Category: Media & Citizenship

Sorry can be the hardest word!

Nelson Mandela arrives for birthday celebrations of de Klerk in Cape Town

The tainted legacy of apartheid’s former President FW de Klerk has been up for discussion again in the light of the city of Cape Town’s decision to honour him by re-naming Table Bay Boulevard after him.

There is no doubt that De Klerk showed courage, leadership and insight when he led the National Party – and most of white South Africa – along the path out of the political morass created by successive NP regimes. Whatever his motives – and many have speculated about these – I acknowledge De Klerk for his role in the transition to democracy. But that does not mean we should easily forget South Africa’s inglorious past and De Klerk’s role, as a committed member of a white minority government which disenfranchised, separated, removed, relocated and killed.

Given the predominant Christian ethos which underpinned South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commssion – understandably influenced by the leadership of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu – it is perhaps ironic that De Klerk has had such an easy time of dissing the need for penitence and confession.

In terms of Judaeo-Christian understandings of god, the act of penitence is a fundamental pre-cursor to communion with god and with one’s fellows. The Old Testament reflects a supposed desire of god to heal us if we repent.

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

This approach had a strong resonance with the penitential church of the late apartheid era. The National Initiative for Reconciliation, formed by church leaders including Tutu in Maritzburg in the 1980s, was forged “in humility and repentance” (Balla 1989). The sense of communion – or reconciliation – so essential to moving the country to a place where a different, non-racial and democratic South Africacould be imagined – could not occur without confession of past – and, perhaps, continuing – sins. These elements were incorporated into the work of the TRC, which remains widely acknowledged internationally as a benchmark for societies transitioning out of historical epochs of injustice or oppression, even as questions remain among South Africans about the efficacy of the TRC in resolving the brokenness wrought in our society by apartheid.

While affirming his “Dopper” Christian roots, De Klerk has eschewed the confessional idea of the TRC, showing no predilection for a full apology for apartheid, even as he has adamantly repeated that he has apologized for apartheid.

In an interview after the 1992 whites only referendum which resulted in a landslide vote in favour of reform, he said that while he apologised for the hurt, apartheid remained a sound political doctrine, albeit he conceded it was unworkable in South Africa.

The appeal to the moral righteousness of apartheid underpins its latter-day political justification. That has ignored the impact on disenfranchised black South Africans; the consequence of brutal enforcement of laws necessary to maintain separate development; the impoverishment of people in Bantustans; the detention and torture of activists; the killings at home and abroad of South Africans and empathetic foreigners; the effects on families torn apart by forced removals, migrant labour and Immorality Act convictions.

In a TRC special hearing in 1997, De Klerk appeared to acknowledge such critique, apologising and accepting full responsibility for apartheid’s “unconventional projects” and the harm caused to millions of South Africans, but equivocating nonetheless as he expressed shock at the revelations of atrocities committed in the name of his government.

More recently, De Klerk responded to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that he had made “the most profound apology” before the TRC for the injustices “wrought by apartheid” but that he had not apologised for “the original concept” of separate development. That concept was “not repugnant” but failed because the “territorial division” between white and black areas was “manifestly unfair”. The racial arrogance inherent in these responses is as stupefying as the revisionist approach to our history – colonial conquerors were entitled to carve up the country and allocate a portion to indigenous people – they simply got the maths wrong.

Fehr and Gelfand (2010) have written that “as a method of conflict resolution, apologies have perhaps never been as popular as they are today”. But they warned that all apologies are not created equal, adding that “the content of an apology should influence how effective it is, and who it is most effective for”.

Apology expert Aaron Lazare of the University of Massachusetts Medical School has written that for an apology to be valid, the offender must clearly and completely acknowledge the offence, provide an assurance the offence was not intentional and unlikely to recur, express remorse and humility, and offer real or symbolic compensation. An analysis of De Klerk’s often-enough repeated apology for apartheid shows none of these markers being present.

On the contrary, as Stanford University’s Karina Schumann (2014) has shown, transgressors like De Klerk avoid comprehensive expressions of mea culpa, preferring instead “more perfunctory apologies or even defensive strategies” that include justification for their offensive behaviour.

