Battle of Hangberg

September 28, 2012

A 5-part feature myself and a colleague did in 2010 after clashes broke out in Hangberg over housing. Each part focused on something different that affects the community such as housing, education and crime. This feature won the Vodacom Journalist of the Year award provincially and nationally in the Community Media category.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:


Opening doors for Cape Town kids

September 28, 2012

According to Jonathan Jansen, a renowned professor at the University of the Free State, thousands of children fail in South Africa’s poor education system every year. However, 26-year-old Lonwabo and several other young men are trying to counter that with a non-profit organization they founded, called Unako. They provide mentorship to school children and also help schools in poor communities to build libraries.

Originally produced for Deutsche Welle.

South Africa Activist Braam Hanekom Helps Refugees

September 28, 2012

A feature I did for Deutche Welle’s World Link programme on activist Braam Hanekom.

Originally produced for Deutsche Welle.

South African neighborhood turns purple

September 28, 2012

Lavender Hill is one of the areas in Cape Town, South Africa with a serious gang problem and the highest unemployment rate. Subsequently, there are many cases of drug abuse and domestic violence. Marcelle van Zyl started a project in the area called Lavender in Lavender Hill. The idea is to keep the youth off the street and create employment opportunities by cultivating lavender and making soaps, teas and oils with the plant. The project started last year, but is lacking funds and therefore cannot employ more than five people at the moment. But Marcelle is working hard to keep the initiative going, as it is impacting positively on the community.

Originally produced for Deutsche Welle.

9/11: The day Islam became the scapegoat

September 11, 2012

11 September 2001 was a turning point in world history. But it was mainly the day that Islam became a victim of the media. I was a teenager when I got home from school one day and saw the footage of the aeroplane flying directing into the World Trade Centre in New York City. Immediately the demonisation of Islam started.

I remember watching CNN. However, I don’t remember what exactly was being said, but I do recall sitting on the couch watching intently, horrified not only at the situation unfolding, but also that the media was mentioning terrorism and Islam in the same breath. I remember thinking that every bad thing they were saying about Islam was not what I was taught being raised in a Muslim household. It was not what I was being taught in madrassah (Islamic classes). It was not in the Quran. It just was not true – none of it.

One of the first things you are taught at journalism school is that you have the power to shape public opinion. And slowly but surely over the years since 9/11 people have allowed Western media to infiltrate their minds and their logic.

When we read the newspaper, listen to the radio or watch the news on television, we sub-consciously formulate our perceptions. For example, yesterday a story on the attacks in Iraq on Al Jazeera’s website started with “Suspected Al-Qaeda fighters”, yet the accompanying video clip clearly stated that nobody claimed responsibility for the attacks and it wasn’t known who was behind it. But as soon as the public reads those three words the (inaccurate?) picture has already been painted.

Since 9/11 the term Islamaphobia was popularised, a term I strongly believe has no meaning whatsoever. People aren’t SCARED of Muslims, they’re just ignorant. “Islamaphobes” are always spewing hate speech as if they’re the experts on religion when, in fact, they haven’t even touched a Bible or Quran. They’re like all other racists out there.

Since 9/11 Islam was blamed for extremism displayed by non-Muslims such as Norwegian Anders Breivik. It seemed ok to the world out there that Breivik’s excuse for killing 77 people in Oslo last year was that he wanted to “free Europe from the clutches of Islam”. He was sentenced to 21 years in jail for his act of terrorism, which had absolutely nothing to do with Islam. Many suspected – most likely innocent – Muslim terrorist suspects are being held at Guantanamo Bay detention camp without trial and without even being charged, brutally tortured year in and year out. Dr Aafia Siddiqui was also targeted by US authorities.

Since 9/11 terms such as “Islamist” and “Islamification” were also popularised and overused, words so loosely used and always with a negative connotation to it and in a negative context. When a white American starts shooting innocent people at a college or cinema, it just happens to be a sad case of affairs. But if it’s a Muslim American the media goes out of its way to emphasise the shooter’s ethnicity and religion, and with the word “Islamist” attached to the headline, what is the automatic sub-conscious perception being created in the mind of the person who believes everything and questions nothing?

