26th Oct2015

Wits at a Standstill!

by admin

Sandiswe Sondszaba writes an enlightening opinion piece about her experience of the #FeesMustFall movement and what she learnt from Wits being at a standstill as a direct result of protestors.


I first heard of the planned protest against the proposed 10.5% increase in tuition on Monday, October 12th. At the time, I thought that the protest would be a minor event involving hundreds of students and that management would not consider students’ grievances… But, boy was I wrong! I realized that this protest turned out to be something bigger than I had anticipated when I bore witness to Empire Road at a standstill. Being forced to walk to the Jubilee entrance at Wits, I realized that the main entrances to Wits were being blocked as a means of preventing people from entering the campus.

Some of my friends expressed irritation at the tactics used by the protestors as they felt that it infringed upon their right to education. However, one of my more enlightened friends explained that their being inconvenienced was a means of demonstrating that several students would be prevented from getting an education as a result of their being unable to pay for their tuition. Some people began to understand the magnitude of what was being expressed by the protestors. Others, on the other hand, were still confusing being inconvenienced with having their rights violated.

Protestors were determined to bring Wits to a standstill and I believe that they succeeded in doing so. Alarm bells were sounding at 08:45am as lectures were being interrupted as a means of mobilizing more students to join the protests. At 10:15am, my lecture ended abruptly as protestors came in and appealed to our conscience. The majority of my classmates joined the protest as it dawned on us that socio-historical factors play a disproportionately large role in determining who would succeed and who would remain impoverished. It became apparent to us that Wits was on lockdown. Entrances were being opened at various intervals. This meant that our movement in and out of campus was determined by protestors. It really demonstrated how one’s education can be stopped by factors beyond one’s control. If one was unable to get funding for one’s education, one would have to drop out and become another droplet in the sea of unemployed youth in our country. One would then become another number; another anonymous person who “good” (middle-class, employed, educated, tax-paying) citizens would complain about when discussing our country’s socio-economic problems.

My friends and I walked around as we observed the protests progress and gradually gain momentum. We spoke to people who were sitting on the road, blocking vehicles from leaving the campus. Although I was tired, I was proud of my colleagues. They found a way of illustrating how this institution does not operate in a vacuum. Our universities serve as a microcosm of South Africa; this means that the inequalities that exist in our society will manifest themselves, to a larger or smaller extent, within our campuses. The protest gave me and my friends the courage to speak of the systems of privilege that we bear witness to on a daily basis. We began to discuss how people within our social circles live in the bubbles of privilege that prevent them from fully understanding where others are coming from. These bubbles of privilege have often stifled our ability to empathize with those who are struggling to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Within my social circle, none of us went to bad schools; we are the products of private schooling and Model C education. This education has informed our worldviews but it has given us the opportunity to observe how privilege often blinds those who possess to others’ suffering. Wits being at a standstill got me to be “woke”. I have a slightly more nuanced understanding of our systems of privilege reproduce themselves as a result of people being, willingly and unwillingly, blind to their existence. I began to understand how the outcome of the protests affected not only my peers, but those within my inner circle – including myself. On Wednesday, October 15th, I may have been inconvenienced by the actions of the protestors, but that inconvenience coincided with the shattering of my blindness to systems of privilege. I stand in support of my peers who are fighting to ensure that the gates to this institution are not closed to those who, despite their financial standing, are deserving of studying at this institution. I have become a proud Witsie who has learnt that the students make the institution.

25th Aug2014

The end of a “Generations”?

by admin

SS1Sandiswa Sondzaba looks at the recent issues around the South African soapie Generations.

For many Generations fans, this past week proved to be the end of an era as sixteen principle actors were fired. The incident came in the wake of a weeklong strike over unresolved payment issues in their contracts. The actors were demanding three-year contracts, better salaries, and royalties and syndication fees for episodes that are broadcast in other countries. The show’s creator, Mfundi Vundla, has stated that the actors had received communication from the production company that they were expected on set and failure to do so would result in the termination of their contracts. The actors formed an actors’ guild and released a statement saying that none of the issues they had complained about last year had been resolved. The actors said that they would “examine their legal options and will update members of the media accordingly on their next course of action.”

