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From Newsrooms to Lecture Halls

Realizing A Dream Deferred


Obed A. Kunene has patiently awaited for ten years the chance to come to Harvard as a Nieman Fellow, and he has finally attained his goal this year.

"It has always been my dream to come to Harvard on this program," Kunene says.

He first learned of the Nieman Foundation when a boyhood friend of his was granted a fellowship, and ever since, Kunene has longed "to follow my friend to Harvard." But for Kunene, the fourth black journalist allowed by the South African government to participate in the program, it has been a long wait, and his dream must have often seemed remote and unattainable.

In 1961 and 1965, South Africa permitted two blacks to become Nieman Fellows by granting them one-way exit permits--they were not allowed to return to their country. After one of them committed suicide in New York because he was unable to return home, the fellowship sponsor, the South Africa Leader Exchange Program Inc., abandoned the program because they felt it was too difficult a choice to force on black journalists.

The South African government eased its policy in the 1970s, and allowed some blacks passports. In 1972, James C. Thomson, curator of the Nieman Fellowships, said he would refuse to accept any South Africans as Niemans if the government continued to prohibit black journalists from participating.

In 1975, Percy Qoboza, current editor of the largest black South African newspaper, became the first black South African granted a passport in order to participate in the Nieman Program.

Two years later, Kunene, editor and political columnist for the Durban newspaper Ilanga, has become the second. Kunene has worked as a journalist for 20 years, writing for English newspapers in South Africa as well as covering political developments for Ilanga, a Zululanguage paper.

Kunene says he enjoyed "shopping around for courses" last week, and he ultimately settled for classes on African literature, government and politics in Africa, and fiction writing. He is also looking forward to participating in social and academic activities around Harvard and Cambridge this year.

Kunene finds Cambridge "a beautiful place and an exciting community," and he is anxious to do more sight-seeing. As for Harvard, Kunene is more than satisfied.

"I always expected a place like Harvard to be awe-inspiring and overwhelming--but I have not felt daunted or intimidated," he explains.

"Just to walk through Harvard Yard is the sort of experience I always expected it to be," he says happily.

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