September 21, 2020

Media and Citizenship

Mellon Project Focus Area



As convenor of Think!Fest, the National Arts Festival public lecture series, Anthea Garman invited Dr Adam Habib, Prof Laurence Piper and Dr Joy Owen to give individual lectures and to participate in a debate on citizenship in South Africa (see


Mr Yves Vanderhaeghen, PhD student from UKZN and former Deputy Editor of The Witness.

Mr Cedric Nunn, Mellon Senior Scholar and photographer.

Dr James Arvanitakis

James Arvanitakis

The Mellon Media & Citizenship Project at the School of Journalism and Media Studies was recently host to Dr James Arvanitakis, senior lecturer in the Humanities at the University of Western Sydney and member of the University’s Institute for Cultural and Society.Dr Arvanitakis spoke to the School of Journalism and Media Studies about his research on citizenship amongst marginalised Australians, and you can here snippets of that presentation here.Dr Arvanitakis’ research areas include hope, trust, political theatre, piracy and citizenship. James has worked as a human rights activist throughout the Pacific, Indonesia and Europe. He is currently working with the Whitlam Institute looking at issues confronting Australia’s democracy. His latest book, Contemporary Society: A sociological analysis of everyday life, was launched with Oxford University Press in February 2009 which gave rise to ‘socio-logic’ – a weekly radio show on FBI Radio (94.5fm). A regular media commentator he has published widely including The Punch and New Matilda.

James was a former banker and advocate for free trade, but having witnessed child and indentured labour, has worked  to develop sustainable, socially just and equitable economic policies with organisations such as the Centre for Policy Development, where he is a research fellow. James has worked extensively with a number of non-government organizations, including Oxfam International Youth Partnerships and Youth Engagement Program as well as Aid/Watch, as well as working extensively with a number of other justice-based organisations.


Dr Katrin Voltmer

Dr Voltmer’s research has examined the changing relationships between the media and politics, and more recently has been involved in an international research project which has examined the changing relationships between journalists, the media and politics in new democracies. Having been involved in this project, Dr Wasserman, took the opportunity to invite Dr Voltmer to Grahamstown to discuss synergies and opportunities for future collaboration between the work she does and the Mellon focus area on Media and Citizenship. Dr Voltmer spoke to the School of Journalism and Media Studies about the project, which aimed specifically to examine how journalists in new democracies understand and interpret the concept of press freedom, how it is ‘constructed’ and ‘domesticated’ in different cultural and political contexts; and how these interpretations affect their daily routines and practices.

Some of the findings presented by Dr Voltmer cover three areas: Professional responsibility, social responsibility and political responsibility. In terms of professional responsibility, Dr Voltmer notes that “South African and Namibian journalists by and large adopt the professional norms of Western journalism and liberal democracy. But in some cases they stress the need to contextualise these norms, against the background of the histories of these countries and their continued struggles to remain free from government control. But it becomes also evident that in their experience adopting these universal norms of journalism makes them part of an international professional class, and that this associations provides them with a justification to criticise their own governments.” In relation to social responsibility, the South African journalists (much like the Namibian journalists) expressed a strong commitment to giving voice to the marginalised and serving the community, and as Dr Voltmer notes “they believe that news should be presented from the perspective of the poor, not just the elite”. Finally, in relation to political responsibility, one sees a strong correlation between the South African and Polish journalists, who believe that journalists must play a central role in political responsibility based on the lack of an effective opposition and Dr Voltmer adds that “many of them refer to the past and their own involvement in the opposition movement as an explanation for their sense of duty to serve democracy.”

A key theme which emerges from the research and the findings is the strong reference to the past and when asked about this further, she notes that “the past is still a main point of reference for everyone in Germany” and that this is a major strength for the country as a source of moral reasoning. She adds that in South Africa, we tend to expect the link with Apartheid to have diminished, but if one looks at the example of Nazi Germany which took place over 50 years ago, one still sees a strong connection to the past. As South African’s we should be aware of our past and allow it to be a strength in the process of moving forward. The reference to South Africa’s past continues to dominate society, citizens and the media – and by Dr Voltmer’s estimation it should. She uses the example of one of the South African journalists who were interviewed for the research as a key example.
“We have a certain history. Our history is not the same as many other countries. So when we write we have to keep that at the back of our minds…we need to also educate our readers that the people, especially the young people of today that they are fully sympathetic to what happens there…that they have it because of our history, our struggle”

The Mellon project on Media and Citizenship will be continuing to network with Dr Voltmer and hope to pursue future projects which create synergies between her work on political communication in new democracies and the work done by the project on the relationship between the media and citizens in South Africa.


Prof Robert Mattes

BobMattes6 Prof Mattes was invited to visit the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University by the Mellon Media and Citizenship project to share some of the work he has done on democratic participation through the Afrobarometer research.

Professor Robert Mattes, who was presenting findings of a study conducted in 2008, said that “South Africa is one country where high levels of education did not lead to increased demand for democracy”. The other country with a similar characteristic was the former Soviet Union.

He said education’s failure to translate into greater democratic demand meant that political reform in education failed to achieve its main goal – the creation of new citizenship. He attributed part of the problem to lack of adequate training on teachers to teach about democracy in schools. In township and rural schools teachers are still struggling with the lack of learner discipline.

Mattes said that only a third of South Africans supported democracy in 2008. Voter turnout has declined at elections has dropped from 86% during the first democratic election in 1994 to 56% in 2004. “South Africa has a lower voter turnout than the United States of America.”

He described this decline in voter turnout as “a lukewarm embrace of democracy”.

His study also found that The Born-Free generation prefers democracy if it works, which create problems when it does not work.

Mattes divided the South African population into five subcategories: the pre-apartheid generation, early apartheid generation, grand apartheid generation, the struggle generation and the Born frees. All these groups have different social, economic and political characteristics. The pre-apartheid generation is made up of people who turned 16 before the National Party came to power in 1948.

The early apartheid generation is those people who turned 16 between 1948 and 1960.

The third group, the grand apartheid generation consists of people who turned 16 between 1961 and 1975. The people who form part of this generation have no memory of life before apartheid came to power.

Those who turned 16 between 1976 and 1996 fall under the struggle generation.

The fifth group, Born frees’ are people who turned sixteen after 1997. These people had little or no experience of apartheid. Mattes said that they form 30 per cent of the South African population in 2008 when the study was carried out.  His said that the majority of people in this category are black, and reside in rural areas unlike the previous generation.  Mattes said that the findings of his study showed that the “parents’ generation was more educated than this generation”.

In terms of multilingualism, the born free generation is worse than the previous generations.  This generation has “slightly lower levels of multilingualism than the previous generations”.

The study also found that there was little increase in using news media.  Newspaper readership among the Born-Free generation has decreased compared to previous generations.

Contrary to popular believe that the Born-Free generation uses the internet more than any other generation, Mattes said that the study found that the Born-Free generation uses the same amount of the internet as the previous generations if not lower.

The Born-Free generation is also less religious than the previous generations. “Religion isn’t an important part of their lives,” said Mattes.

In terms of being democratic, he said that there was no bid difference between the Born-Free generation and the other generations. Mattes’ study also revealed white, urban dwellers were more democratic than their black urban counterparts. “The lines that divided South Africa has been replicated amongst the younger South Africans,” he said.

“What is needed in the country is much more debate about democracy”, and not just the materialist view of it, Mattes said.


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