Posts Tagged ‘apartheid’

The roads we travel

coverage

When I was invited to attend a debate, I thought it would be a quick trip to Johannesburg. It has turned out to be a long journey. Although the traveling itself  took only 24 hours, I have learnt a lot about myself and about the people that share the roads we travel on in South Africa, and so the trip was about more than traveling over 1000kms across South Africa, it was about listening, sharing, debating and discussing.

It started last week with an invitation to The Mail & Guardian’s Critical Thinking Forum which was to debate ‘The Role of South Africa’s Youth in the National Development Plan’. By Monday this week it was confirmed that I would attend and by Wednesday morning the journey began in earnest – starting with a shuttle from Grahamstown to Port Elizabeth. On the drive I was fortunate to have a very friendly, intelligent South African driver, and we chatted about many things. The conversation started with talk about Nelson’s Mandela’s continued stay in hospital, and then swiftly moved onto his impressions of the bumpy road that South Africa currently finds itself on. He lamented about the fact that things had not changed significantly since the end of Apartheid, and commented that many people he had spoken to said that things had in fact gotten worse. While there are many aspects of the lives of ordinary people that have improved significantly, the media sometimes point to particular sectors which have deteriorated since the transition to democracy. The Economist, for example, recently published a story where it reported that Mamphela Ramphele had argued that education is currently worse than during Apartheid (http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21580151-ruling-party-triumphed-under-nelson-mandela-desperate-need).  Business Day quoted Desmond Tutu as saying that violence is worse now than during apartheid (http://www.bdlive.co.za/national/2013/04/12/sa-more-violent-now-than-under-apartheid-says-tutu). While these are subjective positions, they clearly point to some of the potholes that we are currently experiencing as South African citizens on the road to a grown-up democracy.

The flight to Johannesburg was uneventful and I quickly made my way to Rosebank where the event was being held. The debate itself included some of the 200 Young South Africans, recently profiled in the Mail & Guardian (http://mg.co.za/report/200-young-south-africans), and was targeted very much at a young, professional, elite audience who were there to debate and discuss how to get more young people (those who are not the targets of the event) to engage with the National Development Plan (NDP – http://www.info.gov.za/issues/national-development-plan/).

The first panel comprised of Matsi Modise (National executive director of the South African Black Entrepreneurs Forum), Lise Kuhle (Founder of Eco Smart), Godfrey Phetla (Director for policy and research at the Department of Trade and Industry), Angel Kgokolo (President of the JCI South Africa), and Langalethu Manquele (from BMF). This panel was tasked with discussing the NPA itself, and while this was interesting, it centered largely around enterprise development and whether this was the best option for addressing unemployment amongst the youth as proposed by the NDP. The questions that constantly came to mind for me were: Do young people know about the NDP? How do they find out about opportunities for internships, starting their own businesses, and mentorships? How much of the knowledge being shared in the room by these panelists is in the public sphere and being debated in the media in a way that is accessible and relevant to young people? Is the NDP the right vehicle for change, and are young people drivers,  passengers, or bystanders desperately trying to catch a lift?

The second panel comprised of Mike Sharman (owner of Retroviral Digital Communications), Khanyisile Magubane (SAfm broadcaster), Catherine Peter (Africa Director of One Young World), and Patrick Mashanda (Regional coordinator of Ikamva Youth). This panel looked specifically at the role of the media in addressing social cohesion – the focus of much of the work I do. The panel members said many interesting, inspirational, but somewhat idealistic things in their very short openings. The really interesting comments, however, started once the debate opened to the floor and as participants we were able to contribute. Many people complained about the largely negative reporting in the media, and the phrase “if it bleeds, it leads” was quoted numerous times, guests questioned the popularity of tabloid newspapers, and the media was generally charged with poor driving and failing to obey the rules of the normative road a democracy follows – i.e. being the watchdog, holding the government to account, and giving citizens a voice to debate in the public sphere.

And this is the crux of where the mainstream news media is failing. I qualify the media here, because I think a problem with the debate was that ‘the media’ was treated as a homogenous entity that needed to be put into place, but is in fact a multi-faceted institution in South African society that varies so greatly that we need to be quite careful in how we use the term. In my view, the biggest role (and there are many) that the mainstream news media can play in engaging with young people on the NDP (or any issue for that matter) is to allow young people VOICE in their coverage of issues that affect young people. These are the very issues that we have been doing research on in the Mellon Media and Citizenship Project, and we have learnt a lot about young people over the last year and a half. The issues which are the most important to young people currently are the economy, service delivery, health, education, and crime. The young people that we spoke to in our study said that they were most concerned about crime (93.4%), the economy (90.7%), and health (89.3%). The problem is that these are not the issues that are being covered for young people in the mainstream news media they consume.

                                                     

More worryingly, is that even in coverage on issues which do affect young people, the stories do not speak to young people, and they certainly do not give voice to young people. In research I conducted which examined coverage by a range of newspapers around the country (Daily Dispatch, Grocott’s Mail, and Mail & Guardian), coverage on education included young people as sources or quoted young people in only 9.7% of the stories. More often stories quoted or gave voice to adults in management positions at schools or universities, government officials, or members of the public. This, in part, is why tabloid newspapers should not be laughed at or regarded disparagingly, and it is why they are so popular – they give voice to ordinary South Africans who are telling their stories (regardless of how bizarre they are).

If the media want to include young people on the road to building a strong democracy, they need to invite them on the journey rather than ignore them as bystanders. If the young, upwardly mobile South Africans who attended the debate are any indication of where the born frees can get to and how they can do it, then the young people of today are a force as strong as those who drove the revolution in 1976.

And so, having shared the work that we’ve done, and having listened to young people with something to say, I made my way back to the Eastern Cape. Another uneventful flight, and another interesting conversation with the shuttle driver. We came to the conclusion that there is a long road ahead for South African’s, but that the scenery is worth the effort. As we made our way through the rolling hills of the Eastern Cape, I wondered how many young South Africans would be making their own journeys of discovery and where the road would lead them.

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

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