Posts Tagged ‘education’

Presuming Privilege

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The Mellon project on Media and Citizenship recently hosted a workshop on citizenship for young people who are part of a local youth development group. These are young people that we often call the ‘born frees’, who were born after the end of apartheid, and born into the privilege of ‘democracy’. And this is the problem I have with this term and with the presumptions we make about young people in South Africa today. I myself have often referred to them as born frees, as a generation unburdened by apartheid, and as a generation that should be grateful for the privileges it has in living in a democratic South Africa. After engaging with this particular group of young people, I realize that there are two serious issues with these presumptions.

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The first is that we presume the born frees understand their rights and responsibilities as citizens and therefore are equipped to take advantage of their position in the new South Africa. The second is that, having moved away from an apartheid government through democratic processes, we presume that young people are free to enjoy their lives in a democratic society. I think at this stage in South Africa both are unfortunately not necessarily true and we presume too much about these young people.

Let me address the first presumption through the example of the workshop that we hosted. We arrived on a cold and rainy Grahamstown morning at the Joza Youth Hub, situated in Joza township on the outskirts of Grahamstown. A group of approximately 18 young people from local high schools were gathered for their annual holiday programme run by the Upstart project, of which they are all members. The aim of the workshop was to engage the young people in discussions about citizenship, democracy, voting, being and feeling heard, and the issues that affect their daily lives. As the Mellon project we devised a workshop where we would facilitate these discussions through role-playing. The participants were divided into groups and asked to form their own ‘political party’ which would then have to create a manifesto, communicate their manifesto to the other participants, and finally all participants would vote for the party they thought would best be able to make positive changes in their communities. It seemed simple enough. The problem, and what made me think very carefully about the presumptions I make, is that many of these young people had no idea about the formal processes inherent in a democracy such as voting, the responsibilities of citizens and the responsibilities of governments. Their manifesto’s generally mirrored the rhetoric we hear from political parties before big elections – false promises and grand gestures.

The basic problem is that without any formal and critical citizenship or civic education in the school system, young people today are ignorant about the processes which allow them to be ‘free’. They don’t understand the voting process, they don’t understand their rights as citizens and that voting is just one way of getting heard by politicians. These are not people who are free to choose how they are governed because they don’t know the alternatives and therefore can only choose what they know – the status quo. Even if issues such as active citizenship and democratic processes are being taught in schools, they are not effective in engendering a deeper understanding of the process which allows young people to question and debate what is going on around them.

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The second problem has less to do with young people and more to do with society in general, and the problem is that too often we think that once a country is declared a democracy that democracy has been achieved. It hasn’t. We are not born citizens, it is a status that we learn, that we act upon, that we are given by the state, and that we demand through our rights and responsibilities in the communities we occupy. But I think that our identity as citizens is never fully achieved because the circumstances of our daily lives are in constant flux. There is always something that tips the balance against a perfect equilibrium of rights and responsibility, and the balance between citizen and democracy. Chipkin argues that “people precedes democracy” and without an understanding of what it means to be a citizen, there cannot be a clear understanding of what our democracy should look like. Although this is a broader problem, young people today are expected to take up their position as citizens, born frees who understand what it means to live in a democracy and therefore behave in a democratic way. But how can they? They are not adequately taught what it means to be a citizen and strive for democracy, and as Chipkin argues “the question of democracy has to be posed in the contexts of colonialism, class polarization, racial domination, ethnic fragmentation and patriarchal violence”. It certainly cannot be divorced from our past regardless of how young you are and how lucky you are to be born after 1994.

The issues that many of these young people’s parents grappled with when they were the same age are the same issues voiced by these young people during the workshop. The issues they deal with on a daily basis include the lack of clean, accessible running water; proper sanitation; adequate schooling and bursaries to pursue tertiary education; adequate and safe housing; lack of employment; and electricity in their homes. How can we presume these born frees are privileged to now live in a democracy, when they live through the same issues that their parents lived through during apartheid. And even worse, how can we presume they are now privileged enough to be able to change their situations when they in fact feel helpless, powerless, and certainly not ‘free’ enough to do something/anything about their problems.

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Many of these young people’s citizenship is at risk. Not because they are not South African citizens, but because they don’t have the agency to take up their citizenship in a way that ensures a continued challenge to the status quo. Their citizenship is at risk because they do not know what it means to be a citizen or the associated rights and responsibilities. As a result of this, they are not born frees.

 

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Dr Badat on inedequate citizenship

This is an edited extract of the speech made by Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Saleem Badat at the universities 2014 graduation ceremonies.

Graduation

During the past eight years I have used my graduation addresses to share ideas on critical issues related to our society. This evening, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of our democracy, I wish to reflect on the progress that we have made with respect to citizenship in post-1994 South Africa.

1994 was a revolutionary breakthrough. From being a racially exclusive authoritarian society in which millions were downtrodden subjects, we became a democracy in which for the first time almost all inhabitants became citizens.

