Love her or hate her, Karima Brown kept it real to the end
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When I first met Karima Brown, I was a wet-behind-the-ears intern journalist, a 19-year-old working for The Star newspaper in Johannesburg in 1997. My housemates and I had been invited to a braai and even though I only knew a few of the folks, you don’t say no to a free lunch when you’re living off an intern’s salary.
I remember being introduced to Karima, who lived in a much nicer part of Yeoville, just up the road from the modest apartment I shared with my fellow journo interns. By then she was already a big name and I thought she would be aloof. She was, however, anything but, and I’ll never forget how she was genuinely interested in my experiences and how she offered me invaluable advice on that sunny Saturday afternoon.
Karima had been on the same pilgrimage as me. A Cape Town kid with a sheltered upbringing who didn’t know much about the big, bad world. Going to Joburg was an education – not just for journalism. She also came from Cape Town and showed a furious work ethic, carving a name for herself in broadcast journalism. But the one difference was Karima was an activist at heart and that activism would forever be part of her set of values. Years later, the name Karima Brown was back in my consciousness. It was 2013 when I was editor of the Cape Argus when news reverberated around Newspaper House that Karima would be joining Independent Media.
She would be the new Group Editorial Executive as part of the Sekunjalo Media Investments purchase of the newspaper group. I smiled at the prospect of working with Karima. Around me there was widespread panic at the news. Karima had a fierce reputation of not suffering fools. Some of my editor colleagues and even those higher up were literally running around in panic!
I got on famously with Karima, and some of my colleagues wondered why.
I always told them the same thing. Karima and I grew up in the same neighbourhood in Salt River, Cape Town. Every woman I grew up with was a Karima. My mom, sister, aunties and teachers. They were tough and you never died wondering.
But like these phenomenal women, for all her bluster and hard-assed nature, Karima had a heart of gold. She was compassionate and caring. She was the champion of the underdog and the working classes. The thing about Karima was that there was no middle ground for those she encountered. They either hated her or loved her. Because she was uncompromising about her convictions, it was never going to be any other way.
But the reason I was excited about working with Karima was that she was just the kick up the butt Independent Media needed. And my faith in her was repaid with the kind of freedom I had as an editor in the group. Karima backed all my crazy ideas and encouraged us all to be brave and innovative.
There was one particular occasion when I took an almighty gamble as editor of the Cape Argus and Karima backed me to the hilt. It was the edition I allowed students involved in the #FeesMustFall movement to co-edit the newspaper with me. I gave the students carte blanche on five editorial pages, including the front page, the opinion page and the leader article. I gave them the freedom to write their own headlines, captions and choose their own images. If this thing went wrong, I’d be in huge trouble.
We were deep into the production of this special edition when Karima called to ask about it because she had heard about it on social media. When I explained what we were up to she paused, and said in her typical Karima way: “Gasant, that is fu**ing amazing. I can’t wait to see it tomorrow.”
Karima was one of those rare breeds who was as comfortable in print journalism as she was in television. In fact, she was one of the pioneers of multi-platform journalists who was able to rise to the occasion with aplomb, and I am fortunate to have learnt so much from her. Karima, you have left a void in South African journalism. You were one of a kind. And you never died wondering.
* Gasant Abarder is acting director of Institutional Advancement at the University of the Western Cape.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media and IOL.