Jim Bailey 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. He knew little of his parents as a child. Straight from school he was conscripted to the airforce and flew as a fighter pilot in the Second World War. Bailey came 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 and was in the engine room of the 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 twenty offices in several countries all over the Southern half of the continent and Bailey was continuously travelling between them. This bled into a fascination with ancient history documented in his book 'Sailing to Paradise.'
When one thinks of Cecil John Rhodes's desire to create a trail of domination from Cape to Cairo. Bailey was the antithesis, nurturing a cross-land of culture and celebration from Nigeria to Tanzania, and from South Africa to Uganda documenting and sharing their joys and struggles, Drum magazine touched the hearts and minds of many generations of people.
From one of his homes, at the foot of Table Mountain, he 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 spot this potential and nurture 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.
Drum magazine was a great mover on the continent. It contributed to Africa's liberation march during the 1960's. Bailey was a personal friend and benefactor of a number of African leaders. They included Jomo Kenyata and Tom Mboya (Kenya), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Nigeria), Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu (South Africa). These memoirs and others are documented in the posthumous poetry collection, 'Airborne to Africa'.
"Let's get rid of the crap, work shoulder to shoulder and make this the best country in the world." Jim Bailey
Bailey 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, cultural activities and multi-racial tolerance became celebrated. Together with a humdrum of writers, photographers, musicians and revolutionaries, Bailey 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, he sold the magazine to the National Party media group, Nationale Pers. His 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. Drum was a metaphorical bridge between a divided people, and a symbolic meeting point for all cultures and races. 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 is a legacy that has kept the most popular themes of African lifestyle well-known.
Queen Elizabeth awarded Bailey a CBE (Command of the British Empire). The irony is, he 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. Bailey's contribution to this country was as one of the great peacemakers.