Category: Media & Citizenship

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 museum.net).

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 museum.net). 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 (geohive.com). 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.

References

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 http://www.museum.za.net/index.php/imvubu-newsletter/92-ginsberg-an-early-history-researched.

King Williams Town population figures. Retrieved 22 May 2013 from http://www.museum.za.net/index.php/imvubu-newsletter/92-ginsberg-an-early-history-researched

Disengaged citizens

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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.
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Voting Void

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Voting Void – will young people vote in the 2014 National Elections?

South Africa’s Born Free’s (the people born after 1994 in South Africa) will be voting in their first national elections in 2014 – or will they? These young citizens have been characterized as many things – hopeful, optimistic about their future, and better racially integrated than previous generations. However, politically active is not a feature of this group of South Africans. The research conducted by the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University (with partners from around the country) shows that young people in South Africa are disaffected, disengaged and disempowered. Their lack of engagement in the political arena should be of significant worry to all South Africans in terms of the state of our country’s democracy. Even more so now, with the national elections (to be held between April and July 2014) looming, their political identity should be of particular concern over the next few months. The question that needs to be asked by political stakeholders including the ANC, opposition parties, the media and civil society is how to better engage young people in political activity, including the ritual practices of political democracies, the habitus, such as voting (one of the foundations of democratic political participation), but also the alternative acts of political engagement.

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Whitewash backwash

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Whitewash backwash: a response to the “unbearable boringness of the whiteness debate”

By Anthea Garman

The first conference on whiteness as a research topic was held at the University of Johannesburg in March and while most of its participants were academics with interests in the subject who will probably only publish in academic journals, it has entered the public light of day with a column written by City Press editor Ferial Haffajee in which she proclaimed that as a result of her hour or so at the conference that she has gone from being bored with the discussion of whiteness to being “viscerally opposed” to the time and money it takes up.

It was a bit of a shock for the researchers present to hear Haffajee express herself in these uncompromising terms. She was followed as a key note speaker by Prof Sarah Nuttall, the new director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (Wiser), who was also critical of the conference’s aims and intentions, but for slightly different reasons.

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Youth identity, the media and public sphere in South Africa

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Over the last year members of the Mellon Media & Citizenship project have been involved in various ways in a SANPAD funded project investigating the relationship between youth identity, the media and the public sphere in South Africa. This ground-breaking research provides some interesting findings about the way in which young people use the media, their relationship with politics and political activity, and the way that the media shape their political and civic identities.

Using both qualitative and quantitative research methods, the aim of the study was to investigate the way in which the media shape youth identity, both political and civic, and whether the media reflect the voices of the youth. An extensive survey with close to 1000 young people in  South Africa, as well as a content analysis of South African media, focus groups with young people across a range of settings, and document analysis were all carried out by researchers across South Africa who contributed to the report.

Perhaps the most significant results are the fact that while most young people consume news media and use the news media in their daily lives, they do not find the content relevant to them or their situations. Trust across the media was significantly high, but trust in politics and political institutions was significantly low. There is an interesting (perhaps contradictory) relationship between the use of media, and trust in the media, but a sense from young people that it does not actually talk to their lives and their contexts.

What is clear from the results is the fact that young people feel they are not being heard or spoken to by either the news media or political stakeholders. Both the media and political stakeholders (including policy makers, civil society, NGO’s, political organisations and policy advocates) should use this research as  a means to better understand how they can engage with young South Africans in a more meaningful and participatory way.

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