Free The Word: A literary gathering

I attended a night of poetry and literary goodness in a jazzy place earlier this month. Finally got down to editing and packaging this short(ish) video of what transpired that night, enjoy.

Research for Africa, by Africa

FILE PICTURE: Chairperson of the African Union Commission Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Picture: Nigel Sibanda
FILE PICTURE: Chairperson of the African Union Commission Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

NOTE: Article first appeared in The Citizen newspaper on April 25, 2014. 

Pooling resources and working together, instead of competing, are some of the ways research conducted at African universities can help propel the continent to be a global leader, projecting to 2063.

During a public lecture on research in African universities in the Senate Hall at the University of Pretoria yesterday, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairperson of the African Union Commission, emphasised how research done at universities can help with the overall development of Africa.

“The only way to do so is by getting universities to look 50 years into the past and 50 years in to the future,” said Dlamini-Zuma. Projecting ahead “liberates you – it is not defined and confined by immediate circumstances”.

Research carried out at universities is one of the ways universities could help to “turn all our resources into wealth for our people,” said Dlamini-Zuma. A fundamental way of doing this was to broaden the base from which students are chosen, she said.

The university’s vice-chancellor, Cheryl de la Ray, responded by saying demand was too high to accommodate more students. “We don’t take international students for our undergraduate courses because of huge demand locally,” she said.

“We make plans and expect other people to fund them.”

Dlamini-Zuma said development needed to happen internally, with Africans helping Africans. The AU has found that most African researchers collaborate with researchers from overseas and not one another, something which “surprised and disappointed” her.

She added that African universities and researchers needed to work together towards Pan-African development, mentioning the African Union was in the process of starting a virtual Pan-African university.

Dlamini-Zuma stressed that through research conducted at African universities “vexing questions could be answered”. She cited a cure for malaria and the gradual disappearance of Lake Chad as examples of questions that needed to be investigated.

Ducking and diving to get the story

Reporting in war zones of conflict areas can be dangerous for any investigative journalist or photo journalist. Stephen Hofstatter and James Oatway presented ways to stay safe and navigate such areas in ways that will help to get the story a journalist is looking for and stay alive at the same time.

Sunday Times journalists James Oatway (left) and Stephan Hofstatter (right) shared their personal experiences on reporting in conflict areas on the continent. Photo: Prelene Singh
Sunday Times journalists James Oatway (left) and Stephan Hofstatter (right) shared their personal experiences on reporting in conflict areas on the continent. Photo: Prelene Singh

Hofstatter and Oatway have worked together in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Central African Republic (CAR) on stories that have seen the two dodging bombs and confronted by armed rebels. Their presentation on Covering Resource Conflict in Africa started off with Hofstatter outlining the essential and practical considerations they had taken when they went into conflict areas. He said that in conflict areas it’s difficult to sift between fact and fiction because of the amount of propaganda punted by opposing sides. A lot of wire services fall prey to misinformation because they rely on once source in many cases, added Hofstatter.

The pair used their stories to highlight some of the do’s and don’ts involved in covering conflict areas:

The budget that they worked on for their trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
The budget that they worked on for their trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

• Budget: The most essential things on the budget include money for a fixer, a driver and accommodation. Hofstatter said that they used up to $250 a day on a trip. Oatway added that while some news agencies had big enough budgets to include security, this presents a challenge when trying to get close to sources and getting a more in-depth story.

• The right fixer: A dependable and professional fixer is essential to survival in conflict areas said Oatway. Fixers are people who can put you in touch with military commanders and bureaucrats because they have nurtured relationships with these people. Fixers can help in attaining exclusive footage because they can navigate around difficult situations and people. · Background: “It’s difficult to get information when you get there,” this is why journalists need to do all their homework beforehand said Hofstatter. A lot of senior officials and business officials from other African countries live in South Africa, they can be very useful sources.