The incident has proven to be heart breaking for a lot of Generations fans as a lot of their favourite actors have been affected by the dismissals. One of the actors dismissed, Sophie Ndaba (Queen), is an original cast member who many have come to fall in love with. The dismissals have also brought to light the challenges experienced by many South African actors. The lack of security over pay has been highlighted and it has made many aware of the unglamorous side of acting.

The incident has alsobecome political as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) have made calls for the cast members to be reinstated. Although the politicization of the issue may make a few wary, it has demonstrated the soapie’s influence within the South African landscape.

I personally have mixed opinions around the ‘Generations’ saga. I sympathize with the actors because the South African film and television industry is known for being precarious. The actors are right in demanding a three-year contract, which will ensure financial stability for them. However, I feel as though their salary demands are quite high. A weekly wage of R16, 000 is high considering that the majority of South Africans do not earn a living salary. Although they do entertain us, I do feel as though their demands for a higher salary are quite exorbitant considering the fact that we are experiencing a downturn in our economy. Despite my reservations, I do feel as though firing them was drastic on the part of Mfundi Vundla and the ‘Generations’ producers. All that can be said is that the saga shall continue.

25th Aug2014

Ferguson on fire

by admin

SS2Sandiswa Sondzaba looks at the protests in Ferguson in the United States and how these link to a post-racial society.

Ferguson, Missouri in the United States has been on the international news circuit lately. The town has been plagued by protests over the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer. The incident proved to be a tipping point for the town as it has been simmering with racial tensions. Following the shooting there were ten days of protests, which culminated into violence between protesters and police officers . The unrest resulted in the arrival of National Guard units in a fleet of Humvees on Monday. This was the first such deployment to quell civil unrest in the US since Seattle in 1999.

The incident has brought to question the idea of America being a post-racial society. Following the election of Barack Obama into the presidential office in 2008, a lot of Americans have embraced the idea of America being rid of its complex racial past. The idea of the post-racial society came about to bring about unity amongst Americans of all races. However, despite this ideal, there were a few incidences that were reported on, which undermined the post-racial American dream. First there was the 2009 arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates as he tried to enter his own home. Most people stated that that was a minor glitch made by police officers. However, the post-racial dream was shattered with the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. A lot of people tried to downplay the incident by stating that as George Zimmerman was Hispanic, this did not reflect on racial tensions within America. However, it would be hard for those same people to argue that Michael Brown’s death has no connections to race whatsoever.

In spite of the intentions made to erase America’s racial history, there have been efforts made to confront her legacy of racism. A prominent example of this effort is the Academy-Award winning 12 Years’ A Slave, which told the unknown story of Solomon Northupp, a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. This story got a lot of Americans to confront the legacy of slavery, which so many have tried to gloss over. It gave Americans a chance to reflect on how racism still informs a large part of American discourse. It also gave Americans a chance to understand that the post-racial dream is one, which may never be realized. This is because of the institutionalized racism, which still exists within America today. An example of this racism is the high incarceration rate for young African-American males on minor drug charges. The racism has also begun to manifest itself with the gentrification of former inner cities such as Brooklyn.

This shattering of the post-racial American dream is relevant to South Africa. As we try to move on from the legacy of apartheid, we have hit a snag with regards to racial relations. With groups such as AfriForum claiming the occurrence of a white genocide and tensions arising over the land reform debate, we have begun to understand the complexities of race relations in post-apartheid South Africa. What Ferguson has shown us is that racism is a worldwide phenomenon, which affects different societies differently. It has also shown us that the attempts to get rid of racism cannot be mere political rhetoric. These attempts have to look at the structures, which facilitate racism and allow for racial divisions to become deeply entrenched. It is important for all of us to become more aware of how racism remains institutionalized within our poverty and we make the effort to eradicate this institutionalization. This is important not only for our future, but also to honour the memory of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and others who have lost their lives because of racial tension.