Critical here was a commendable Constitution, including a Bill of Rights, which held out the promise of an extensive range of human, social and economic rights that did not exist for all or at all prior to 1994.

As a society, as social groups and as individuals we, and especially black South Africans, made a significant transition and advance in 1994 from subject-hood and being ‘subjects’ in the land of our birth to becoming ‘citizens’.

During the past 20 years there have been significant economic and social gains and achievements. At the same time, there continue to be many challenges, and key institutions of our democracy have come under strain as a result of too many in power seeking to use the state as their private piggy bank.

Still, a relatively independent judiciary, free media, autonomous universities and the like remain intact. Witness in this regard the magnificent performance of the Public Protector’s office under Thuli Madonsela.

However, a number of contemporary realities, compromise the ideal of full and substantive citizenship rights for all that the Constitution promises. Indeed, they condemn large numbers of people to conditions that are associated with subjecthood and being subjects.

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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.

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The Art of Listening

We often think of listening as a trivial act, something we do when someone speaks, almost as an automatic reaction. But how many of us really listen, really take the time to try and understand what we are listening to and who we are listening to? Listening does not have to mean agreeing, and in fact many theorists have argued that listening can and should be part of a deliberative process where one is open to disagreement and, as Aristotle argues, “includes people whose interests, needs and opinions conflict” (in Bickford – The Dissonance of Democracy, 1996: 30). Listening should be a process of being open to hearing another person’s views and whether you agree with them or not, you are still open to listening. In this video, Alfredo Carrasquillo of the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon provides his perspective on listening, consensus and common ground.

While I sometimes think that this kind of listening is idealistic, the reality is that very often we tend to hear what we want. Perhaps particularly in the political arena or when opinions differ. What is of more concern to me and has been the subject of much debate amongst the Mellon Media & Citizenship Project researchers is how questions and answers about listening can be used to improve journalism in South Africa. Recent events within the mining industry, and particularly the reporting on the Marikana incident, have shown that too many journalists in South Africa are not listening enough. They don’t listen to the right people, they don’t listen with an ear for compassion, or even listen to the wrong people with a critical enough ear. In partnership with our project, Prof Jane Duncan (Highway Africa Chair of Media and Information Society) recently conducted a study on coverage of the Marikana incident on the 16th August 2012 and found that journalists failed to listen to or even consider the voices of the miners themselves. She notes that “If one does just a cursory overview of the reports that have come out since last Thursday, the dominant sources are the police, government, Amcu (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) and NUM (the National Union of Mineworkers). Unless the stories have been, for instance, about the family’s responses to the massacre, there have been very few attempts to approach workers to ask them what they saw” (quoted in an article by Mandy de Waal). Too often journalists fall on official sources without considering the voices of the people who are integral to the stories being covered.

My own research into the way in which the media in South Africa report on education and the youth shows the same kind of disregard for the voice of those who are integral to the stories – in this case the youth themselves. Only 9% of 420 stories from a range of different newspapers (Daily Dispatch, Mail & Guardian, and Grocott’s Mail) had the voice of a youth as part of the story. Journalists source traditional, official voices from university or school management such as principals (22%), government officials such as spokespeople from the Department of Education (16%), and members of the public who very often who write in the newspaper opinion pages but who are not youth themselves (17%).

If journalists are not listening, then we as the readers/audiences are not hearing the voices, and the marginalized, who are usually the voiceless continue to believe that their voices don’t matter. If however, we are working towards a democracy where listening is part of deliberation and even disagreement, then the voices of the marginalized (as something different to the’ official’) is essential. And the media will play an integral part in sharing those voices, but only if they too can listen with respect, and with the acknowledgement that in order to foster engagement we have to listen to all the voices. Bickford, in all her eloquent writing, sums up the complexity, but equally the importance of listening:
Listening to another person cannot mean abnegating oneself; we cannot hear but as ourselves, against the background of who we are…listening involves the willingness, in other words, to play a particular role in the forming of figure-ground, which role and which action are central to perception. This interdependence, in which speaker and listener are different-but-equal participants, seems particularly apt for describing listening as a practice of citizenship. It makes listening, and not simply speaking, a matter of agency. (The Dissonance of Democracy, 1996:24)

Part 2 – Community Media, Social Media or Traditional Media?

In the second part of the discussion concerning avenues for participation, lecturers from the School of Journalism and Media Studies looked at issues around educating future journalists and the role of the media in encouraging political and civic action by citizens. Prof Anthea Garman (Writing & Editing lecturer) chaired the discussion which included: Jeanne Du Toit (Radio lecturer), Jude Mathurine (New media lecturer) and Rod Amner (Writing & Editing lecturer). Below is a short excerpt of the discussion (you can listen to it or read the transcription).

http://soundcloud.com/mellon-media-citizenship/media-citizenship-recording-1

Anthea: Very often your definition of politics is incredibly narrow. When we think of people’s agency, activity, participation, quite often newspaper will aim that – I’m thinking in particular of Grocott’s Mail, and it was a very interesting experiment around the municipal elections last year. Aimed a whole lot of informational stuff at people. But the fact is, how are people going to be active, and be agents in their communities if they don’t build networks and movements around the issues on the ground. And education for us, is a severe one in the Eastern Cape and in Grahamstown. So I’m thinking what you’re saying as a kind of journalist that proactively doesn’t just use media and in a more sophisticated and conscious way but also uses it to create networks and movements and spaces for activity for taking up agency and holding to account. And there are spheres in which that could be ear-marked and they will be the spheres in which politics has failed spectacularly to deliver on the things in which it would substantially make people’s lives different. So it is a very different attitude to what the journalist does. Jeanne, you wanted to say something.

