Tag Archives: South Africa

Jim Bailey: Battle of Britain fighter pilot and anti-apartheid warrior

(click photo for large)

The wondrous life of James R. A. Bailey, DFC – founder of DRUM Magazine, South Africa

Anybody who has spent any time at all in South Africa knows DRUM Magazine, a publication that has had its ups and downs in the past six decades but was always on the front line of the struggle for freedom. Since I spent some time in Jo’burg in the early 1990’s, DRUM has turned into more of a black urban lifestyle publication but there was a time when the tabloid told stories that no one else could without getting banned.

What I didn’t know before now, and only just discovered this past week, is that DRUM was started and financed for decades by a white ex-Royal Air Force fighter pilot named Jim Bailey. To my great delight an old friend presented me with a birthday gift of Bailey’s wartime biography The Sky Suspended – A fighter pilot’s story. That led me to looking up the author online and there I found the story of Jim Bailey and DRUM. Isn’t the Internet a wonderful thing?

As near as I can discern from the online stories, Bailey poured much of his inherited wealth into starting DRUM as a “black” publication in 1950. It was a true tabloid with girls, crime and violence to keep the readers titillated and the numbers up but it developed a reputation for coming right up to and crossing the line about freedom issues. I think BFP’s readers will understand our appreciation of that marketing philosophy. 🙂

When the police beat Steve Biko to death in 1977, DRUM showed the activist in his coffin. When Desmond Tutu wanted to tell the people why he met with the South African apartheid government, he did so in the pages of DRUM. When the bodies piled up on the streets in the townships, DRUM showed them beside the photos of the white police who shot them down. These were dangerous stories to cover, but DRUM did so and made a difference.

Jim Bailey died in early 2000 but he left a legacy of books and poetry that I’ve yet to read. I’m only 40 pages into The Sky Suspended, but other than writing this post I doubt I’ll do any work for the next few days until I finish the book.

Later this week I’ll put up a few more posts on Bailey and his role in Sooth Africa at the time, but for now here’s what he says about what it takes to be a fighter pilot…

It became a study of mine, one I pursued meticulously at this time, to discover what type of man makes the best fighter-pilot. I found, for example, that only children, pilots without brothers or sisters, were particularly helpless. When a new pilot came to us, I would try to guess after a day or two whether he came from a large family or not and then go and ask him. If he did, he had a better chance to survive.

Good pilots are common, good fighter-pilots were rare. It is as with polo: many can ride, but few play polo well; and among those who play well, many ride in a crude and efficient way, without good hands or precision. I arrived at a few conclusions. The qualities that made for success in a fighter-pilot seemed to be just those sturdy qualities that made for success in other professions; observation, initiative, determination, courage, including the courage to run away.

Battle of Britain veteran Jim Bailey on what makes a great fighter pilot


Filed under Africa, Aviation, Culture & Race Issues, History, Human Rights, Military, Race

Runner Semenya ‘hermaphrodite’ – both male and female organs. What now?

Semenya hermaphrodite

I firmly believe that God makes each one of us to be unique in every way, but that doesn’t make it any easier for those of us who are a little more unique than the majority of people.

Caster Semenya is different in her own way and it is a damned shame that she is now going to be put through a very public examination of very intimate details about her physical person and her life.

If Caster makes us examine how we think about others who are different than we are, and how we treat folks who are different than what we consider to be “the norm”, then some good will come from her pain.

As for our family, Shona and I will be saying our nightly prayers with Caster Semenya in mind – and Auntie Moses says she’ll be doing the same.

The Sun: Runner is a ‘hermaphrodite’


Filed under Celebrities, Health, Sports

A City Dies: Robert Remembers Johannesburg, South Africa

The Chelsea Hotel, Hillbrow – Or What’s Left Of It

Jan Smuts International Airport is about seven miles east of downtown Johannesburg, but even in 1991 that seven miles was probably about the most dangerous road I’ve ever driven. We never took one vehicle, always two. Race didn’t matter: black, white, coloured, chinese – nobody cared. If you were a foreigner you were fair game. I am “black” in Barbados but in Jo’burg I was “coloured”.

That was in the days when I was starting third seat on 727’s and “any cargo, anytime, anywhere” was the motto. The biggest lesson I learned that year was to use far more straw than the “experts” recommended.

You say, “Straw? Boeing 727 and straw? What the devil is he talking about?”

A healthy 727-200F can carry about 300 live goats plus a few pallets and lots of fuel. It was a hell of a way to make a living, but that was how I spent most of 1991. My time there was short but full of (mostly good) memories – with the exception of a bad bad happening on 03 Left that I shall never forget. It is a long story but there was no damage and nothing was injured except our pride. Nothing that a change of underwear couldn’t cure.

Although we usually stayed close to the airport, a few times I stayed at the Chelsea Hotel in Hillbrow because one of the chaps had some pretty friends there. The former white enclave became a bit of a free-for-all zone in the early 1980’s but by 1991 the party was ending.

An old friend sent me the above photo of how the Chelsea Hotel looks now and links to a website that shows what is left of the city. He says that the Johannesburg is dead man walking. Nothing remains. Anyone who could get out has gone.

“What about you?”, I said.

“Home is home”, was the reply.

Good luck, old friend – but you’ll have to visit me because my days of travel to Jo’burg are well and truly ended.



Filed under Africa, Aviation, Barbados, Traveling and Tourism

Stephen Biko – 29 Years Ago Today

UPDATED September 12, 2010: 33 years ago today…

In all the attention given to the victims of Muslim terrorists on 9/11 every year (and rightly so), the September 12th anniversary of Stephen Biko’s murder by police usually goes unmentioned. BFP’s Robert remembers though…


Beaten To Death By South African Police – September 12, 1977

I was a child when he was murdered, so I did not know the name Stephen Biko until much later – when a White Jewish Zulu named Johnny Clegg joined an African band called Savuka.

Neither did I know the names Victoria Mxenge, Neil Aggett and so many, many more. Or about “banning” and other such things.

If you do not know of Stephen Biko, Victoria Mxenge, Neil Aggett or of a white Jewish Zulu (now there’s a combination!) named Johnny Clegg – and what each of them stand for, then I invite you to pass by the following links… Continue reading


Filed under Barbados, Culture & Race Issues, History, Politics & Corruption