18th Aug2011

The effects of the PhD syndrome

by admin

I watched with dismay and repulsion in the preceding weeks when two houses of councillors were torched in Soweto. A myriad of questions emerged as to why a human being would do that to a fellow human being. This is because these incidents showed how human beings disregard the lives of other people as the lives of the councillors and their families were put in danger when their houses were stoned and set alight. Three answers immediately emerged in trying to understand the aforementioned incidents.

First of all, the militancy of the black majority during the armed struggle at the height of apartheid left a sour and unbearable legacy of defiance in addressing pressing issues within the black community. This can be seen with violent protests from labour movements when on a wage strike. The second concern was the frustrations that ordinary people on the ground have about the malfunctioning, rather incompetent as well as corrupt, ANC-led government. However, the explanation that stood out for me in the Soweto councillor attacks was jealousy. This is informed by the fact that the apartheid system entrenched a mentality within the black race of deterring the development and success of a fellow black person. Most black people cringe when witnessing the success of other black people instead of applauding this.

Otherwise how does one explain endangering people’s lives just to get a point across? There are procedures to follow, mechanisms, institutions and so forth in place in dealing with such issues instead of resorting to aggression. There is also the option of a peaceful protest or unseating the person who does not represent you very well as you were responsible for putting them into that leadership position. No one is invincible. Even presidents can be unseated. After all, this is a fully functioning democratic state. The incidents mentioned in this article show the rappelling effects of the Pull Him/Her Down (PHD) syndrome famous within the black race. Black people need to support each other, empower each other and learn to humble themselves for a prosperous black community in the country.

Lwazi – Mr Skhokho – Mhlongo is a third year student in Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.

22nd Mar2011

Topics in Media and Cultural Studies Roundtable: 23 March 2011

by admin

The Department of Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand invites you for its first roundtable this year in the Topics in Media and Cultural Studies series. Please join us tomorrow afternoon 23 March between 14.15-16.00 hrs in CB8 (Central Block, Wits East Campus).

The following speakers will present papers:

Dr Sarah Chiumbu

Exploring mobile phone practices in social movements in South Africa – The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign

Mr Wellington Radu

Zimbabwe in the media: The coverage of the talks about the Zimbabwean ‘unity’ government in the Mail & Guardian, 2007-2009.

For further information, please contact Dr Dina Ligaga, email: Dina.Ligaga@wits.ac.za, phone: +27 11 7174112

21st Feb2011

Talkin’ ’bout a (social networking) revolution

by admin

Two months into the New Year, and already the media are brimming with coverage of newsworthy stories – floods in Australia, SA membership into the BRIC, a historic referendum in Sudan (Gasp! Shock! Horror!), the shenanigans at the SABC (yawn…) and no word yet from Julius Malema (touch wood). It’s been an eventful year to say the least! Compliments of the New Season to you all!

Keeping things on the home front, I for one am happy about the realpolitik coming out of Africa since January 1st.  It is good to know that people are finally taking their New Year’s resolutions seriously. Mine was to quit making Mark Zuckerberg so darn rich. But I watched the movie based on the social network he created twice already, and continue feverishly to superpoke and update my status. Ok, so the whole social networking bug has bitten me. Try prying a 20-something away from her Crackberry and see how much luck you have! On a recent trip to Sun City with a carload of friends of mine, easily 80% of the trip was spent ‘BBM-ing’. The remaining 20% was spent by me complaining about all the BBM-ing.

Sure, I have a Facebook account and network socially (or on the internet rather – it’s one and the same thing really) but some folks have taken it too far. And I don’t mean my (anti)social friends who went on a road trip to fund Sol Kerzner. I mean the young ones who are causing real political unrest and social upheaval north of the Equator. If the tweets and updates are anything to go by, this social networking thing has become somewhat revolutionary in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon (and much of the African* Middle East).

