Thami Mazwai, former journalist and anti-apartheid activist, is jailed for two years

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Thami Mazwai

Friday, 12 February 1982

On 12 February 1982 journalist Thami Mazwai was jailed for two years after refusing to present facts against a former fellow student-leader charged under the Terrorism Act. At the time Mazwai was a journalist with the Sowetan. In the early 1980s the Nationalist Party government was determined to curtail any sign of dissent that might lead to unrest. And the period, 1980 to 1984, was marked by a series of political trials flowing from the unrest that had gripped the country in the second half of the 1970s. It is therefore possible that the student leaders were charged with offenses relating to their activities in the 1970s.

On 9 October 1969 Mazwai received a letter from Steve Biko explaining the reason for not wanting to make a press statement with regards to the work of the South African Students Organisation (SASO). This suggests that Mazwai was one of the journalists Biko would have been prepared to talk to.

Mazwai, along with Joe Tlholoe, who was his colleague at Sowetan, and both known to have been members of the PAC in the 1950s before the organisation was banned, would inevitably have come under the security police's scrutiny.  And as journalists they are known to have been sharply critical of apartheid. Mazwai wrote; "As a journalist I am part and parcel of my people and cannot turn against our aspirations simply because the going is rough... nor can I reveal in a courtroom what I am told by a source 'off the record."  After his release from jail he wrote: "I could have gone back to my normal, cosy life, but the scrutinising glares of my family, my colleagues and my community made sure I did not blunder in that direction."

Mazwai  is currently a successful businessman and publisher. He also holds a number of directorships of large companies, some of which he helped establish.  Tlholoe is the Press Ombudsman.

Mazwai was born on 3 October 1944 in Johannesburg. He worked as a day editor of The Sowetan in 1992 - 1993.

References:
• Martin, K., (1997), 'Chronology of some pointers to the history of the media in South Africa', from Nelsonmandela.org, [online], Available at www.nelsonmandela.org [Accessed: 07 January 2011]
• Anon, (n.d.), 'Letter from Steve Biko to Thami Mazwai', from Digital Innovation of South Africa (DISA), [online], Available at www.disa.nu.ac.za [Accessed: 07 January 2011]

Last updated : 28-Jan-2014

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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