Surveillance without borders?

Mapping the state of surveillance in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa

The Media Policy and Democracy Project (MPDP) invites you to the launch of two new research reports on communications surveillance issues in Zimbabwe and Namibia.

Dr Admire Mare, the author of the Namibian research report, will be in conversation with the University of Johannesburg’s Professor Jane Duncan and Professor Nyasha Mboti as well as Sam Sole of the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism – who recently brought a successful court challenge to South Africa’s surveillance laws.

While there is a growing body of research about surveillance issues in the ‘global north’, the launch these research reports will be a chance to reflect on the emerging pictures of communications surveillance in different Southern African societies. What do we know? What is still unknown or remains secret? What commonalities do we see across the region? Perhaps most importantly, what steps are needed to ensure that state surveillance practices in the region adhere to democratic principles and oversight?


  • Dr Admire Mare (Department of Communication, the Namibia University of Science and Technology)
  • Prof Nyasha Mboti (Department of Communication Studies, University of Johannesburg)
  • Professor Jane Duncan (School of Journalism, Film and Television, University of Johannesburg)
  • Sam Sole (Managing partner, amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism)
  • Date ■ Thursday 31 October 2019
    Time ■ 17.30-19.00
    Venue■University of Johannesburg, Faculty of Humanities Common Room, C Ring 319, Auckland Park, Kingsway Campus
    RSVP ■

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS: Social Media, Fake News and Hate Speech

28, 2020

The advent of social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube etc.) has brought about democratisation of communication as the public that hitherto had been considered to be consumers of messages has now also become producers. The platform of social media is open to everyone who has a device, an account to use and data or access to the internet. Communication has never been better and interesting in the history of man.

However, as we celebrate this ‘power’ of communication given to the people through social media, we also need to ponder the other side of this communication. This advent of social media and with it more opportunities for free participation by citizens in debates has given impetus to insurgent politics and also brought on us the acceleration and strengthening of post-truth, fake news and hate speeches. Before the emergence of social media, there were fake news and hate speech carried by different media in the chronology of media and communication history. These phenomena have been there since the time of communication by mere words of mouth, and through the advent of print, radio and television media. It has however become more obtrusive with the emergence of social media. This has had some deleterious impact on human relationships and the society at large. It has created crisis and fueled it to monstrous proportions.

These are some of the issues we intend to focus on in this conference. Submissions can touch on any of the following points:

  •  Theorisation around social media, fake news and hate speech
  •  Social media, Fake news, hate speech and the economy
  •  Social media, Fake news, hate speech and politics
  •  Social media, Fake news, hate speech and nationality
  •  Social media, Fake news, hate speech and race
  •  Social media, Fake news, hate speech and human relations
  •  Social media, fake news and hate speech in organisations
  •  Social media, fake news, hate speech and religion
  •  Social media, language use, fake news and hate speech
  •  Social media, indigenous language, ethnicity and hate speech
  • Social media, indigenous culture, fake news and hate speech
  •  Social media, citizen education, fake news and hate speech
  •  Social media, fake news, hate speech and xenophobia
  •  Strengths and weaknesses of various social media for fake news and hate speech
  •  Social media regulation, fake news and hate speech The list is by no means exhaustive.

Kindly submit abstracts of between 300 and 500 words to Dr. Francis Amenaghawon at

Papers presented at the conference, after peer-review process, will be published in Habari: ILMA Book Series. Habari is the Swahili word for News. The book series editors are Professor Abiodun Salawu and Prof. Itumeleng Mekoa.

Important Dates:

  1. Abstract Submission – February 28, 2020
  2. Acceptance/Rejection Notice – March 15, 2020
  3. Conference Registration Opens – March 30, 2020
  4. Conference – June 27 – 28, 2020

Registration Fees:

Academics – R2500.00
Students – R1000.00
International participants – USD180.00

SCREENING: ‘Under the Rainbow’ (Dir. Pamela Adie)

16:00, Saturday, 12.10.2019, AFDA Johannesburg

Pamela Addie is a Nigerian based queer rights activist.  She will be visiting South Africa to engage with activist organisations here.  GALA is working with these activist organisations such as Iranti and ISLA who are hosting Pamela.

On Saturday, 12 October, 2019 (16:00) her film “Under the Rainbow” will be screened at AFDA Johannesburg. 

‘Under The Rainbow’ is a visual memoir tracing Nigerian activist Pamela Adie’s journey of self-discovery in a powerful story of love, rejection, loss, and triumph set against the backdrop of a deeply homophobic society. 

Please join us at the film’s first Johannesburg screening which will be followed by a panel discussion with Pamela Adie, Phumi Mtetwa and Sibongile Ndashe.

