National Women's Day on 9 August marks 50 years since over 20 000 South African women of all races and creeds marched together to the Union Buildings in protest of the apartheid pass laws.
Led by the likes of Lillian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa and Helen Joseph, the march has come to be a reminder of the amount of strength, leadership and capability that women possess, which they can then use to empower those who also dream of making a difference in their communities.
From this generation rose many influential women, some of whom had extensively shaped our media landscape over the years. Names like Jane Raphaely, the founder of Fair Lady magazine, and Zubeida Jaffer, an award-winning journalist and anti-apartheid activist, evoke respect and admiration from journalism students like me.
As an aspiring journalist, I always believed that the written word can make changes. Penning stories that dealt with the cultural, political and social threads interwoven in South African society and how they concern its citizens, which could then lead to open discussions with each other, had been one of my motivations in studying towards a Journalism degree at university. It was as Jaffer said at a guest lecture: “I didn't choose journalism – journalism sort of chose me.”
Now in my third year, I see how working in the media allows one to empower and to be empowered -- writing features and profiles on topics which creates a connection between the subject and the readers. With every voice that can be heard through a report comes the satisfaction that the writer was able to pluck up the courage to inquire after and share the subjects' stories with others.
But it is the women in the media to whom I can attribute this sense of work ethic and resolve that has been instilled in me.
In my first two years of study, I was full of aspirations but lacked the nerve when it came to putting together credible stories. When I interned at The Cape Times in both 2014 and 2015, the journalists who I mainly shadowed were women. How they were able to approach potential interviewees with ease, double-check facts from their sources and put together stories in a short period of time not only amazed me, but it also instilled some confidence in my own abilities as a writer.
It also made me respect how these ladies wrote the majority of news articles that I read in the newspaper every day; on par with their male colleagues, their articles were of newsworthy quality, well-researched and – importantly – highlighted issues which then allowed for positive changes to occur. One such instance saw Francesca Villette, a news reporter, penning an article on Klaarwater, an informal settlement outside of Cape Town, whose two toilets and a tap had not been working for two years. On the day that the story was published, the authorities arrived at the settlement and fixed the toilets and the tap. What made Villette's article even more poignant was that she had stopped at Klaarwater straight after covering the Indie Karoo Film Festival, and it was her drive to make light of the residents' plight that resulted in her writing the article.
In June of this year, I went to intern at a magazine publication in Cape Town, as my third year Journalism and Media course required that I fulfil some hours in a newsroom. I arrived at the same time as when content was due to go into print. Despite the stress that comes with meeting deadlines, there was time in-between to be introduced to the entire staff who were all women, more or less 15 altogether.
Again, I was amazed at these ladies' abilities – not only for writing stories that covered a wide range of topics, but also for putting together an entire magazine that would be circulated around the country. This included the photography, the design layout and even the advertising. Many of the articles themselves put the spotlight on women in South Africa, in particular independent women who possessed leadership skills and have made a difference in the lives of others. Not often does one see many stories in mainstream media that focuses on women and girls, and on the issues and triumphs that occur in their everyday lives. That a magazine or a similar medium – powered by female authority figures – can shed light on these women's statuses certainly says a great deal about where women, nationally and internationally, wish to stand in relation to men: as equals. Empowered, but equal.
Women in media have paved the way for aspiring journalists like me to take up the pen and contribute to society in a way that benefits all individuals, especially women. The journalists that I got to work with taught me that media in all its forms is a powerful tool that can be used for the purpose of making positive changes. Following in the trail of Raphaely and Jaffer among others, it is hoped that I can catch up to them one story at a time.