela as a party loyalist. But by any criteria, Jakes had all the requisite qualities for the position – a powerful intelligence, experience in managing an institution in a time of transformation, a deep feeling for the profound emotions of a country in transition and a people-friendly nature. He was neither obsequious nor conceited, but conveyed the calming assurance of a thoughtful and confident problem-solver.
One of the results of the separation of powers was that judges were not cozy with the Executive so I didn’t have any direct dealings with him, but his office got a reputation for being well-organised and responsive to the many demands being placed upon it.
In the late 1990s, our curiosity was evoked when we learnt that Jakes Gerwel and Franklin Sonn, who’d served as Rector of Peninsula Technikon, had taken up an invitation to serve on the board of Naspers, the major media group, which now includes Media24. What, some of us were asking, was he doing in the land of the wolves? We knew of his love for Afrikaans, which was his home language. One of his life missions was to counteract the manner in which the language had been hijacked by white racist Afrikaners and been converted into an instrument of domination. Many years later I learnt that Naspers had issued an apology for its role in apartheid. For many it was far too little, far too late and far too convenient, timed to reposition Naspers in the world. But it occurred to me that Gerwel’s tenure on the Board might have had something positive to do with this gesture.
These days when I travel along Jakes Gerwel Drive, I am reminded of ongoing tensions between two big themes in his life. One is the urgent need to increase access to universities for black students, many of whom do not speak Afrikaans. The other is to promote the development and enrichment of the Afrikaans language. What counsel would he have offered toward resolving these tensions at Stellenbosch and other universities today? What I am sure of is that he would have aimed for maximum inclusivity both in process and result, sought to find a principled and sustainable way forward, and given his reasons in a clear, thoughtful and balanced way. How we miss his special qualities today.
And yet throughout the country, both inside and outside government, I meet graduates of UWC of the Gerwel days. I don’t think I’m imagining it, but to a person they seem to have at least a touch of the quiet but resolute thoughtfulness that was so characteristic of the Jakes that we loved.
By Njabulo Ndebele
Thank you for inviting me to participate in this important gathering this morning. In the midst of so many other commitments, I decided to prioritise an unexpected invitation to do what I was asked. I was asked to express my understandings of the current state of our country Read more
Saudi Arabia’s ultra-conservative forces have for long succeeded in maintaining a tight hold on women’s freedom of movement in the Kingdom.
When King Salman lifted the ban on women driving recently, it sent a clear signal that those forces were no longer holding sway.
Their conduct over the years earned Saudi Arabia Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer
Ashley Forbes was 24 years old when he was imprisoned on Robben Island. He stayed in a single cell in B Section with Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim who was then serving a second period of imprisonment. He had served 15 years from 1964 and then kidnapped from Swaziland in Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer
What is happening in our country and in the world? Daily we are bombarded with shocking new revelations of misconduct of some politicians, civil servants and some business people.
Human civility, integrity and right action are flying out of the window. At the very moment when our natural resources Read more
Speech delivered at UCT graduation on 3 May 2017
Thank you very much programme director. Deputy Vice-Chancellor, SRC President, President of Convocation, academic staff, pass staff, graduating students, parents, ladies and gentlemen.
I am delighted to be with you this afternoon. Thank you for allowing me to share this very special moment Read more
I would like to thank you very much for the thoughtless tweets that you sent out recently. It has helped me draw a line in the sand.
I have always reached out to others across racial and political lines in the belief that we all have to learn to live Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer*
Healing the historical divisions in Cape Town requires careful thought and sensitive intervention. Apartheid has divided this city into separate racial pockets that remain intact ten years after democracy. Enclaves of non-racialism are emerging but essentially the Group Areas Act which brought havoc to so many Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer
I write this message to comrades and friends who gathered in Athlone today to mourn and celebrate the life of Judge Essa Moosa. I could not attend the memorial service because I am in Bloemfontein but feel the need tonight to share in this moment.
I am so sad Read more
“You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.”