Venue: AFDA, 41 Frost Avenue, Braamfontein

Date: 12 October 2019

Time: 4pm


More info:

CFP: Valenti Global Communication Summit 2020

Call for Papers

Valenti Global Communication Summit 2020

@frica: digital media conference

Houston, TX – February 27/28, 2020

Deadline for extended abstracts: November 22, 2019

While the economic, political, cultural and social transformations brought about by the rise of digital technologies, particularly in the media and telecommunications sectors, are visible all over the world, it is in African countries that they are projected to have the biggest impact in coming years. Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, has one of the fastest growing number of internet and mobile users in the world.

In many parts of the continent, access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) has been seen as an opportunity to “leapfrog”, a concept that the World Bank defines as making “a quick jump in economic development” by adopting technological innovation. This is exemplified by the success of African startups like Ushahidi, a crowdsourcing mapping tool created in Kenya, or Jumia, Nigeria’s number 1 online retailer; the recent opening of Google’s Africa AI center in Ghana; and the ever-growing presence of mobile payment and banking across the continent. Digital communication technologies have also been used strategically by citizens in the continent to engage in grassroots political movements that have toppled long-time rulers, led to (sometimes short-lived) regime changes, and brought about changes in legislation.

The fast growth of digitally enabled communications and services has also brought challenges for the continent. For example, well-before the notion of “fake news” became a buzzword in U.S. politics, many African nations, from South Africa to Gabon or Nigeria, were targets of large-scale misinformation campaigns over social media such as WhatsApp and Facebook. Additionally, young, highly-educated, and digitally-savvy graduates in many African countries have been employed by transnational tech companies such as Facebook for data processing in what some authors describe as digital sweatshops. The positive and negative impacts of this technological revolution are therefore important to consider.

Because African countries, their people, and their mediated interactions remain understudied in the fields of media and communication, especially in Western countries, the “@frica: digital media conference” invites extended abstracts (800-1,000 words) that examine the transformations and disruptions of digital media in African countries.

Specifically, but not exclusively, we invite contributions that explore any of the following questions:

  • What methodological challenges exist in studying digital media use (such as social media and/or mobile communications) in Africa?
  • What theoretical frameworks, constructs and paradigms are best suited to study transformations and disruptions of digital media in Africa?
  • How has social media been used by African political actors, social movements and grassroots activists and to what effect?
  • What are the roots, consequences and differences between countries of existing disparities in access to digital media in Africa?
  • How are digital technologies influencing, complementing, and/or superseding journalistic practices in Africa?
  • How does the sharing economy (e.g. Uber, Upwork…) transform and/or reinforce social norms, values, practices, structure and culture in Africa?
  • What are the prevailing regulatory frameworks that affect digital media use in Africa?
  • What socio-economic, cultural and economic factors shape the adoption, diffusion and appropriation of digital technologies in Africa?

The deadline to submit extended abstracts is November 22, 2019. To submit an extended abstract, please go to You will need to create an account to make a submission.  

The organizers will notify by email the authors of accepted extended abstracts by December 6, 2019. Authors will be expected to submit full papers by February 2, 2020.

The “@frica: digital media conference” will accept a limited number of virtual presentations, in which authors who are unable to travel to Houston, will be able to present their work and get feedback from the audience virtually. Authors who wish to be considered for one of the virtual presentation slots should indicate their preference when submitting their extended abstracts.

A selection of accepted papers will be included in a Special Issue of the Journal of African Media Studies to be published in 2020. Only accepted papers that are presented at the conference will be considered for the Special Issue. Questions about the conference and the Call for Papers can be sent to

EVENT: Mini-INPUT Johannesburg

The Mini-INPUT will be showcasing productions screened and discussed at the INPUT 2019 conference which was held in Bangkok in May 2019.

More than 400 delegates (all TV professionals) gathered in Bangkok to discuss and showcase the state of broadcasting.
Mini-INPUTs are designed, to disseminate know-how and solutions to local broadcasting professionals and are scheduled around the world.
INPUT is not a festival. It does not showcase “the best” productions or award prizes to productions. Instead, productions that offer solutions, creative insights into the industry challenges are showcased. They form a basis of international know-how and programming exchange. Not on a platform of a marketplace – but on a platform of professional curiosity.

At the Johannesburg Mini-INPUT, broadcasting professionals, media scholars, policy makers and audience have a chance to watch and discuss 13 of the 50 productions screened at the conference. These have been carefully curated to tackle topics that are of interest of the regional stakeholders by the INPUT National Coordinator for South Africa, Henriette De Villiers and the SACOMM ExCo. Member for Screen Studies, François Smit.  The programmes are screened in themes sessions to focus discussion around these topics.

INPUT is an organization based on volunteer engagement by professionals around the world who are supported by their own organisations. It is not steered by ideologies other than “storytelling in the interest of the audience”. It is an open platform for the exchange of programme ideas and professional know-how.

Who should attend?
INPUT is a conference aimed at TV makers and media scholars. Productions screened range in genre, format and audience share. It is as much a showcase of “Bread and Butter TV” as it showcases block buster fiction series or high-end documentaries. The plurality of the perspectives of the delegates at the conference is what makes INPUT a “must attend” event.

