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Nothing to see here – comparing the ECCF Media Literacy Study to the SANPAD Baseline Study

How do you see South African youth?

How do you see South African youth?

Independent as it might be, the research conducted for the Eastern Cape Communication Forum (ECCF) at the end of 2014 is a distant cousin of the Baseline study of youth identity, the media and the public sphere in South Africa complied by Vanessa Malila (2013). Call it, if you will, the lovechild of ethnographic learnings and the contextualisation of a township audience.

The ECCF commissioned the research for the purpose of gaining data about the data usage of youth in the township. The data was used to aid the Media Literacy Workshops the organisation conducted in Joza, Grahamstown.

The quantitative ECCF study was much smaller than the Baseline research, which was funded by SANPAD, was a collaborative effort between multiple universities and researchers. This study was much smaller; funded by a humble Forum and focussed on the youth of Joza. The quantitative study distributed 100 questionnaires, which were split equally between male and female respondents. The findings are based on the 89 responses that were successfully captured.

Despite the differences in scale, the genealogy of the ECCF study is rooted to the Baseline study. The questions that formed part of the final survey for ECCF were based on the questions SANPAD study asked its 956 respondents across the country. Most of the SANPAD questions were modified to suit the particular goals of the Media Literacy Workshops, but they were a major guide and marker.

Therefore, it might be expected that the results from both studies to use display such close similarities, but the variations are also worth mentioning. Although the much more socioeconomically levelled Baseline study registered high use of radio among respondents with 70%, the ECCF results was not too far off at 60%. The interesting bit is the similarity of media preference due to class between the two studies; the Baseline Study found that unemployed youth favoured television and radio as sources of news much higher than any other media at 82%. The ECCF study, which was a survey a majority of youth from low income families, registered a high percentage of television usage at 90%.

A cautionary note to be gleaned from a sophisticated reading of the findings is that too rigid a focus on the high percentage of broadcast media could be limiting. What emerged from both studies is that social media also registered highly as a source of news and entertainment at 89% for the ECCF study. The Baseline study, which had a broader focus on search engines and the internet as a news sources, registered a relatively high figure of 68%. The difference between the two is that Baseline Study found that tertiary going and the well-resourced youth favoured the internet as a source of news, while the ECCF Study found high use among the under-resourced. The difference might be due to the fact that the ECCF study asked specifically about social media, hence the high percentage. The finding is still important because it points to the increasing relevance of internet and social media in the township media ecology.

When it comes to media issues, the studies demonstrate that youth in the township or those from government schools exhibit higher interest in education as a media topic than the youth in former Model C and private schools. Eighty four percent of the government school attending ECCF respondents reflected this interest at 76%, which is not too far off the from the Baseline study. Popular culture also remained a topic of great interest to young people, especially those attending former Model C and private schools with the Baseline study registering an 84% approval and the lower income ECCF respondents coming in at 70%. The inverse percentage for education and popular culture according to school attended between the two studies, although not great, is highly interesting. In connection to this ambiguity Malila (2013) argues “The interest in education as a media topic was significantly higher than those in ex-Model C or private schools (76.4%) and may have been strongly influenced by the difficulties that township and poorer schools have in accessing educational resources such as text-books, infrastructure and teachers”.

So what does this all mean? Context in the South African socioeconomic reality is key to developing our understanding of human interaction. Our identities, tastes, preferences, prejudices, choices and all other particularities of self are closely linked to our environments. John Fiske (1991: 51) writes about the same phenomenon but on television: “the intertextuality of the process of making sense and pleasure can only occur when people bring their different histories and subjectivities to the viewing process”. We bring our history to the sense making of everything; to all we encounter.

Therefore, scholarship of the future should begin to realise that broadcast media remain highly relevant to the daily life of young people from all backgrounds in South Africa, but these young people are changing with the time and so should our thinking. Research has to be adept to the fact that young people have taken to the social media like every other generation to a new media form. Our understandings of the use of different media by respondents; of intertextuality should be as fluid as our own varied use of different media on a daily basis. We should realise that our efforts are not to theorise of a people out there. This is not a theory of otherness but the theory of humanity; of us.

So, in the end it has to be stated that there is nothing new here folks, nothing to be seen; just two related studies pointing to the rigidity of understanding. Future scholarship will have to acknowledge the relation of all media: new media and traditional media in the milieu of intertextuality.



Malila, V. 2013. A baseline study of youth identity, the media and the public sphere in South Africa. Grahamstown: Rhodes University.

Fiske, J. 1991. Moments of Television: Neither the text nor audience. In Seiter, E. Borchers, H. Kreutzner, G. Warth, E. 1991(eds). Remote Control. London and New York: Routledge, pp 16-43.

Check out the link below for the baseline study compiled by Dr Vanessa Malila.

Where a hippo refused to leave

The area where Ginsberg Township is situated is best remembered for two things: as the birth place of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko, and as the site where the hippo – Huberta – walked to!

The township is separated from King Williams Town by the Buffalo River. The establishment of the location enabled authorities to start segregation policies under the banner that the advent of the bubonic plague necessitated better housing for the natives (amatole

So in the heartland of the Eastern Cape you have a situation that plays out in many towns and cities across South Africa: separation of people along the lines of race and class. The leafy suburbs are in the north, and the dusty streets of the township in the South; between them a river which; for the longest time had to be crossed using a rickety old bridge.