Since 9/11 everyone became an “expert” on Islam, especially those who never opened a Quran, interacted with Muslims or made an effort to learn from a Muslim scholar what Islam teaches. All opinions derived from biased Western media and internet discussion forums.

Since 9/11 Islam has grown tremendously in the US and globally. The inquisitive minds are determined to have their questions answered. And once answered, they see the beauty of the religion. So thank you, American media, for strengthening the ummah (Muslim populace).

This article was originally published here.

Understanding Rohingya

September 3, 2012

Just a few weeks ago the word “Rohingya” was never even heard of. Little did the world know that they are a stateless group of Muslim people in Burma, suffering under persecution of the worst kind possible. They are not recognised as citizens, they are not allowed to, move around, marry, conceive without state permission, receive an education after the age of seven and neither can they claim rights to land they own. Three out of seven days Rohingya people are required to clean and maintain Buddhist monasteries, and they are referred to as “kalla” mean black.

Rohingya are not allowed to be issued with birth certificates or death certificates – they are labelled as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Rohingya Muslims have been in existence in the Arakan region for more than 1200 years. Mabrur Ahmed, co-founder and co-director of Restless Beings, a humanitarian organisation that works with marginalised communities across the globe, said Rohingya people even existed at the start of Buddhism in Burma which dates back about 4500 years.

“The majority of the spread of Buddhism came from the Arakan region and that is where the clashes are taking place,” explained Ahmed. “For more than 1000 years Arakan has been inhabited by the Rakhine and Rohingya – they are the two indigenous groups of the area.”

The Rakhine are describes as very spiritual, deeply religious and conservative Buddhists. “A lot of the monks of Burma came from that region, but this only really happened after the Kingdom of Arakan because it was a separate kingdom and was engulfed by Burma and that spread of Buddhism took place,”  sad Ahmed. “At the same time the spread of Islam took place. But not as quite the same weight as the spread of Buddhism through the Rakhine in that particular region. The rise of  Buddhism came after the Rohingya already arrived in Burma.”

Burma was placed under a military junta since 1962, resulting in a media blackout. Hence nobody knew of the plight of the Rohingya and the fact that they were stripped of their citizenship more than 30 years ago.

Restless Beings is the first organisation that managed to get video footage out of Burma to highlight the persecution of the Rohingya. Restless Beings is now working with major international media houses get more footage out of the region to create awareness.

“The reason it wasn’t covered is because it was really difficult to get access, but through us the media have an opportunity to get access,” said Ahmed, adding that the Rohingya issue is still not being discussed on a mainstream level.

There is now concern that in a couple of weeks the Rohingya plight would be forgotten. “This people didn’t come from nowhere – their struggle has been in existence since 1962,” said Ahmed.

They have always been part of the Burmese community and Rohingya people have serving in government as elected members of parliament since the advent of the military junta in 1962. However, when the dictatorship began the general in charge was very adamant on pushing tone identity – the Burmese identity and anything that was outside of that realm was recognised as alien.

Burma made up of hundreds of ethnic communities there were recognised during democratic times, but once the dictatorship came into power only 135 communities were recognised.

“It’s the same apartheid we saw in South Africa but in South Africa the world shunned the authorities for their treatment of the black people,” said Ahmed. “And now we are seeing the same thing happening in Burma but the world is accepting it.” VOC (Faatimah Hendricks)

This article was originally published here.

Book review: Love In the Time of Treason

August 26, 2012

Author: Zubeida Jaffer

When I picked up this book and read the synopsis I thought it was a typical love story, only with the added flavour of apartheid. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. The system tries to keep them apart. But they live happily ever after. With this in mind I couldn’t even get passed the first chapter. I read a few pages and tossed it for a different book. I tried again after a few months and abandoned the book for something else. However, on the third attempt I forced my way through the first chapter and I couldn’t put this book down.

This literally is a case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Love In the Time of Treason is beautiful and unpredictable love story that unfolded during very trying times in South Africa. It’s hard to imagine that people with such patience, tolerance and faith really existed when South Africa was in turmoil. This book also shows once again how the apartheid regime ruined families and lives.

I don’t want to say anything about the actual storyline. Best you get a copy and read it yourself. Truly one of the best books I’ve read written by one of South Africa’s greatest journalists and struggle stalwart.