The Mini-INPUT is kindly hosted by AFDA Johannesburg (41 Frost Avenue, Braamfontein Werft)  on Thursday and Friday, 24 & 25 October 2019.

Registration is free of charge, but an RSVP is essential to make sure that access to the screenings and discussions are guaranteed.

Please RSVP to Simone Singh (, stating your organization and function as well as which days you would be attending. Please see the MINI-INPUT programme.

The Mini-INPUT JHB is also kindly supported by the Goethe Institut.

Free Wits Online Course, “Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in Africa”,  Starts 4 Oct. 2019

The Wits LINK Centre and WitsX are pleased to announce that registration is open for a free, six-week, online course on  “Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in Africa”. 

The course begins on Friday 4 October 2019.

This free-of-charge MOOC (massive open online course), available on the global edX platform, aims to empower activists, students, regulators, journalists, lawyers, and everyone interested in ensuring a free, pluralistic and independent African media. 

When societies achieve this kind of media, they can benefit from journalism playing a critical role in democracy and development. This is the policy context whereby journalists inform citizens, defend freedom of expression for everyone, and enable access to information that some people would prefer to keep covered up.

The Wits course honours and sustains the legacy of South African media freedom and freedom of expression activist #Jeanette Minnie, who passed away in November 2016. Minnie devoted her professional life to ensuring robust civil society engagement with African media policy. She was a media activist who developed massive experience in understanding the challenges and who knew how to make changes for the better.

In the Wits course, participants get to grips with: 

  • core elements of the principles of freedom of expression, media freedom, and access to information;
  • policy and practical components necessary to democratic media ecosystems;
  • regulatory and other measures that build media pluralism and diversity;
  • mechanisms of self-regulation, co-regulation, statutory regulation and regulatory independence in democratic media ecosystems;
  • the practical and policy dimensions introduced by online media, online expression, and online information access; and
  • strategies for effective civil society engagement with policy and practice in support of democratic Africa media ecosystems.

Participants can take this dynamic, interactive and intellectually-engaging course, including its discussion forums, assignments and multiple-choice assessments, free of charge. Participants who wish to also receive a Verified Certificate of Achievement for the course, endorsed by edX and Wits University, can do so by passing one additional assessment and paying a USD49 certification fee.  

The course instructors are Prof. Justine Limpitlaw (Wits LINK Centre), Paula Fray (frayintermedia), Zoe Titus 

(Namibia Media Trust), Dr. Sarah Chiumbu (University of Johannesburg), and Koketso Moeti (, 

The course content was developed by the instructors and WitsX with support from the course’s international Advisory Committee and frayintermedia. 

Funding for course research, development, piloting and marketing has been provided by Free Press Unlimited, Bertha Foundation, Namibia Media Trust (NMT), and fesmedia Africa. Marketing support is by frayintermedia and fraycollege.

Participants wishing to enrol for the course should please go to this edX course link. 

For more information on the course, and to arrange for media interviews with course instructors, please contact: 

Patience Shawarira, fraycollege

Tel: +27 11 782 0535   

Mobile: +27 74 883 1716 


SACOMM 2019 – Wrap-up

Dear Colleagues,

As we wrap up and take stock of SACOMM 2019 at the University of Cape Town, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your engagements and collegiality – for what was truly an exciting and inspiring conference. We owe the occasion to showcase our research and to foster relationships and engagements to the local organising committee who, under the guidance of Prof Herman Wasserman, did a tremendous job with the conference this year. 

We had close to 150 delegates, 36 sessions, two plenaries and three book launches. Our delegates, apart from representing a wide range of South African Universities, also hailed from Australia, Botswana, China, Germany, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Nigeria, the United States of America and Zimbabwe.

The presentations were of great quality and depth and inspired debate and engagement. Our position as communication specialists came to the fore in new ways as most presenters answered to the conference theme inside|outside by looking at the inherent disparities of communicative processes, those that use or construct them, and are privy to them or not. 

Amid the academic excitement, SACOMM also welcomed a new Executive Committee (ExCo) – as voted for by the AGM. I am proud to announce the ExCo to all who could not be present at the conference. The new Deputy President of SACOMM is Prof Tanja Bosch from the University of Cape Town. She is joined by our interest group convenors: Prof Zandi Carol Lesame for Media Studies and JournalismMr François Smit for Screen StudiesProf Mehita Iqani for Corporate CommunicationDr Sandra Pitcher for Communication StudiesDr Rofhiwa Mukhudwana for Communication Education and Curriculum Development; and Proffs Glenda Daniels and viola candice milton for Communications Advocacy and Activism. At their AGM, the Emerging Scholars stream also voted in Ms Sylvia Skhosana and Mr Collen Chambwera as their convenors.