From a mere fifty huts, constructed because of the sweat of respected councillor Franz Ginsberg, the township has grown into a large residential area with a shortage of housing. This is ironic because when the 10 shilling huts were first constructed in 1901, the area was slow to intake inhabitants but it later picked up (amatole Obtaining statistics for Ginsberg is near impossible but the municipality which it is under (Buffulo City) has just under 800 000 inhabitants. The larger area, King Willaims Town is home to over 200 000 of those people ( One could make the rough estimation that the location that was slow to grow has roughly 100 000 living souls.

King Willaims Town is still largely an agricultural area with many living in the rural areas. The areas close proximity to Bhisho; a township, the Eastern Cape capital, and parliament has steadily insured the areas reliance on government for employment. Over 45% of the population is in the expanding unemployment ratio; a figure that includes those not looking for jobs (Miti, 2013). This gives a starker view of the area, beautiful plain lands, dusty streets and lots and lots of unemployed people. And it also follows that the poverty ratio is very high.

The most profitable enterprise next to pig farming and funeral parlours is operating a shebeen. The daily life or routine of a majority of people in Ginsberg is to drink the cheapest liquor that can be found. Weekends look like a scene in a Zombie movie, the walking dead staggering home. Most schools surrounding the area are a street away from a liquor store, recess soon becomes a break to the watering hole.

It sounds like a story we have all heard before, a story about doomed black youth who face extraordinary challenges. The story in this case however is not about doom but activity. The question is what do these people think? How do they understand the world around them? How are their views different from people in different circumstances?

My study of the audience seeks to find these answers. I am looking at the importance of the context of viewing when looking at a text. John Fiske (1984) writes that we need to shift emphasis away from textuality and ideology to socially and historically situated people. Ien Ang notes that the audience cannot be aggregated because the way that the programme is watched is part of the act of watching. Therefore the shift within audience studies emphasises understanding specific people rather a general number.  What does this have to do with Ginsberg location?

Well imagine what is going through the minds of these particular youths as they watch the most popular soap in South Africa. Imagine what they get up to when they watch? Are they watching? The reality is that for those living on the other side, it becomes hard to imagine.


Fiske, J. 1987. Television culture. London.

Morley, D. 1991. Changing paradigms in audience studies. In Sieter et al (eds). 1991. Remote Control: Television Audiences and Cultural Power. Routledge.

Miti, S. 2013. Eastern Cape jobs continue to take knock. Daily Dispatch. Published 7 May 2013.

Pienaar, S. 2003. Ginsberg: an early history. Imvubu. 15:3. Retrieved 22 May 2013 from

King Williams Town population figures. Retrieved 22 May 2013 from

Sailors, Singers and being Sick of Aids

Popeye Spinach or Popeye the Sailor Man the much loved cartoon character is actually a very creative invention to sell spinach.

Popeye did so much for spinach industry in the USA that a statue of the muscular sailor was erected in Texas in 1937.

Read more ...

Township Tours and the human spectacle

I wrote an article last year about a ‘township tour’ that I took part in. The piece was literally dripping with tears of emotion and sentimental guilt. I could not believe that in my fourth year at Rhodes University, after resisting so many of those guided tours into the black populace, I was roped into one.

The trip was a mandatory part of our course, we had to write about the experience, and I guess it was for the purpose of broadening our horizons. However, I believe that is the first major wrong about the situation. We had to go into people’s spaces as voyeurs, as writers, as plunderers, as seekers of material and as exploiters of chance.

Our aim and goal was never congenial, never for the purpose of reaching, touching, smelling, or seeing beyond the surface. We did not have the time to witness brick upon brick the building of a house, or a family of five, previously homeless, making the harsh environment a home. We were not the neighbour that greeted across the fence, or the passerby that looked in or the lost traveler stumbling through, or even the stray. We were lookers through the glass window. We were prying eyes in a combie, leaving a cloud of dust behind us. We were on safari, wide eyed, staring, gaping, gawking, pointing, marveling, pitying, reassured, and glad that this reality was not ours.

We held starving babies and made weird ‘aawh’ noises that sounded strange the minute they escaped the lips. We took pictures of wry smiles and understandings that we were uselessness personified. We stayed as long as we had to knowing that plenty awaited us on the other side. We hated ourselves for crossing the divide. We hated ourselves for being ourselves and loved ourselves for being ourselves and not them. The ‘other’ from across town, the ‘others’ from the hilltop where the sun squats half the day looked through us.

We noticed the lack of trees, and quiet, and plenty, and the abundance of scarcity. Soon it was time to go and it was not soon enough. We waved; it was awkward. They waved, a little embarrassed and amused that we had come all the way.

In retrospect I guess the trip was a success. Some people probably never went back to the township; the tour was their first time. To them black locations are an experience, one they won’t have again, and one that makes for good story at a dinner party.

Is it useful? It’s sometimes necessary to force people to go, to make them leave the comfort of campus and see how wider Grahamstown lives. I have no qualms with the principle of the tour. My problem is that if we look at it, it’s a space that needs to be scrutinised and evaluated. We need to assess the way that it is done and see if there aren’t better ways, more useful ways we can introduce different cultures, classes and races to each other.

The current model threatens being a zoo-like experience; the better-off going to view the human animal. Hopefully with the help anthropological studies conducted Dr Joy Owen (Lecturer in Anthropology at Rhodes University), theory will formalize these ramblings of a destabalised mind.

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