Young, jobless, politically disenfranchised people have taken to social networking on the streets of Tahrir Square in Cairo, Tunis in Tunisia and Damascus in Syria – amongst other places – to express their dissatisfaction and disillusionment about their government’s failure to acknowledge their needs and concerns. Young Tunisians forced President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali into exile in Saudi Arabia after 23 years in power. Subsequently, young Egyptians successfully encouraged Hosni Mubarak to take early retirement. All this from status updates and ‘liking’ a group on Facebook? Mark Zuckerberg, YOU ARE THE MAN!!!! But I’m not entirely convinced that Mark had this in mind when he created Facebook but US$50 billion later, it’s a pretty convincing argument. But the message coming from young, politically disenfranchised and socially stratified people in the Arab African*world, who have (re) discovered their political voice, is equally convincing. Perhaps even more so.

Indeed, arguments about the medium being the message have plagued Media Studies students since Marshall McLuhan first penned it 30 years prior to the invention of the internet. But I digress. The situation up north is symptomatic of an authoritarian government that represses outlets and channels that should encourage citizens to express and converse amongst themselves and with the powers that be: a.k.a. the media. Of course, failed responses to the rising food prices and inflation have not helped much either.  Small wonder then that youth – and the new media technologies that they have embraced – have been heralded as the agents of change, creating spaces where these views can be aired. It is good to know that the media theories I was taught in SHB1 do actually happen in the world.

I am encouraged by the youth of North Africa, whose idealism and desire for better circumstances I personally admire and would like to emulate. The feast of images in the press, on TV and the net has been proverbial food for my soul. Just when I was giving up on the grand ideas put forward by the likes of McLuhan and other foremost latter-day cultural critics, I witness how powerful they can actually be. Social networking activism can best be described by the thousands of young people who gathered in Tunisia and Egypt (and gather still in other parts of the African Arab world) and made significant historical and political inroads. The annals of the internet and social networking sites will forever be in your debt!

For real though, I do wish young people of South Africa could take a page out of Arab African youth’s Facebook groups. There are many lessons to be learnt from our distant neighbours up north. They remind one that politics is of the people and that at all times power remains ours to claim (and reclaim, if need be). Young South Africans must (re)claim their youth and create or discover networks that encourage political, social and economic participation and enfranchisement, and spaces where we can gather. I look to Media Studies students to use this platform to discover their voices, extend their participation beyond Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry Messenger, and encourage and empower other young people to do the same in the process. Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, our democratic process is better entrenched (the Protection of Information Bill notwithstanding). We must ensure that this remains so by continually challenging and making use of these processes and show the democratic world order how it is done. Be the change you want to see in the world, right?

I’m talking about a Revolution, yeah!

*The term ‘African’ is used here in a general, all-encompassing sense. If the recent debate in the City Press on who is an African is anything to go by, the results are inconclusive.

Naledi Siphokazi Msimang is a Research Assistant for the ICT and New Media Cultures in Southern Africa project in the Department of Media Studies, University of the Witwatersrand. She does not know all the words to Tracy Chapman’s hit song. She sings along anyway.

22nd Oct2010

Student strike for marks? Human right or a misdirected request?

by admin

In a previous article, Victorine Ntambo analysed how mothers, sisters, heroines, mentors, siblings and friends in the teaching and nursing profession teach and strike. Now, she reviews how school children boycotted preliminary examinations shortly after the public service strike in South Africa. Did they learn from the striking women?

Everyone is aware that the public servants’ strike in the country went on for three weeks and then was suspended for 21 days. The effects, that this strike might have, have been down-played. From every indication, it has had a crippling effect on the public and the citizens of South Africa. The most immediate victims were patients and school children. Without any major changes to the timetable, the matric class of 2010 has to sit for their preliminary exams just after the strike.