Jeanne: Ja, there’s two things, listening to what you’re saying now. It strikes me that in the context that we are in here in the Eastern Cape and in Grahamstown there’s kind of added challenges that people don’t necessarily face in all situations. And with us that has to do with the extent to which people’s voices have been marginalised and the extent to which civil society has been broken down because that’s really what this kind of media depends on is that there is a spontaneous up rush of involvement from people talking about the issues and wanting to engage and claiming that space. And I think to a large extent that’s been hollowed out because of poverty, because of all complicated reasons of history. So that’s an added burden that we bear because of being able to facilitate media to work in that particular way here. But the other thing also is that we’re talking about a society that’s in the process of radical change, it’s radical change that happening at all sorts of levels. How do you keep up with making sense of all of that. In a way before you even now what you want to say you’ve got to create the language to say it in because the media’ changing so fast and because we’re doing it in such new ways. It’s a massive paradigm shift and I don’t think it’s surprising that people find it difficult to make sense of how they do that.

Jude: The challenge going forward if one wants to talk about journalism is about the sustainability of present journalism practices. In South Africa the figures for the ABC for the last quarter October to December shows we lost circulation of 90 thousand newspapers. Now consequently, particularly large commercial begin engaging in activities to try to build audiences but maximise mass audiences. That’s always what it’s supposed to do. We have seen initiatives like the Daily Dispatch and even Times Live and others, or we saw a ratcheting up of experimental approaches to new media in particular and the connection between new media and communities ratcheted back as a result of these and other pressures. And the dominant mindset when this starts to happen is cut back on costs and try to build mass audiences. The mass audience mindset to go back to that which you and Rod happened to mention, is different from the network media mindset. And in truth one has to hold a range of mindsets in place because the media in the present environment works in a range of different ways. Present media can for example be interpersonal, can be networked and it can be mass. And what we’re actually not teaching our students and we’re not doing this at all I think in respect to these so-called practices that we’re talking about is to engage our students about what we do about engendering a networked mindset that says that the mass isn’t all there is because the mass was supposed to generate the economies of scale for large media organisation but that a big part of the role is what you do when the mass is broken down into fragments and those fragments mobilise around their own needs.

Anthea: But I think what we’re saying, based on our location, our particular location based in Grahamstown and the Eastern Cape is that we can’t see the one just flowing the information leading necessarily to the other one. Which is what we want, deep in democracy, citizenship participation great activity in repairing the things that have gone wrong. We don’t necessarily see those things just flowing into each other. So I suppose what you’re leaving us with is that challenge that as educators we’ve got to think more carefully about what is, and how can we use that networked mindset. So it’s not just the informational mindest, the mass media mindset, but what is the networked mindset. What is it to reconceive the landscape of media. What is it to think of people as citizens. What is it to broaden the political so that all sorts of spheres of activity and participation can be found. What is it to be the proactive journalist who takes on all that regardless of where you’re located.
Rod: I think one of the questions that arises for me in my head when you say that is that there’s an awful lot of proactivity needed on our side. It’s a bit like the linearlist theory of organisation, you’re using media and facts as a kind of vanguard tool to whip up the masses and play that mobilising role and being proactive. But you know, one has to be careful of taking on the mantle of reconstructing social capital in a city and taking over politics. And I don’t think that the media can do that on its own and maybe it’s problematic that it would even imagine that that’s what it should be doing. I think it’s also about finding, it’s about that term civic mapping, actually finding out how things work. Where is the social capital. Who is out there, what are they doing. There are churches, there are environmental activists out there, there are people who care about education out there, there are people who care about all sorts of things.

Jeanne: So would we meet people where they are?

Rod: How do you meet people where they are? How do you build partnerships with social movements and civil society and with – and make real connections with people about things that matter to them. That’s seems like a fairly fundamental and obvious thing to say but it’s actually not what journalists ordinarily go about doing.

Anthea: I think I’m going to draw this to a close. It’s part of an ongoing series of conversations. Thank-you very much for giving us your thoughts and time. Jude Mathurine from the New Media Laboratory, Jeanne du Toit from the radio section of the School of Journalism and Media Studies, Rod Amner, who teaches writing editing. And I’m Anthea Garman, also in the writing and editing section of the School of Journalism and Media Studies.

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