As the hand-over begins, I would like to thank the previous interest group convenors who I had the privilege of working with for the past two or more years. Dr Mvuzo Ponono, Prof Lida Holtzhausen, Mrs Martine van der Walt Ehlers, Prof Bruce Mutsvairo; Ms Linah Nkuna, Mr Theo Ngcongo and Prof. PierPaolo Frassinelli leave big shoes to fill. We all owe a lot to our outgoing President, Prof Ylva Rodney Gumede who offered (and still offers) us an exemplar of service to the Association. 

Lastly, at this conference we had the opportunity to celebrate a few noteworthy projects. Highlighting just three, I invite you to click here for more on the Journalist’s fifth birthday celebrations (a word from Ms Zubeida Jaffer); here for more on the SACOMM archive project (a word from Prof Keyan Tomaselli). Further to this, please click here for Prof Sean Jacobs’s keynote.

As Prof Rodney Gumede stated in her wrap up letter in 2018, “we have a responsibility here to continuously strive to add to the professional life of our academics, emerging as well as more established”. We have much to build on from this year’s conference and can look forward to the next year with optimism and excitement.


On behalf of the SACOMM Executive

Keynote Address: Sean Jacobs

Sean Jacobs is founder and editor of Africa is a Country, a site of
criticism, analysis and new writing. He is also associate professor of
international affairs at The New School. He is a Ford Foundation
#AfricaNoFilter Fellow and author of ‘Media in Postapartheid South
Africa: Postcolonial Politics in the Age of Globalization’ (Indiana
University Press, 2019)

SACOMM 2019 – Opening Address: Cape Town, August 28, 2019.

Let me start by thanking the executive committee of the South African Communications Association and the local organizing committee for inviting me and tasking me to give the first keynote. It is an honor. 

I especially want to thank Herman Wasserman for the invite. Herman and I have been close friends for over 25 years and have collaborated, debated and exchanged ideas since then. Let me also thank Fatima Sabban for making my travel arrangements. 

Cape Town is where I was born and grew up.  Not far from here. First in Lotus River briefly and then for the bulk of my childhood in Ottery township. If you’re not familiar with Cape Town, that’s on the southeastern side of the peninsula. After high school, I studied here at the University of Cape Town where I completed a BA degree in Political Studies and Afrikaans en Nederlands before I moved onto journalism, political research and graduate school. Crucially, it was here at UCT that my research interests in the politics of media as well as my career as a researcher, writer and journalist, first started. 

It was as a student journalist at “Varsity” newspaper that I began my induction into the workings of media. I actually looked at the conference program and could not help noticing that another Varsity alum from that time, Martina Della Togna, is also here.  

In any case, that time at UCT was a precarious but also exciting time for politics and media. Apartheid was on its last legs. We lived in a world of intense state censorship.  It was a violent and uncertain time but it also coincided with the emergence of what became known as “the alternative press.”   Titles like New Nation, SouthThe Weekly Mail and Vrye Weekblad and magazines of ideas like Die Suid-Afrikaan, Work in Progress and the South African Labour Bulletin, charted a new way of doing journalism building on and expanding the work of Drum, leftwing newspaper The Guardian, The World and the Rand Daily Mail before them. 

For the young among us here, this was a series of weekly newspapers that published exposés of apartheid’s death squads and the regime’s futile attempts at reform, but also chronicled the energies of popular movements and producing illuminating opinion writing. One of the most important lessons I took away from that time was that political commitments and not profit, can drive media work. The idea was to mobilize and inform people; to win, in Antonio Gramsci’s terms, the war of position. It will come as no surprise that those experiences profoundly informed my media practice, something I have attempted to put into practice in my career as a reporter, doing media work at the former IDASA and, finally, founding and editing the website Africa is a Country. I am happy to report that this year Africa is a Country celebrates its tenth year of publishing opinion and analysis.  My time at UCT also had a profound effect on my scholarship; eventually influencing the writing of the book, “Media in Postapartheid South Africa: Postcolonial Politics in the Age of Globalization,” which was published by Indiana University Press on May Day and the South African edition by Wits University Press this year.

But enough of all that, including the shameless self-promotion at the end. Let me get to what I am doing here.  

A quick disclaimer about the title I chose for my talk here this morning. “What is to be done?” 

This is of course a reference to the Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin’s pamphlet, “What is to be done? Burning Questions of Our Movement.” Lenin wrote “What is to be done” in 1901 and 1902. Later that same year it was published as a little book in Germany.

As for what was in the pamphlet: “What is to be done” was about how to achieve socialist revolution in feudal, violent, unequal Russia. Lenin argued that three elements would ensure victory and fundamental political change: one, developing a revolutionary theory of change, two, critically examining the limits of social democracy and, three, building a political movement, what he called a vanguard party, one driven and led by a dedicated group of activists.

Of course, this is not a party conference and we’re not here to start a political movement, though some amongst us would like to.  But I have always admired Lenin’s pamphlet for its inventiveness, originality and gumption. Most importantly, it also contains Lenin’s injunction to be critical, being theoretically sound, making sense of the moment and responding to it, and to be imaginative. Things hopefully of more value to us as researchers and scholars.  It is what that spirit that I come here. 

