Poetry of an African peace-maker

“Few white people did more to help create the New South Africa.” Thomas Pakenham

Just out of school, Jim befriended me. Together we enjoyed the street life, restaurants, cafe’s and dancing good times of Cape Town. It was then 1996 and Cape Town was an emerging and very exciting multicultural city. I was nineteen years old and had no idea of who I was, yet Jim cut through all of that, saw my potential and raised it. He made a life-changing impact on me, by helping me to Africanise and look within. Jim was very unique. 77 years old at the time, he was an ageless being, beyond time. He did not see colour or class. He saw integrity and love. I became his editor in one sense, and companion in another. Mine was to be in his company and share the time together. For the last three years of his life, I would walk with him, drive with him, sit with him, eat with him and listen to him for as much time as possible. I soaked up not only the memories, realisations and stories but also his powerful humility and humanity.

Jim had a striking ability for spotting potential and nurturing it. He unleashed potential in many young creatives’ and revolutionaries. There exists volumes of work from an array of writers, musicians and politicians on the continent who took their maiden professional voyages under his wing.

I was one of those youngsters who was touched by Jim’s way of being. He was a philosopher, a master and a true gentleman. From his home at the foot of Table Mountain, Jim would look across the great view of Cape Town city and say, “You see every twinkling light out there? Under each light is a unique story.” He would seek out this uniqueness in each and every person and somehow through his infinitely personal way, find it and bring it out of them. Jim died at the age of 80, on leap day in 2000. I was left with a manuscript that he had asked me to edit. The manuscript contained three poetry books; the published volume of ‘Poetry of a Fighter Pilot,’ and two previously unpublished volumes, ‘Airborne to Africa,’ written under his name and ‘The New South Africa and the friends around her,’ written under the pseudonym, H.M Stanley Jnr. Jim Bailey was an extraordinary man. He was the last born of five children, the son of Sir Abe Bailey the self-made Randlord; and the adventurer, Baroness Lady Bailey, the first women to fly alone around the world solo. Jim knew little of his parents as a child. Straight out of school and he was a fighter pilot engaged in the Second World War. He was coming face to face with death on a regular basis. He was once shot down in the dead of a winter’s night and parachuted into the icy cold North Sea where he awaited his death. To his surprise, he lived. These experiences and others are well recorded in his beautiful book, ‘Poetry of a Fighter Pilot.’

After the war Jim immigrated to South Africa, bought a farm in Johannesburg, bought a magazine called African Drum and set about contributing to the golden era of creativity; including jazz music, jive dance and jovial African friendships. He converted Drum magazine into a vehicle of expression for the creative African people of Southern Africa to share their authenticity and uniqueness. Jim thereby engaged in sponsoring a cultural revolution.

With creative young Africans all over the continent actively documenting and sharing their joys and struggles, Drum magazine touched the hearts and minds of many generations of people. Drum had more than 20 offices in several countries all over the Southern half of the continent and Jim was travelling between them. When one thinks of Cecil John Rhodes’s desire to create a trail of domination from Cape to Cairo, Jim was the antithesis, nurturing a crossland of culture and celebration from Nigeria to Tanzania, from South Africa to Uganda. The journalists and photographers at Drum magazine contributed heavily to Africa’s liberation march during the 1960’s. Jim befriended and supported a number of African leaders in his personal capacity. They included Jomo Kenyata and Tom Mboya (Kenya), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Nigeria), Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu (South Africa). Jims’ adventures in Africa are shared in the marvelous poetry in the prequel to this volume, titled ‘Airborne to Africa’.

Jim Bailey and the leaders of the New Africa

Jim Bailey and the leaders of the New Africa

Jim also contributed very heavily to the creation of the New South Africa. He was extremely courageous to publish what he did at that time. During those years, apartheid South Africa dictated that all African men should be miners or labourers and all African women should be maids. Drum proved the opposite and showed African men as intellectuals and women as entertainers. Through Drum magazine, African people, African cultural activities and multi-racialism became celebrated. For his personal writing he used the pseudonym, HM Stanley Jnr. He required this disguise as he was sabotaged and attacked on a regular basis. Jim was tailed by CIA and secret services alike on so many occasions and there were attempts on his life. His nonchalance together with a well-meaning African intelligence looking after him, kept the threat away.

Jim published Drum for thirty-three years. At its height, Drum sold up to 180 000 copies of the magazine every month and was a very successful and sustainable enterprise. In 1984, Jim sold the magazine to the National Party media group, Nationale Pers. Jim’s intention for selling the magazine was a peaceful resolution between the African people and the Afrkaner regime, and the partnering between the two opposites of the ‘apartheid’ conflict on a business and a cultural level.

An investment in the business of African people meant a disinvestment in the war against them. And on a cultural level, people of all races had a platform to develop a sensitivity to one another. Where Drum was once a threat to the ruling regime, it was suddenly one of their popular magazines.

The sale of Drum magazine was a striking contribution to the miracle peaceful transformation of the old South Africa into the New South Africa. Drum magazine continues to this day, illustrating that longevity was the pot of gold at the end of Jim’s rainbow.

Jim was recognised in England. Queen Elizabeth awarded Jim a CBE (Command of the British Empire). The irony is, Jim has not yet received an award in South Africa. But it is never too late to take note. And that is the beauty of a timeless work. In my opinion, Jim’s contribution to this country was as one of the great peace-makers. Drum was a metaphorical bridge between a divided people, and a symbolic meeting point for all cultures and races.

Original Drum images by anonymous photographers are added to this edition of ‘The New South Africa and the friends around her’. These images are credited to ‘Drum staff photographers’ and are added in the spirit of upliftment, as so many of these anonymous photographers started their careers as drivers or helpers for Jim and went on to become celebrated professionals in their own right.

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