Office of Public Information and Communications Columbia University New York, N.Y. 10027 (212) 854-5573
Two African journalists will graduate from Columbia University today and return to reporting in the countries where they were once persecuted and jailed for their writings.
George Owuor of Kenya and Zubeida Jaffer of South Africa enrolled last year in the one-year master's degree program at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. Now, graduating with high praise from their professors, they have been hired by leading news organizations, he by Newsweek and she by South African Broadcast Corporation, to go back and continue their courageous work.
Mr. Owuor's reporting in the early 1990s for Nairobi's independent Daily Nation focused on human rights and official corruption, for which he suffered repeated reprisals. He was beaten and injured when he refused to recant a 1991 series of stories exposing the embezzlement of funds by top officials of the ruling party. He was detained following another corruption story the next year and later was sued by an official over his report about election fraud.
"I feel a strong commitment to return to Kenya to continue fighting for press freedom," he wrote recently. "Columbia has been a rich environment for improving my reporting skills, as well as learning more about the principles of press freedom, which are embodied not only in the journalism course but also in the American way of life. It is a learning experience I will use to assist the Kenyan public when I go back." He is also starting a press freedom project in conjunction with several human rights organizations, including PEN America, to monitor coverage of the general elections in Kenya next year.
Rand Daily Mail/Cape Times, she was detained by the South African authorities for two months in 1980 after exposing police killings. She was held in solitary confinement, tortured and beaten. In 1986, after editing community and trade union papers, she was detained again, even while she was several months pregnant. She was released at the time of her baby's birth, only to be rearrested nine weeks later and jailed again with her infant. She is writing a prison memoir, For the Freedom of Our Daughters.
Ms. Jaffer headed the media department of the University of the Western Cape from 1987 to 1989 and has been a freelance journalist since 1990. She has also written The History of the Struggle for a Bill of Rights in South Africa, which was published in 1993. She was a member of the Independent Media Commission for South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994.
She said she came to Columbia and to New York City last year to deepen her skills and "because I wanted the experience of living away from that situation" in South Africa. "Now I'm eager to go back and share those skills with others at home, at a time when a media revolution is taking place - something I'd like to play a small part in." Ms. Jaffer will be a producer for South African Broadcast Corporation and hopes to help start up independent television stations.