Global change isn’t always found in the pockets of generous benefactors or in the promises of politicians. Sometimes, it takes a person with the strength, conviction and initiative to change the way the world thinks. Azhar Vadi is that person – a man who uses the power of media and his own influential voice to reshape the viewpoints of society.
Esteemed journalist and humanitarian of note, Azhar Vadi co-founded the independent broadcast agency Salaamedia with other likeminded altruists, bringing together both of his life’s passions; philanthropic work and reporting of the truth. A bold, yet brave shift from traditional media platforms, Salaamedia justly pursues the accurate portrayal of Muslims in the news, advocating ‘humanitarian journalism’.
Azhar calls Lenasia home. His early years were spent growing up in the poor, gang-infested and drug-plagued district of Greyville, in the south of Johannesburg. His family then moved to Extension 11 in the year 2000, where they still reside. Education formed an important part of this childhood since both his parents being teachers, although his father went on to become a parliamentarian. Azhar describes them as strong individuals who put their lives on the line during the anti-apartheid struggle. He recalls accompanying them to rallies and events as a young boy in the 1980’s, where they were often pursued by police and the state. Their fight for freedom and crusade for humanity are qualities which have inspired him throughout his own life.
The 34-year old is well-recognised for his early work on Radio Islam and Cii Radio, which gave him incredible opportunities to grow and extensively stretch out his own journalistic wings. He was, with much gratitude, mentored by Ismail Variawa, a seasoned figure at Radio Islam. Mr. Variawa helped to develop his practical skills and prowess as a journalist, providing Azhar with valuable hands-on experience and wisdom that can’t be found in the pages of university textbooks. As Head of News at Cii Radio, Azhar honed his reporting skills even more by travelling to international war-torn territories and interacting with foreign locals. Many of the news stories he’s covered involved working with the destitute in poverty-stricken areas. Personally and emotionally afflicted by their suffering, Azhar questioned what more could be done to help them. These grave experiences magnified his efforts and support for humanitarianism.
Azhar reached his breaking point during a visit to the Gaza Strip at the end of the war in 2009. Accompanying the Gift of the Givers, he describes his first experience as a conflict reporter to be a very difficult one. The devastating after-effects of the war and the state of its survivors shattered him and stirred his conscience. He mentions that although South Africans suffered at the hands of Apartheid, the consequences of war are a grievous calamity that we can’t even imagine.
Launching Salaamedia nudged Azhar out of his comfort zone because it goes against the standard definition of ‘journalism’. The essence of truthful reporting usually gets lost in orthodox media broadcasting, with news agencies harbouring secret agendas and airing articles based on their own prejudices and ideologies. Salaamedia, on the other hand, has been founded on the principles of justice, equality, freedom, dignity and democracy. They create an awareness around non-discriminatory news and humanitarian projects in South Africa, the African continent and overseas.
A 3000km Ride for SA Education saw avid cyclists from Salaamedia cover a distance of 2000km on a cycle tour from the top of the country to Cape Town. This visionary project was in aid of raising funds for education. Azhar and his team are passionate about developing sustainable academic systems in South Africa because once you gift a child with knowledge, they will reap the benefits for a lifetime. Salaamedia also teamed up with Jamiatul Ulama to open a computer lab at a school in Atteridgeville last month, and continually hold campaigns for books, stationery, school shoes and uniforms.
Another successful charity project: Salaamedia hosted the #WalkforSomalia and #WalkforRohingya campaign which helped raise funds for these ailing countries. Azhar is amazed by our local communities’ support and willingness to get involved in these type of projects. He looks forward to working with them, especially the youth, on many more to come.
An incident that emotionally impacted Azhar was a trip to Rohingya, where driving through the refugee camps with the windows down, the roads were lined with little children who extended their hands in the hope of receiving some money. It was heart-rending to Azhar, that while he was able to physically touch the fingers of these kids as he drove by, he couldn’t offer them even a single Bangladeshi Taka (less than 20c), due to strict governmental laws and the fear of being arrested for it. Azhar mentions that it unsettles him to think that some of these children get kidnapped, exploited and become victims of human trafficking, never to be seen again.
The Communications-graduate is a staunch believer in ‘acting’ over ‘giving’. He says that while many of us contribute financially to human aid, we need activists to stand up for our principles and say “No” to atrocities. Salaamedia plans to bring activism to the forefront: “There’s only so much of money we can give, but we can give of ourselves and of our time.”
His thoughts on Proudly Muslims of SA: Azhar says there’s so much goodness and positivity out there which needs to be transferred to the wider public, and a platform like this one will amplify the message. It gives us the chance to tell our stories in our own unvarnished words and dispel the negative untruths that are so freely portrayed in the media.
The father-of-three describes himself using the terms: simplicity, passionate and striving for equality.
Mr. Vadi’s most treasured Quranic verse: “Don’t despair in the mercy of Allah.” When it’s difficult to stay positive amidst the tragedies that surround him, he explains that Allah has provided so much hope in this verse.
His advice to aspiring philanthropists: “Get involved and start. That’s the most important thing.” He advises people to start helping in their individual capacity if they don’t want to be part of a large organisation. Humanitarian work is as simple as picking up litter off the ground.
Azhar’s goals for the future include continuing with humanitarian efforts both locally and abroad. They are currently focused on the Rohingya struggle, but are always connected to projects in Palestine and Syria. He hopes to establish a pediatric hospital in Somalia in time to come. His work in South Africa will fundamentally remain in the educational sphere, as he believes in the long-term benefits that a good academic grounding can bring to our youth. He hopes to inspire them to take on challenges faced by their own communities. “Education is key for us.”
His life motto: “Every strand pulls the plough of rebellion.”
Azhar wants to be remembered as somebody who was of service to others.
He is most grateful for, first and foremost, being a Muslim and for having wonderful, supportive parents and a superb wife who is his pillar of strength.
The first South African journalist to enter Syria, Azhar Vadi constantly puts his life in peril to bring us the facts from the firing lines of war. The intrepid reporter goes above and beyond the call of duty to earn justice for the innocent and voice the words of those who are silenced.
To follow Azhar’s philanthropic efforts and pursuit of truth, visit salaamedia.com