De Klerk is not alone and the issues raised in an appraisal of his apology for apartheid have implications beyond a presumed fixation with our apartheid history, as underscored by: President Jacob Zuma’s long list of public gaffes and offences directed at friends and foes alike; the more recent cockroach insult which Baleka Mbete directed at Julius Malema and for which she later apologized; and various non-apologies by corporate entities like Eskom through to former president Thabo Mbeki to Zelda le Grange.

Reconciliation matters today, because of the enduring separateness in our society and the spectacular failure of the state – and faith groups among civil society sectors – to offer an alternative vision of an equal, non-racial, conciliatory community. Introspection which allows us to heed the mistakes made by De Klerk may well offer future generations a different legacy.


Balla, DM. 1989. Christan Resistance to Apartheid. Skotaville Publishers. Braamfontein

CNN, 2012. De Klerk: No animosity with Mandela. Available at [Accessed on 14 February, 2015]

Fehr, R., Gelfand, M.J., and Nag, N. 2010. The road to forgiveness: A meta-analytic synthesis of its situational and dispositional correlates. Psychological Bulletin. 136(5) pp 894-914. Available at: [Accessed on 15 February, 2015]

Fehr, R.and Gelfand, M.J. 2010. When apologies work: How matching apology components to victims’ self-construals facilitates forgiveness. Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes. 113 pp 37-50. Available at: [Accessed on 14 February, 2015]

Le Monde Diplomatique. 2005. Britain: Imperial Nostalgia. Available at: [Accessed on 15 February, 2015]

Milne, Seumas. Britain: Imperial Nostalgia. Le Monde Diplomatique. Accessed at

SAPA. 1997. De Klerk apologises again for apartheid. Available at [Accessed on 15 February, 2015]

Schumann, K. 2014. An affirmed self and a better apology: The effect of self-affirmation on transgressors’ responses to victims. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 54 pp 89-96


Youth, community service, and giving back

Just over one month ago, on the 21st February, on a very windy, cold and rainy day, young people from across Grahamstown walked for awareness. The President’s Award Walkathon, which took place at the Rhodes University athletics track was an opportunity for young people who are involved in the Award programme to raise awareness about what they are doing and what the importance of community service is to them and to the broader community.

Those that attended are passionate about their impact on their communities, but more so are passionate about being recipients of life lessons as they go about their community service. These young people have a strong sense of their own civic identities, these are young people who matter in their communities, and who will make a difference to a great many people. At the same time, they are humble about their efforts, and reflexive about their own growth and their own development.

Despite a small turnout, the efforts of those who organised the event were strongly supported by those who did attend and they can be proud of the young people who are giving back. These are young people who braved the weather to tell others about their experiences, their small efforts, and the huge rewards that they get from being part of something bigger than themselves. While we often lament the apathy of young people, we should be looking beyond the numbers and looking at the quality of those who are civic minded, community aware, and who will become leaders in their communities in the future. Quality of spirit rather than quantity of participants defines their efforts.

Hear what they had to say

The trouble with mediated citizenship

A recent report from the Eldemen Trust barometer which measures the level of trust citizens have for different institutions, rated South Africans at a mere 17% in terms of trust for the South African Government compared to a staggering 82 % in terms of trust for media. Although this says very little for South Africa as a democracy, it does place media at an ideal space regarding its potential to act as a democratic mediator and support social, political and economic development. Media gives people a platform to communicate, decide what kind of development they want to see in their community as well as hold their local government to account. Access to true and proper information is therefore key to sustainable development, particularly for the global south which battles with a myriad of developmental issues. However, for South Africa and particularly the Eastern Cape, this still remains a misleading notion, merely because of a low level of media literacy and difficulties in gaining internet access as well as, and most importantly a local government that remains disconnected from the communication stream.

The Centre for International Media Assistance (CIMA) at the National Endowment for Democracy have found that more and more democracies across the globe are acknowledging the need to get youth to consume media more critically and therefore become media literate. “Definitions of media literacy range far and wide, but common attributes include the ability to access, evaluate, analyse, assess, comprehend, review, critique, and produce information from a variety of media” (Milhailidis, 2009). However, in my experience of Media Literacy Training, I have found such interventions in the Eastern Cape to be quite complex; racial divides, the gulf between the rich and poor, high levels of unemployment, unresponsive local government, and the great digital divide, means that the  small number of young people that become media literate through self-taught citizen journalism or media development projects, either begin to view their media engagement as a chance for upward social mobility or are halted half way up the ladder when they realise that mediated citizenship requires the same social capital as citizenship enacted in the physical, public realm, or worse yet, when they realise or start thinking about who is actually listening. Are the people in power connected to the conversation? They quickly begin to see that in South Africa, who you are and where you come from matters as much online, on paper and on the airwaves as it does in the community hall.