We gather here as South Africa is 25 years old as a democratic country. In the big scheme of things: that is a 25 year experiment with democratic system of government after nearly 350 years of forms of white domination: slavery, colonialism and apartheid.  There have been achievements. One of the most admired constitutions in the world, a robust democracy and institutions (especially its courts).  But South Africans coping with massive inequality, random violence in poor townships, who are unemployed or who have relatives who are victims of the criminal justice system, especially police neglect and brutality or abandoned in the prison system, have no time for the long view or platitudes. 

 Crucially, we are witnessing the beginnings – if we’re not already far into it – of postnationalist politics. Basically that the ANC’s national liberation politics has run its course. 

Another transition in political life globally, the move to the popular, to culture, is also observed in South Africa. As media scholar Ron Krabill and I, drawing on public deliberation theory, argued elsewhere about postapartheid South African politics: the larger context for the growing role of media in political processes, is the decline of mass political parties and social movements. Key characteristics of new politics include that political debate become tied to election cycles. As for the language of politics, it is conducted mostly on television in a code penetrable to political elites (especially political journalists, political party operatives) and excluding ordinary people in the process.  We also witness that more indirect forms of politics like civil society and social movement organizations replace old-style political parties.  Media substitute for and resemble the public sphere to a large degree. The day-to-day restructuring of social and political life is given some sense of collective shape and meaning through mass media.  Politics more and more reflect the style of entertainment. More specifically, that media characterized as “news” or as “news analysis” media decline in impact relative to popular entertainment media in shaping popular opinion; the latter includes soap operas, reality television and advertising.

Another focus is social media’s role in politics. Though television has made powerful forays into political and cultural life in South Africa and Africa, it is in the social media frontier where, as the late writer and social commentator Binyavanga Wainaina suggests, a new African intellectual history will be written. In South Africa, like elsewhere on the continent and in the developing world, struggles over political meaning between key political actors increasingly play out online. Political identity, long the preserve of the state or political elites, is increasingly the domain of popular cultural figures and popular media. Social media applications such as Twitter and Facebook (and Facebook Live) have become integral to the communication strategies of social movements and political parties. South Africa is no different. 

Media is available everywhere: on phones, on television and radio sets, and, even now, still in print. The choices made by media powers (whether editors, writers, advertisers or the state itself), help to configure, define and limit who the “people” know themselves to be. But, of course “the people” now also make their own media. And increasingly it is social media driven by public debates and desires that is most influential in shaping not just South African society, but political identities elsewhere on the continent.  

One major feature specific to South Africa has been its exceptionalism.

For much of its history, South Africa has been treated as an “exceptional” country, both by scholars, analysts and activists (whether those rationalizing apartheid or those struggling to imagine an alternative vision of the nation).  On the surface, exceptionalism made sense: The country was the last holdout among the 20th century’s racial and colonial states; further, its liberation movement took place after an international consensus on human rights and non-racism had already emerged–at least at a rhetorical level. Add to all this, there was the myth of the rainbow nation, the singular and outsized celebrity and legend of Nelson Mandela, and the much-touted reconciliatory nature of South Africa’s transition to democracy. Together, these factors contribute to the view of South Africa as an exceptional nation.  

No other event marks that break with South African exceptionalism more than August 16, 2012. It is probably a coincidence that we gather here 7 years to the month after those fateful events. I won’t rehash those events here, except to argue that with Marikana, South Africa became essentially a “normal” democratic country dealing with issues that, however extreme they sometimes appear, are not actually so unique: economic inequality, labor rights abuses, endemic racism, white supremacy, corporate irresponsibility. These are not South African issues, they’re democratic issues. 

It becomes clear that South Africa exemplify phenomena that were and are globally commonplace: Apartheid as a form of colonialism; an “elite” political transition (with its “government of national unity,” truth commission as typical) similar to transitions elsewhere in Latin America and Southeast Asia; and the adoption of neoliberal economic policy. In addition, the growing clout of multinational corporations and the privatization of key public services (remember the struggles over privatization of water and electricity services in the early 2000s?) are, similarly, part of a broad, general global story. The same story could be told about South Africa’s media, especially the emergence of a liberal media environment, and the turn to the popular (social media, reality TV, celebrity, Fake news, Twitter, advertising, etcetera).

But it was Marikana that clearly exposed that myth of exceptionalism. 

At the time and since then many of the mainstream op-eds and editorials have attempted then and since then to make sense of the violence by interpreting it, and South Africa, in a way that emphasizes the country’s particular history, rather than considering the ways in which the killings at Marikana speak to larger international trends. The narrative of South African exceptionalism has limited our analysis of this massacre by making it difficult to see it as anything other than further evidence of the  failure and disappointment of South African liberation. Yet Marikana is bigger than South Africa. That’s not to bash those particular writers or outlets, of course, but to note the tendency to perceive South Africa in the specific, limiting context of apartheid and its aftermath.