During and even after the public servants’ strike, the Department of Basic Education devised options that will help students to recover school time lost, as far back as time lost during the FIFA World Cup held in June 2010. Apart from options that encouraged the formation of study groups, increased classroom times, use of weekends and the September holidays for intense studies, the Department also called on parents, schools, teachers, the private sector, volunteers and non-governmental organizations to help the learners. As the strike loomed, most privileged students turned to the radio, TV and even mobile phones to close the gaps in their subjects, especially in mathematics.

Many volunteers and retired teachers turned up in their numbers and are still helping the students till date. However, all these efforts meant nothing to the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) who decided to boycott and disrupt classes in demand of ‘pass one, pass all’ or a free 25 percent that contributes to the final year examination. Because their demand was rejected by the Minister of Basic Education, they decided to disrupt the preliminary exams. The strike and call on fellow matriculants to boycott examinations was because, according to COSAS, the learners are ill-prepared for the exams after a three-week gap in schooling brought about by the public service strike.

The strike and demonstrations were so severe that students across the country were arrested and some wounded. At least one student was killed. In writing this article, I am prompted with questions such as: Is a student strike justified? Is it really worth it to go out and demonstrate for marks that are not earned? I think the Minister of Basic Education, Angela Motshekga, was right when she announced in both radio and television interviews that marks cannot be allocated for free.

What is striking about the occurrence and timing of this students’ strike – in a country that just came out of a massive public servant strike – is that we seem to groom a generation that would lay claims to things they never worked for. If these students have the audacity to go out and ask for marks, what else do we think they will ask for once they are no longer students? You could now be saying that South Africa is a free country and that students too have their rights. Your position does not stand to be disputed.

But what has happened to our entire system? Are we likely to see any motivation among students for their studies? Will more and more people stand up and earn what they desire? How does the future look like? We need to be more accountable as individuals before we look up to other groups and government for accountability.

21st Oct2010

We like to (continue to) express ourselves

by admin

Source: Demelza Bush, Mail and Guardian

Coinciding with Media Freedom Day this Tuesday 19 October, the recently launched Right2Know campaign (sign up here) organised a march to mark a week of action against the proposed Protection of Information Bill. The march departed from Wits University to Constitution Hill.

According to a report in the Mail and Guardian yesterday, the march was dominated by protestors from civil society organizations. But hey, we were there! Two second-year Media Studies students Sibusisiwe and Viraj decided to skip their ‘Sociology of News Production’ lecture in favour of the march. As the newspaper reported:

Despite having its starting point outside Wits University’s Senate House, the traditional starting point for many student demonstrations during the apartheid era, Tuesday’s march was poorly attended by students. There were only a handful of students at the beginning of the march, although a number of curious scholars joined in as the procession moved through the city.

Two second year media studies students, Sibusisiwe Nyanda and Viraj Suparsad, cut class to attend the march. “It’s interesting to see that we’re at an institute of learning, where there are a lot of young people who should be opinionated about this, and they’re not here,” said Nyanda.

“I do think that there’s a general attitude of being apathetic and not really bothered. We’ve become such a passive society. Even issues that affect us, whether directly or indirectly, we’re not concerned to do anything about it actively,” she continued.

But as Media Studies students, we like to express ourselves of course. Did we not tell you that before? Remember our launch poem:

Express to impress in exPress imPress

If you have anything to say, don’t stress

exPress imPress is here for you to distress

It is just like playing a game of chess

Just take your chance

exPress imPress will give you access

Do not suppress all those emotions

Express them on exPress imPress

The platform for you to address all your pressing issues

Release your intellectual prowess

And you will see nothing but progress

There is none like exPress imPress

Your ticket to success

Do not let your emotions depress you

When you can just express them on exPress imPress

@Kgalalelo Morwe

Let’s hope we will continue to be able to express ourselves though in the light of all these recent developments….

20th Oct2010

SAPS, media and the criminalization of the poor

by admin

Drawing upon her research (with Thulani Fakude) on media coverage of the service delivery protests, Fezani Khumalo asks the following questions: Who is the South African Police Service (SAPS) protecting and how do media represent the police?

