The Media and Citizenship: Between Marginalisation and Participation project started life as one of four Mellon-funded research areas in the Faculty of Humanities at Rhodes University in 2011. These projects were intended to open up new areas of research and Anthea Garman and Herman Wasserman felt that citizenship as a focus was ripe for investigation in South Africa. Now funded by an NRF grant, the project is entering its fifth year with another cadre of postgraduate researchers.
The project, now led by Anthea Garman (and retaining its links with Herman Wasserman, head of Film and Media Studies at UCT), is based in the School of Journalism and Media Studies and critically examines the ways in which the South African media realise their potential to contribute to the reconstruction and renegotiation of citizenship in the post-apartheid era. The research team consists of postdoctoral fellow Vanessa Malila, a Rhodes graduate, who did her PhD at Leeds University in the UK; doctoral fellows Marietjie Oelofsen, who worked for Idasa as its Programme Manager for Governance and AIDS and is now working as a researcher for the Ketting Foundation in Dayton, Ohio, Mvuzo Ponono and Azwi Mufamadi, who both came through the project as MA students, Rod Amner, a lecturer in the School, and Chengetai Chikadaya, the co-ordinator of the East Cape Community Media Forum. The MA cadre includes Welcome Lishivha (Wits hons), Meli Ncube (UCT hons), Ray Hartle (a journalist with the Daily Dispatch in East London), Carissa Govender (hons Rhodes), Hancu Louw (BJourn Rhodes) and Cathy Gush, a literacy and education expert in Grahamstown.
The project seeks to establish, through empirical research, to what extent South African media across a wide variety of outlets and expressions facilitates democratic participation and voice in the public sphere, especially for the most marginalised of citizens. The project aims to establish how notions of media, citizenship and democracy are articulated in actually-existing social contexts and thus provide a better understanding of how media could contribute to the improvement of democratic participation. As a result our research has focused strongly on young South Africans (the much-talked about “Born Frees”) and their media use and activities and on the province of the Eastern Cape because of its particular social and economic circumstances.