Obituary

Juby Mayet: Courageous, tough struggle journalist

Broke barriers as a black woman in media in SA

21 April 2019 - 00:00 By Chris Barron


Zubeida "Juby" Mayet, who has died in Lenasia at the age of 81, was a courageous anti-apartheid journalist who worked with some of the giants of South African journalism on the country's most legendary publications.
She always wanted to write, and after doing well in a short-story competition in Ruth First's New Age newspaper in the mid-1950s, which she entered while still at school - she was a runner-up to professional writers like Richard Rive - she decided to make her living as a writer.
Although not political by nature, she became a political writer by default. As she told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997, "the weight of apartheid made it impossible for black journalists to remain outside politics in the old SA".
She covered forced removals and drove a hired bakkie to Pampierstad in the Northern Cape with clothing and food she had collected for people whose forced removal from their homes to a tent town she had written about the week before.
She had personal experience of forced removals.
She was born on December 27 1937 in Fietas, a vibrant multiracial suburb of Johannesburg, where she lived until her home was razed to the ground in the '60s and her family was forcibly moved to Lenasia.
Her husband Essop Mayet and their children were classified Indian but she was classified Malay and had to be reclassified as Indian so that they could live together as a family in the Indian-only suburb.
She resented having to apply for reclassification but was told her only other option was to "get an Indian aunty to look after my children".
After leaving school she did a two-year teacher's training course at her parent's insistence because it was unheard of at the time "for a young middle-class Malay girl to do a weird thing such as journalism", she recalled. They demanded that she "do something concrete".
She joined Jim Bailey's Golden City Post in 1957, "young, shy, inexperienced but ready to take on the world".
In 1962 she joined Drum magazine in its glory days, when it boasted the likes of Can Themba, Casey Motsisi, Es'kia Mphahlele and Bloke Modisane.
She was boisterous, cheeky and provocative. Her way of fighting back against apartheid was to poke fun at it. She was also fearless and, during her many confrontations with police who were typically armed with sjamboks, guns and dogs, had to be restrained by her colleagues from attacking them.
Her survival kit was a bottle of vodka, a box of Rothmans and a "skop, skiet en donner" book. She called them her "three b's" and never moved without them.
She was a founding member and assistant treasurer of the Union of Black Journalists (UBJ). In 1977 she and 28 other black journalists including Zwelakhe Sisulu staged a march in the centre of Johannesburg against the banning of the UBJ and the detention of journalists, and were promptly detained themselves. They spent a night in the cells at John Vorster Square police station.
Later in 1977 she was arrested under the Internal Security Act for publishing anti-apartheid pamphlets in the UBJ Bulletin, which she produced. She was sent to the notorious Fort prison in Johannesburg for five months, which meant an enforced separation from her eight young children, who she'd been raising on her own since her husband Essop's death in a car accident in 1967.
When she got out she was served with a five-year banning order.
She was put under surveillance and harassed. Her home was raided more times than she could remember. She accepted it as part of her life as a black journalist. She was refused a passport six times and received her first passport in 1994.
In 1977 she became the first black woman deputy editor of The Voice.
In the past decade Mayet received several "lifetime achievement" awards.
She spent her last years in a small garden cottage surrounded by TV, computer, printer, newspapers, piles of books and 21 grandchildren.
She died after a long illness without completing the memoir she said she'd started writing in 1997, which she wanted to call Daai Koolie met die Lang Hare.
That's what the security branch used to call her, she'd explain with a laugh.
Mayet is survived by five children. 
1937-2019

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