As historian Dan Magaziner and I wrote at the time of the massacre, what can we learn from the dead in the dust in Marikana? Maybe the lessons are not so much about fulfilling the promise of post-apartheid as they are the less particular but even more daunting challenges of poverty and inequality, those faced by the entire international community. It was a great day when South Africa ended apartheid and joined the community of democratic nations, but that community has problems of its own.

Rather than judge South Africa in the wake of this 21st century Sharpeville, we as researchers ought to ask what kind of community post-apartheid South Africa has joined.

What is occurring then is something akin to what is happening in the United States, Brazil or even Kenya or Tanzania. 

Basically, we are witnessing a profound crisis of democracy, but also media’s role in that crisis. The best outline of what has happened to media’s role in politics, have been the documentaries, “The Great Hack,” about Cambridge Analytica’s impact on US electoral politics, and “The Edge of Democracy,” about the deep political crisis in Brazil. 

The most accessible synopsis, outside academia, of this crisis was articulated—with some hyperbole—by journalist Richard Poplak in The Daily Maverick, one of the media outlets associated with South Africa’s new media ecosystem: AND I QUOTE: “First, the gilded-age-level distinction between rich and poor has become so extreme that our societies are no longer sustainable. Second, power accrues solely to the wealthy and/or their corporate benefactors, resulting in electoral processes that launder front companies into office. Third, modern technocratic states are staggeringly complex machines which are by design distancing and alienating — citizens no longer feel empowered or able to influence their own lives. Fourth, retail politics demands that the divisions inherent in any group of people — race, religion, gender, sexuality, class — are relentlessly exploited for gain at the market place, i.e polls. [And] Fifth, that exploitation has become weaponised, initially by cable news and now by social media, resulting in iron-clad — if entirely empty — tribal standoffs between “right” and “left”, with their competing and inviolable ‘truths’.”

It is perhaps the latter characterization that should exercise scholars here. South African historian Ben Fogel, who lives and works on Brazil, and was an eye witness to events there over the last 3 years or so,  recently outlined the media world we have inherited to go along with this politics in South Africa. As he writes, it consists of “Bell Pottinger, and other assorted clandestine operators who created havoc in our public debate through legions of bots, failed columnists and disgraced politicians.” Fogel continues, “[p]erhaps one of the greatest casualties of the Zuma era has been truth itself. Wild claims, disinformation and fake news are normalized to such an extent that the former president calling a minister he himself appointed ‘an apartheid spy’ is met with a shrug and then regurgitated as a ‘revelation’ rather than a wild accusation by an, at times, disturbingly pliant media. Contrary to narratives of a self-correcting ‘public sphere,’ there are no or very few consequences for blatant lies emanating from the mouths of sullied politicians and it seems that, more often than not, a not-insignificant section of society will believe you.” As Fogel writes, “This is no accident; it is a consequence of long-term, deliberate and ongoing disinformation campaigns that are more widespread than those peddled by Bell Pottinger.” The real danger of the disinformation campaigns, is that they “… undermine the foundations of democracy, closing possibilities for public engagement through this civic action itself, not because media lies or disinformation have not been with us in ages past, but precisely because it takes advantage of understandable scepticism that exists among the South African people.” 

Fogel concludes that social media and public dialogue in South Africa are increasingly characterized by the rise of mysterious new think-tanks and foundations with even more mysterious funders and organized trolling campaigns against journalists and other public figures (often spurred on by politicians).  [Last week the billionaire American David Koch died. Koch fronted a number of rightwing American political movements and media, from the Tea Party to.  These groups influenced public discourse about American politics for the last decade or so. Koch’s tentacles, not surprisingly, extends to South Africa, via the Cato Institute funded soirees, and directly and indirectly to organizations like African Liberty Forum, the non-starter Capitalist Party of South Africa, the Free Market Foundation, Independent Entrepreneurship Group, Progress SA, the SAIRR and Students for Liberty.  In addition, organizations like Afriforum and Black First Land First are granted “time as respectable commentators … by traditional media.”  

It has been astonishing to see how the issues of ordinary people, especially workers, have been reduced to disruption and as violence. Marikana’s striking workers became drunk on muti, There is little about class in what we study, what we interrogate about South African conditions for workers, for black workers. Group already empowered, in spaces like university classrooms or professors in tenure processes, take up all our attentions.  This is all fine and necessary. South African higher education institutions need decolonization. And UCT especially. Nevertheless, no can deny that the concerns of students and professors have dominated media debates and deliberations about citizenship, public goods and rights to the detriment of other sections in South Africa.  

If Marikana exposed the ordinariness of South Africa’s democratic transition, then one stubborn feature of South Africa’s exceptionalism that persists is how it relates to the rest of the African continent. And it is no insult to note that we as scholars are also guilty of this. 

