January 5 1944 – May 31 2019
Zuluboy “ZB” Arthur Molefe was one of a kind. Few journalists matched his pedigree, energy, curiosity and resourcefulness.
Death being death, it has been unkind to us lately, first claiming aunty Juby Mayet, the activist and campaign journalist of her time, soon followed by the untimely death of the crafty and courageous photojournalist Bongani Mnguni. It was barely three days after Zuluboy died that the “silent assassin”, photojournalist Herbert Mabuza, left us. Someone is holding a list up there, taking away from us these gems. It is a trend happening at an alarming rate.
Zuluboy was the boy from Skom, as streetwise as he was colourful; a man about town in his own right. The Pimville, Soweto, thoroughbred of the “tigers-don’t-cry” war cry. He loved his chosen craft above all. Versatile and dynamic, he was a writer with a scrupulously high work ethic. He inspired confidence. He handled any journalist beat and spoke so eloquently, so elegantly with his pen. He made it here, abroad, everywhere; he made us proud.
Jazz was his love. He wrote a book, co-authored with ace photographer Mike Mzileni and titled A Common Hunger to Sing: A Tribute to South Africa’s Black Women of Song 1950 to 1990.
When hardcore journalism beckoned, he waltzed away, drifting from the moorings of the entertainment scene and the jazz beats for the more serious and heavy political stuff, such was the dexterity, flexibility and dynamism of the man we called ZB; well-rounded artistically, a rare trait and a distinguishing attribute.
He was a man of books, lest we forget. He read up on any subject matter, omnivorously and insatiably digesting information. What he got in, he would give out, and it showed in the quality of his writing. He did not take his readers for granted or for a ride.
I first met ZB at the banned The World newspaper, a newsroom full of journalists with a cause, himself included. An intimidating, serious-minded bunch wearing stern looks – Aggrey Klaaste, Joe Thloloe, Thami Mazwai, Sekola Sello, Mothobi Mutloatse, Phil Mtimkhulu and other crotchety characters of the old school who knew how to mix business with pleasure, and had a few knocks to show for it; casualties of women, wine and dance. At the helm was editor Percy Qoboza.
I learnt classical journalism and the art of wordsmithing from this lot, from ZB, who once took me out on an assignment, holding my hand. At the end, I had my first lesson in practical journalism. I had grasped news-gathering techniques, swiftness, speed and accuracy. That was his other passion – to be a mentor who, even in later years, continued to dedicate his time to nurturing the skills of young journalists. We thank you, ZB.
He was taken into detention without trial for a long spell because of his work, reporting on the June 16 1976 Soweto uprisings. The apartheid security branch police didn’t like ZB’s work and didn’t want the international community to know about the happenings in Soweto, so ZB and the others had to be stopped. The solution was simple – throw them in jail.
He re-emerged to take up his next high-profile job as City Press deputy editor. He did not sit at his desk. No, he wasn’t the type to reduce able-bodied men to gophers and errand boys.
He led by example. He hit the road and brought us Driefontein and Saul Mkhize.
The apartheid government had gone mad. At the time, the South African geopolitical landscape was replete with stories of resettlement of black communities to create “white South Africa”, and the black community of Driefontein, in the then eastern Transvaal, was in their sights.
ZB was there to witness visibly worried old men and women – outnumbered by armed policemen in camouflage fatigues – who had gathered to resist the removal and destruction of Driefontein, led by Mkhize. Mkhize was shot dead by a white cop and never lived to see his people triumph over evil. Driefontein was saved and ZB was there, the drama captured in the poignancy of his words and the power of the images. We thank him and those of his ilk.
Then there was Ingwavuma, even madder. In the middle of 1982, the apartheid government had announced its willingness to transfer two of South Africa’s land areas – Ingwavuma and Kangwane – totalling about 10 000km² – to Swaziland, now eSwatini. This was seen by observers as a “reward” for the Swazis for kicking out the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress, thereby stopping the liberation movements from launching operations against South Africa from Swaziland.
ZB, with lensman Mzileni in tow, descended on a tense Ingwavuma. They had been warned that they were taking their lives into their own hands; that Ingwavuma was out of bounds to strangers, as they might be mistaken for Swazi troublemakers or spies. ZB triumphed and returned to tell us how they cried, laughed and shared the fears with the Ingwavuma people. They had brought the full horror to the attention of the world, graphically capturing the events in pictures and writing that found a mirror in every mind. Ingwavuma had triumphed, too, again thanks to ZB and people like him.
The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. ZB’s courage and sword might have been struck by death. The paths of glory, in many ways, lead but to the grave. How dare we forget a man so heroic? He called me Charlie. I called him Charlie. A name reserved for the street smart.
Len Kalane is former City Press editor and author of The Chapter We Wrote – The City Press Story