There have been three sad deaths of veteran journalists this week: photojournalist Herbert Mabuza, former Rand Daily Mail editor Raymond ‘Oom Ray” Louw and ZB Molefe. Society is very much the poorer for the loss of all three, but this column must pay particular tribute to Molefe.
Arthur Zuluboy ‘ZB’ Molefe had a distinguished career in newsrooms as writer, editor and mentor that stretched back to Drum magazine, and more recently included City Press. He was a two-time winner of the Book Journalist of the Year award (1994; 1996), contributing editor at the Know Africa encyclopedia, a published poet, and a Poynter, Harvard and Niemann Journalism Fellow. But the obituaries have rightly focused on his publication in 1997 of A Common Hunger To Sing https://www.amazon.com/Common-Hunger-Sing-Tribute-1950-1990/dp/0795700644, where – accompanied by striking portraits from photojournalist Mike Mzileni – he interviewed 50 South African women musicians whose careers spanned the period 1950-1990. At a time when South Africa’s popular news media often treated women in music as mere decorative add-ons, Molefe created space where they could talk seriously about their music and their lives. A Common Hunger isn’t just a book, it is priceless archive enshrining the voices of both the famous (Dolly Rathebe, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Sibongile Khumalo) and many other key figures (Snowy Radebe, Marjorie Pretorius, Mary Thobei) who are less well known. Without Molefe’s pioneer and accessible work, my own and that of many other music writers would have been incomplete and wholly unbalanced, lacking information about the vital role women played in shaping South African jazz. We owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. May his spirit rest in peace; hamba kahle.