South Africa has long been viewed as separate from the rest of the African continent. Despite appearances, however, South Africa’s economic history and its political struggle have always been closely intertwined with the rest of the continent; a process intensified after apartheid. Via the migrant labor system, armed occupations of Namibia, southern Angola, and sending death squads and special forces in Angola, Mozambique, Botswana and Zimbabwe, to murder its political opponents. Although the country was until recently isolated from the rest of the continent and operated as a racist dictatorship, more recently it has emerged in the past twenty years as a major territorial, economic, political and media powerhouse on the African continent. South Africa now inhabits an intermediary position as simultaneously a regional superpower and a link between “the world,” its neighbors and the region. South African businesses dominate economic relations with immediate neighbors, and in the Southern African region. The anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff refer to postapartheid South Africa as the “America of Africa.”  Although there is a long tradition of scholarship about South African capitalist and military expansion and engagement with the rest of the continent — dating back to the mining industry of the 19th century and continuing during apartheid and the Cold War –fewer works have paid attention to the cultural and specifically media elements of South Africa’s expansion into the continent. South Africa’s postapartheid media elites and corporations shape consumption patterns, continental political identities and understandings of political citizenship elsewhere in the continent in key ways. We need work on that. 

For most South Africans, however, their interactions with other Africans is refracted via xenophobia.  Since the end of apartheid, groups of South Africans have exacted xenophobic violence against other African nationals. Outsiders are typically shocked, since this behavior appears at odds with the country’s marketing of itself as a “rainbow nation” and with the ruling African National Congress’ long history of Pan-Africanism.

The attackers, like the victims, are usually poor and black. Explanations for this violence usually center on people’s unhappiness over the slow pace of racial reconciliation, enduring unemployment and lack of opportunity. Poor black South Africans, the explanations go, strike at those closest to them: migrants from elsewhere in Africa who live next door to them.

However, for that simmering resentment to turn violent, it requires organization and sanction from official sources such as political leaders and popular authorities. And there’s plenty of that to go around. 

Yet more than anything else, the periodic xenophobic violence strikes at what is at the heart of post-apartheid South African identity. For all the talk of hospitality and “ubuntu,” xenophobic violence is a reflection of how most South Africans understand the boundaries of “South African-ness.” 

As writer and commentator Sisonke Msimang suggests, ironically, what binds black and white South Africans together is a kinship based on their shared experience of colonialism and apartheid. “Foreigners are foreign precisely because they cannot understand the pain of apartheid, because most South Africans now claim to have been victims of the system. Whether white or black, the trauma of living through apartheid is seen as such a defining experience that it becomes exclusionary; it has made a nation of us.”

One implication of this notion of nationhood, is that if you come from another African country, you can never become fully South African, even if you become a citizen.

For black South Africans the anti-apartheid project was framed in the first instance in nationalist terms. That struggle promised its followers liberation from the poverty, racism, exclusion and inequality that they were experiencing. Yet, most black South Africans have experienced nothing of the sort since 1994. All that their political leaders can offer them now is chauvinism.

This is a postcolonial problem and South Africa is not exceptional. Recall the mass expulsions between Nigeria and Ghana of emigrants from both countries in the 1980s, Uganda’s ejection of Asians in the early 1970s, postindependence Zimbabwe’s periodic debates about Zimbabweans with Malawian family, the struggle over Ivoirite that broke Cote d’Ivoire apart for a while or the way the Kenyan state has marginalized its ethnic Somali citizens since independence. The specifics in South Africa may be different, but the ways in which we respond follow a same pattern. The problems of South Africa since 1994 are rooted in its unsatisfactory political settlement, in which the enormity of the problems it inherited is papered over by feel-good politics and the neoliberal course it has embarked on since. But like many other African states, we choose instead to discharge our anger on easy scapegoats: those we deem foreigners.

The same politics drives the nativism and forms of rabid nationalism that has become a feature of South African politics, whether the barely veiled white supremacist claims of AfriForum (with its links to the alt-right in both Europe and the United States) to Helen Zille’s unabashed defense of colonialism. But reactionary nationalism also extends to black South Africans, whether the claims to authenticity by “Khoisan” activists, Zulu nationalism in and without the ANC, or the EFF’s employment of anti-Indian stereotypes against political opponents.

Suren Pillay, political scientist and anthropologist at the University of the Western Cape, writing about postapartheid identity politics, has argued that many scholars shaped by antiapartheid activist traditions will have to wrestle with difference. “Under apartheid, resistance movements emphasized our sameness over our differences. Apartheid left many progressives with a deep anxiety towards acknowledging difference of any kind. The reaction is almost knee-jerk and immediate amongst many of us to denounce those who wish to see themselves in anything but the race-blindness that a certain variant of non-racialism holds onto regardless of changing political context.  Whatever the motivations of political elites [mobilizing ethnic identities], these are legacies that we have to contend with, more so because their effects are not just symbolic; they are also material.”

Pillay continues, “manifestations of racism [that originate among Indians, coloureds and Africans in South Africa] are less causes of a problem than they are consequences of a colonial past. And we need to attend to making more popular and public how that past has brought us to where we are at, and how history has been written to produce a past that has shaped how many of us think about ourselves and think of others. Colonial history produced an understanding of the past that suited settler logics, that politicized the question of indigeneity, and also politicized cultural difference by attaching land and resources to it.”