• Angles: While it is important to present a South African angle when reporting, it is equally important to avoid being insular by ignoring international angles. Hofstatter used an anecdote of their experience with rebel commanders in the CAR to illustrate this. “We didn’t just cover the conflict there (in CAR)…We had to show what kind of regime our government was propping up,” said Hofstatter.

Ethical considerations: In such volatile areas, one can witness grave human rights abuses. The pair tried where they could to make ethical and morally sound decisions where both information and images were concerned. Oatway vividly recalled a situation where they pleaded with rebels to release a prisoner they had in their custody after he had taken the shots he needed but added, “I have no idea what happened to him after we left.”

• Balanced reporting under fire: Again Hofstatter stressed the importance of avoiding falling for propaganda. “Where you can highlight unverified information and highlight where you got that information.” Images and information with grey areas can create false negative narratives.

• Safety first: Oatway said that even though he itched for “iconic photos” when there is a lot of action happening, he sometimes has to ignore scratching that itch by staying away from extremely risky situations. Hofstatter went on to list things to do in the face of gunfire or hand grenades going off, “make yourself as small as possible and lie on your back,” he said.

Digital Apartheid

exPress imPress hosted its second roundtable discussion on the 11th of May 2012. The topic for discussion was: ‘Digital Apartheid: Is the smartphone age segregating or uniting South Africans?’.

Nathalie Hyde-Clarke.

The Graduate Seminar Room was not as full as we had anticipated but there was an eager audience present and ready to engage with the topic at hand. The first speaker was the ‘headliner’ if you will: Nathalie Hyde-Clarke. She is an ex-Witsie who is now the Head of the School of Communication at the University of Johannesburg. Her presentation was based on a research study she had recently done on trends of mobile phone usage in the Greater Johannesburg area. Her findings were very illuminating and served to debunk some assumptions about mobile phone and smartphone usage that I had.

Her findings could be summarised as follows. In 2010, 85 percent of the South African population owned a cell phone, with around 35 percent of those using their phones to go online. By 2012, there was a major increase in these numbers with 35 million people owning cellphones and 36 percent of those being smartphones. She found that people do not really use their smartphones to their full capacity. Most people use it for social networking and entertainment purposes which is problematic as a large number of people who own phones do not really know how to use them properly – smartphone or otherwise. Hence, the lack of mobile phone literacy was a problem that she identified in her research. There are no classes to learn how to use a phone. Most people just learn as they go along which is not an altogether bad thing but for example for someone who lives in a rural area and is illiterate, this could prove to be a trying task.

Nathalie made a statement about the teenagers and kids of today missing out on the world due to their preoccupation with their phone. It was only fitting to have a representative of the youth to challenge this. Leenesha Pather, a fellow exPress imPress blogger and Media Studies Honours student, attributed the growth of smartphone usage to affordability. Blackberries often come with a R60 internet bundle which effectively soothes the airtime woes of many ‘broke’ youngsters. She did mention that while accessibility had increased, smartphones serve to segregate people on a physical level in the sense that people would rather text, BBM or tweet one another than actually go out for a coffee together, hereby not quite countering Nathalie’s point (as I had hoped) but supporting it. But in the same breath, Leenesha mentioned that perhaps if everybody had access to smartphones, race and class divisions could be bridged.

roundtable2-300x225Following Leenesha, Wendy Willems, a lecturer and now Head of Department of Media Studies at Wits University, spoke. She has been doing research in Zambia on mobile phone usage. She mentioned that patterns of ownership and cost are very similar to the earlier mentioned South African case. People who cannot afford these technologies are ‘left behind’ and this creates a burgeoning digital divide. In Zambia, people attribute mobile phones to a number of social problems like adultery. A lot of people seem to think that mobile phones break up happy homes.

In the discussion held afterwards, the debate echoed ease of access in Africa and questioned how reflective the findings actually are of places outside Greater Johannesburg. Along with this, there was a shared sentiment that smartphones need to be made more affordable, used as more than accessories and used to their full potential. If this happened they could be used as educational tools and really help to put the world at everyone’s finger tips.

**NOTE: Post first appeared on exPress imPress on May 28 2014.