In the Eastern Cape, every township or neighbourhood has its own unique set of developmental issues that they would like to bring to the fore; from qualms around dog walking parks to issues around the unavailability of proper sanitation facilities. Furthermore, each area carries its own cultural identity and is probably either mostly populated by English, Afrikaans or Xhosa speaking people. In most cases, public discourse (developed and maintained via mainstream media) is dominated by an elite middle class, not only because this group have the means to communicate and participate, (something the poor usually don’t have) but also because they have the interest, a soft skill habitually missing amongst the often politically apathetic rich. (Excuse my gross generalisations; I only use them for effect).

There is a whole lot of hype in South Africa around an enchanting pill called media that is believed to have the ability to magically bring voices from the so-called margins into the mainstream. I am respectfully appropriating the title of last year’s “Highway Africa” conference – Social Media, from the margins to the mainstream, where journalists from all over the world came together to discuss the role of social media in nation building. This hype, has for some time now encouraged journalists, political activists and development projects to see mediated citizenship as a viable alternative for subaltern groups who “lack” a voice in the physical realm. It is believed that, through media platforms, they can air their grievances and by so doing enter through the narrow doors of elite civil society as equals to join the rich and middle class where discussions about dog walking parks and sanitation are held in the same regard (tongue in cheek). We often forget the role and value of social capital and its impact even in mediated citizenship. We forget that a recent report by IDASA states that most people feel disconnected from their local government. There can be no benefit to inciting ideals of liberal democracy…share…share….share… with such sensitive developmental issues as education, sanitation and housing when there are insufficient mechanisms in place to raise these voices to a level where they count most.  I feel we must tread carefully, when it comes to such concerns and get local government plugged in to the conversation.

Without the buy in of local government, I think campaigns around access to information and media literacy will continue creating a citizenry that is aware of their rights and responsibilities, equipped with the knowledge and information necessary to engage fruitfully and prepared to do so but without a platform to act. They will continue creating a citizenry whose social mobility may not be limited by their space, place and language but limited by a lack of social capital to legitimise their claims. Access to information campaigns will continue creating an empowered citizen that speaks to their local government but without anyone actually listening. Who is listening?

Civil society needs to continue to act by providing skills and knowledge for engagement with media through Media Literacy Trainings, while local government needs to tap in to these conversations and proactively listen to what the people are saying. Without all four working together (citizen, state, local media and civil society organisations) in tandem, mediated citizenship will remain a failed project.


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.

The political landscape has become more about elite individuals than the population!

Jacob Zuma

Jacob G Zuma


Individual politicians have taken centre stage of the political landscape by claiming their stake of the pie and abandoning the political project of serving a society with a broken history. One doesn’t need to go far to see how the EFF has centred on Julius Malema, the ANC on Zuma and the DA on Hellen Zille with a foreground of Mmusi Maimane. Mpho Ramakatsa, Andile Mngxitama and Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala   recently arranged a press briefing arguing that the EFF is at the mercy of Malema and that they were abolishing any abuse of power among all political parties. The ideologies, plans and intentions of the political parties in general, at least to the majority of citizens, have become of secondary importance. I don’t think this is entirely a loss, because it has a sound foundation.

The foundation for ideologies and intentions and not taking centre stage is the fascination with political individuals, which for me marks two concerns. Firstly I believe in the cliché saying that says the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so whilst their intentions might be brilliant on paper or relevant, it is the individual members who constitute a political party that will need the necessary capacity to carry out the ‘good intentions’.

My second and most important concern about this spotlight thrust on individuals and this mode of politicking is that we lose an opportunity to critically engage the ideas that shape our society whilst worrying about who will get to shape our society. Parliament recently became a mess with the president failing to respond to recommendations made by the public protector to ‘pay back the money’ spent building his homestead in Nkandla. This episode resulted in members of the EFF being kicked out of parliament chambers by the police and other forces when they attempted to force the president to respond. I can only speak for myself and everyone I know who had watched this episode unfold that it was a sad day in South Africa.

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