I am not the biggest fan of the police, particularly the South African Police Service (SAPS). History proves that police are symbols of destruction and conflict. Protests and demonstrations have become a popular form of communicating dissatisfaction. As I was walking downtown during the recent public servants’ strike, I found myself being more afraid of the heavily armed, intimidating SAPS than of the enraged protesters. In a blink of an eye, I was running for safety from a rubber bullet storm. The police seems to perpetuate the violence and unsafety of strikes. Are they not meant to maintain peace?

It is important to not downplay the fact that people have a constitutional right to protest. I began to wonder: could it be that it is the police who stand between the resolving of issues of social dissatisfaction? Would there be more urgency for government to react and respond to protests if there was no violence inflicted onto the unsatisfied and underserved? If their job is to maintain peace, whose peace is their priority? Is it the peace of the government, university management, employers or that of the ordinary people? As long as the communities, workers and students are not satisfied, there is no peace for them.

In the media, the police continue to be constructed as the heroes and as a short-term solution to protests. They are the ones that help the government delay their response to the peoples’ needs. They dismiss strikes through the use of violent and life-threatening techniques such as shooting rubber bullets! As people continue to be exploited, the police continue to shoot! In reporting about the police, the media include the voice of the police extensively through numerous quotes in articles. They are very much activated and personalised. The police are always interviewed and report on the strategies that they have used to ‘dissolve’ the ‘aggressive strikers’. The police are portrayed as trustworthy sources of statistics on damage that has been done. They are the only sources of protection against the large number of faceless people taking on the streets in the name of resistance against lack of service delivery. The police are also symbolised as the managers of the protest situation by firing rubber bullets to the ‘criminals who are on the wrong’.

It is, however, very ironic that there are many complaints about corruption and misuse of money by officials but the police does not treat these officials as worth of shooting rubber bullets at. Corruption is a criminal act but the police do not fire rubber bullets at these officials who are committing crimes. This raises the question of social class and power relations and how people are treated differently by the law and other powerful structures according to their socio-economic status. The police are also symbolised as people who were provoked to act in a certain way. This is well demonstrated through the use of words such as ‘Police had to’ and ‘Police fired rubber bullets on Tuesday to break up about 200 protesters’. It gives an idea that the protesters asked for it when they are being shot and arrested. There is a strong element of bias when the media report about the police. They construct them as symbols of peace and enforcing a violence-free strike but by inflicting violence on the protesters. The vocabulary that is used suggests that the police are responding to violent, aggressive and deviant protesters.

They shoot university students, school learners. They shoot nurses and teachers. They shoot soldiers and ordinary citizens. See a video example here of SAPS firing rubber bullets at some protestors:

The SAPS does not shoot at real criminals but at those who continue to be underpaid and underprivileged. We do not hear guns when people get raped, we do not hear guns for drunk driving and we do not hear guns for robbery, murder, battery, domestic violence, corruption! We do not hear them for real crimes but there is an abundant misuse of rubber bullets. There exists a tyranny of the police and justice system and it continues to hang upon anyone who wishes to express dissatisfaction towards the elite. To the ordinary citizen who wants to seek justice, the SAPS is dangerous!

19th Oct2010

The new struggle t-shirt

by admin

During South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, t-shirts effectively communicated political messages that were censored on radio and television, ultimately leading to a ban of political t-shirts under the Public Safety Act of 1953. T-shirts became the embodied adverts of numerous anti-apartheid organizations and movements.

In post-apartheid South Africa, the t-shirt continues to play an important role in advancing a range of struggles although there has also been a commodification of the struggle t-shirt as outlined in this article here.

With recent developments regarding media freedom, the t-shirt may well soon come to fulfill a similar function as it did in the 1950s if we are to believe the pessimists. The Coalition for Freedom of Speech has produced a t-shirt to support media freedom.

It will be on sale at today’s National Media Freedom Day events and at Wits University from tomorrow. They can also be ordered from the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) via admin@sanef.org.za

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