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Zubeida Jaffer: Academic, author, activist

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Zubeida Jaffer, the award-winning South African journalist and author, was recently featured as the 14th icon of 21 ICONS.

Holding a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York, she was the first South African woman to receive the USA’s Foreign Journalist Award in 1994.

Jaffer also received an award from the New York Foreign Press Association for outstanding academic and professional work.

Born in Claremont, Cape Town in 1958, Jaffer was detained by the South African authorities for two months in 1980 after exposing police killings.

During her detention, she was held in solitary confinement where she was tortured and beaten.

In 1986, she was detained again, while she was several months pregnant.

She was released after six weeks, only to be re-arrested nine weeks later and jailed again with her infant.

After South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994, she went to Columbia University in New York City.

She was reluctant to go to but fellow icon, Albie Sachs, former Constitutional Judge and Apartheid activist, convinced her that it was the right path for her career.

She is also a graduate of the University of Cape Town and Rhodes University and was a political analyst for the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

Jaffer is currently based at the University of the Free State as Writer-in-Residence where she has been tasked with reshaping the journalism curriculum.

In the present, Jaffer maintains that the government must be put under pressure and held accountable for their actions.

“With the Protection of State Information Act, if it’s important information or state information, and it needs to be known, I’m going to go ahead and write it. And then the state is going to have to put me into jail.”

- By 21 Icons. Edited by Carla Bernardo, Lead SA

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