EMERITUS PROFESSOR SULEMAN DANGOR presents some facts he gleaned from an interview with Qaanitah Hunter on Channel Islam International on November 24, 2021.
ACCORDING to Qaanitah, as a teenager she was always interested in the goings-on in the country and regularly listened to radio and read newspapers of all types. She was keenly interested in South African history and intrigued by political developments, including, at the time, the rape trial of President Jacob Zuma.
After studying at a darul-uloom and completing her matric, she joined Channel Islam International where she was mentored by Azhar Vadi who subsequently left for Salaamedia and is now the director of Salaam Foundation.
Qaanitah was then offered an internship by The New Age and did freelance reporting until she landed a position at the Mail & Guardian, in 2014. She had completed her under-graduate degree at UNISA and while at the Mail & Guardian went on to complete a BA Honours degree in journalism at Witwatersrand University. She is currently enrolled for the MA degree.
In 2015, Qaanitah was appointed as reporter by the Sunday Times. She also wrote for the Daily Maverick and Eyewitness News, and appears regularly on the SABC, eNCA and Talk Radio 702 channels. She is currently political editor of News 24. One of her strengths is that she can convey complex political issues in a way that can be understood by the average reader. This has increased her popularity among readers. Among Qaanitah’s many significant contributions were her reports on the Nasrec Conference, recall of Mbeki, State Capture and the Gupta Leaks during 2016-2018.
In 2016, Qaanitah was the runner-up in the Taco Kuiper Award for investigative journalism. In 2017, she received the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Award. In 2019, Qaanitah won the highly prestigious Nat Nakasa Award for Media Integrity. This is an award presented to a South African media practitioner in newspapers, magazines, broadcasting and online print media and whose reporting celebrates freedom of speech and media integrity.
Qaanitah has recently penned Balance of Power-Ramaphosa and the future of South Africa. The book deals with Cyril Ramaphosa’s rise to the ANC presidency, the political balancing act he has had to maintain as president, Jacob Zuma’s removal as president and Ramaphosa’s ascendency, and details of Ramaphosa’s plans for South Africa. It expounds on what the current political climate could mean for both the ANC and the future of South Africa.
Journalists face many challenges, including harassment, mainly by the political elite. Women, in addition, are victims of misogyny. As a result, some journalists suffer mental illness and others are intimidated by the harassment, and resort to self-censorship.
Qaanitah was lambasted by the ANCWL president, Bathabile Dlamini, for what she claimed were lies in Qaanitah’s report on an ANCWL meeting on May 6, 2021. News24’s lawyer, Willem de Klerk, described the statements as ‘clearly designed to harass, intimidate and threaten’ Hunter, and found them to be ‘highly defamatory’. News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson described Dlamini’s tweets as ‘another example of how rogue politicians, here and globally, have weaponised social media to insult, denigrate and ultimately silence the work of critical journalists’.
As a victim herself, Qaanitah was determined to create a safe environment for journalists. She has been appointed to the Council of the South African National Editors Forum, which is dealing with issues relating to mental illness suffered by journalists. The project includes creating awareness, counselling by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group and getting media companies to pay for the counselling services.
Qaanitah says that the Muslim community has been very supportive of her work, for which she is grateful; it gives her confidence to continue. She has never been held responsible for biased reporting by other journalists associated with her media forums. Her hijab has not posed any obstacles to her work.
Qaanitah’s advice to aspiring journalists is: maintain independence and report accurately without fear or favour; decide on what ‘branch’ of journalism they wish to embark on; undergo mentorship. I did ask Qaanitah for her views on the current political situation – which she gladly shared – but I decided to focus exclusively on her brief biography in this article.