I awoke early on Tuesday to the news that Achmat Semaar, an old friend and comrade from Mitchells Plain, died in hospital the night before, after experiencing a heart attack. He was 72.
There was a message on my phone about the death of veteran journalist Zuby Mayet, who had passed away at her home in Lenasia, Gauteng, over the weekend. She was 80.
Semaar and Mayet influenced my life in different ways - in community activism and journalism.
Semaar was one of the elders whom we respected in Mitchells Plain in the 1980s when we were involved in the Struggle. He became involved after the detention of several young people in the area and which brought together parents who feared for the safety of their children.
He later became involved in the Mitchells Plain Advice Office, which led to him serving a stint as a paralegal. Later, he would work in the ANC parliamentary constituency offices of Trevor Manuel and then Derek Hanekom. Until his death, he was a board member of the Mitchells Plain Skills Centre established by Manuel.
Manuel was abroad when Semaar was buried on Tuesday afternoon but sent a message of condolences to the family. Semaar’s funeral attracted prominent people, among them judges and members of the ANC’s leadership in the province, but also many activists from years gone by.
Ebrahim Rasool, who is spearheading the ANC’s election campaign in the province, said the party suspended its campaign for a few hours out of respect for Semaar, who had remained loyal to the ANC until his death.
A memorial service for Semaar has been planned at Glendale High School in Rocklands, Mitchells Plain, from 2pm today.
Mayet’s influence on me was probably more at a distance than Semaar’s because we were from two cities almost 1500km apart and from different generations of journalists.
I became involved in the Writers’ Association of South Africa in 1980, at a time when Mayet and others were stepping aside after having been at the forefront for years.
Mayet was part of the executive of Wasa and its forerunner, the Union of Black Journalists (UBJ), which had been banned during the government’s crackdown on political and media organisations on October 19, 1977, which is commemorated annually as Media Freedom Day.
Her involvement in journalism included being part of the Drum Writers of the 1950s - with people such as Can Themba and Nat Nakasa - and being part of the journalist union leadership.
In 2017, on the 40th anniversary of Black Wednesday, the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards, which I chair, honoured Mtimkulu who recalled the story of how he and Mayet (who was the UBJ treasurer) had withdrawn all the UBJ’s money from its bank account minutes after the organisation was banned. Technically, the money then belonged to the state. They were charged with theft. The charges were later withdrawn.
South Africans forget easily, but we should never allow ourselves to forget the contributions hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of South Africans made in the fight against apartheid. Without their contribution, we might never have achieved our freedom, imperfect as it is.
* Fisher is chief executive of Ikusasa Lethu Media. Follow him on Twitter @rylandfisher
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.