“Our Tree is shedding its beautiful and glossy branches. We need to ensure that it Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer
The hatred of two men threatens to tear South Africa apart.
The standoff at parliament last week saw too former friends slug it out as enemies bringing one of the country’s most important institutions to a standstill.
President Zuma encouraged Julius Malema to behave in an atrocious way when he Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer,
March 20, 2008 – The Weekender
He sat upright, his face glowing in his large high-backed chair like an emperor waiting for his subjects to be brought into his presence. Dressed in a pale-blue traditional silk Madiba shirt and a dark pants, Nelson Mandela stretched out his hand to Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer
Why is there such a fuss about the importance of the World Economic Forum? The annual meeting at Davos will only ever make a difference to our lives if the rules of economic engagement are changed. And there was no substantial talk of that in 2017.
Allow me to Read more
Only 15% of our students make it all the way to graduation day. Part of the reason is that most of them are just too hungry to learn.
By Linda Fekisi & Zubeida Jaffer
When Samantha gets up at dawn to start the journey from her home in the shadow of the Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer
The crisis in the Gaza has its roots in the events of the two world wars. At the end of the First World War, Lord Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary, drafted a declaration that recognized the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. At the time, ninety Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer
Activists from around the country are gearing up for a national dialogue on the right to food in November. They plan to kick start a movement for food sovereignty in South Africa.
The African Centre for BioSafety in collaboration with the Foundation for Human Rights will host the dialogue Read more
by Zubeida Jaffer*
A plan in the making has finally come together. When President Zuma addressed the nation, he brought together the different elements of work of his economic ministers. Last year's SONA spoke about the government's commitment to job creation. This year's SONA has put flesh on the Read more
My first encounter with 5 W’s and an H was when I was a student at Rhodes University in 1978. By then some of my classmates were familiar with the problem solving method because they were taught this in High School English.
I don’t think there can be any journalist today Read more
By Shepi Mati and Zubeida Jaffer
The last time MK Commissars took a strong stand in pointing out the enormous discontent in the ranks of the ANC was in the late sixties. This initiative led to the now famous Morogoro Conference in 1969 which redefined the way forward for the organisation. Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer*
Steve Biko is a Xhosa prophet. Author and commentator, Moeletsi Mbeki made this extraordinary statement at the Franschoek Literary Festival this past weekend. His presentation was peppered with little quips and at first I thought this was just another. Nothing however confirmed this interpretation.
Mbeki shared a platform with well-known Economics Professor Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer
Jan Van Riebeeck arrived in South Africa in 1652. Who of my generation does not know this? It was drilled into all our minds at primary school. And even if we were not lucky enough to go to school, the mythology certainly did not pass us by. The Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer
Rudolf Mastenbroek seeks to discredit the tortured and not write about the torturers and askaris that journalist and author, Jacob Dlamini writes about so sensitively in his latest book Askari.
In a Sunday Times article (Nov 16) entitled “How do you tell a man that his courage has run Read more
Ayesha Dawood rose to prominence as a struggle activist in Worcester, Western Cape, and was one of the leaders charged in the 1956 Treason Trial. She passed away on the 28 May 2014.
These are the photos of the funeral that took place at Aesha Dawood's residence in Worcester. Find out Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer*
Lets not defend the indefensible. President Zuma has led his party and the country into a quagmire. Last weekend’s story in the Sunday Times has further added to the drift, leaving many of us hanging our heads in confusion and disappointment.
Phylicia Oppelt’s team has sifted through 3369 pages Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer
Let anyone who is without sin, throw the first stone (The Bible, 8: 7)
The Mandela family has been at the receiving end of publicity as the head of their family lies desperately ill in hospital.
It could be said they have brought all this controversy onto themselves. Their undignified Read more
By Zubeida Jaffer
Star editor, Makhudu Sefara opportunely broke a dignified silence today.
This was a tense two weeks for journalism. His voice articulates the levels of annoyance circulating amongst media professionals. If he had not spoken today, many were at risk of remaining “sitting ducks.”
I first became aware of the unfolding Read more