Pillay, a former student of Mahmood Mamdani, argues that “[a]mong the lessons of the continental experience has been that we need both a new concept of justice, and a new concept of difference. We need a concept of justice that is not simply about reversing the logic of colonialism. That means breaking with the reactive logic that the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. We also need a concept of difference that does not use one’s past to decide if one belongs and has a political future. A difference that allows us to embrace the multiple historical routes through which all find ourselves in this particular settler colonial society—as locals, as descendants of slaves, of indentured laborers, of traders, exiles and refugees or those who came here looking to make a better life. It also has to be a pan-African concept of difference that remains open to inviting new migrants to becoming citizens as well. The challenge is to imagine a future with difference, with economic justice, but without racism.”

In 2012, Paradigm Publishers published a little book “Theory from the South. Or, How Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa” written by the South African anthropologists, Jean and John Comaroff.  In the book’s introduction, they wrote that: “What if we posit that, in the present moment, it is the global south that affords privileged insight into the workings of the world at large?” They proposed taking Africa as their “point of departure” to make more global claims about modernity “… given the unpredictable, under-determined dialectic of capitalism-and- modernity in the here and now, [Africa] is the first to feel the effects of world-historical forces, the south in which radically new assemblages of capital and labor are taking shape, thus to prefigure the future of the global north.”

 At some point that became a cliché. But there’s something there. 

It is welcoming sign that media scholarship on African media is to some degree going beyond a focus on what is broadly termed “media development;” that is the focus on what is lacking in African media or African public spheres, or how much “catching up” there is to do terms of technology, access or resources, as well as debates about freedom of expression, democracy and press freedom. As a number of scholars have pointed out, while useful for the funding agendas of western agencies, these approaches and data mean little for or don’t tell us much about African media and audiences.  The social theorist, Achille Mbembe, for example, notes that QUOTE “we now feel we know nearly everything that African states, societies and economies are not, we still know absolutely nothing about what they actually are” UNQUOTE. To expand our scholarly enquiry, require a break with normative, instrumental frameworks to more descriptive and analytical approaches. It also requires breaking with glib celebrations of creativity and inventiveness of “the local,” to confront questions of power, especially of neoliberalism. So, the focus of our work should be on what is there: what content gets produced, how it is produced and the politics that flow from those processes. For me at least, it means to take popular media seriously.  

Let me end with references to sociologists Michael Buroway and Paul Gilroy, both who have engaged with South Africa’s political economy and cultural politics. 

Exceptionalism aside, South Africa is an ideal case from which to understand media’s place in postcolonial politics. The country’s history of slavery, mining capitalism, legalized racial oppression, popular movements and trade union traditions, it’s evolving democracy, the self-confidence of its new (and evolving) elites, and the place of South African media corporations as regional globalizers on the rest of the African continent, have rendered it, in Michael Burawoy’s words, “a country buffeted by global storms—the perfect place from which to study… the terrain forged between globalization and localism.”

For a long time, most third world societies and media systems, were deemed to be receptacles and carbon copies of northern cultural products and ideas. For the most part, that idea have been thoroughly debunked; except when it comes to African cultural production. However, more recently a number of theorists have challenged the general outlines of the former approach. It has become clear that Africa is a useful place from where to study rampant globalization, neoliberal reform and the limits and potential of liberal democracy. 

Rather than acting mostly as amplifiers of social conflict and politics–as they do in traditional First World markets–media in postcolonial, including African, societies have emerged as the “authoritative cultural archive.” Television, radio, digital culture, print journalism, sound culture and social media dominate our political and social lives. Media are how most people learn about globalization, scandal, consumption or politics.  Media are the vehicles through which the past and present are mobilized and, crucially, through which a range of new regional or “middle” powers attempt to increase their influences. Prominent among these “middle powers” are Qatar’s various Al Jazeera channels, the pan-South American Telesur news service, the export of Brazilian or Turkish soap operas to the Arab world or Lusophone African states, or Mexico’s various private television firms that broadcast in and control Latino markets in the United States. South Africa’s media corporations like MultiChoice can also be counted among these. So that Jamaicans watch South African soap operas like Generations; the American cable channel, Africa TV, is mostly a bouquet of South African productions (including morning shows); and Nigerians can watch Nollywood “on-demand” on satellite television services run by MultiChoice.

In the early 2000s, Paul Gilroy suggested South Africa “and its lessons” as “the best hope for a politically realigned world.” Gilroy made the following plea: “It is my hope that, not Europe and the North Atlantic, but the post-colonial world in general, and South Africa in particular, will in due course, generate an opposed and yet equivalent sense of what our networked world might be and become.” I still hold out hope – not in an exceptionalist spirit – that we will achieve that. 

Thank you. 

Borders, Media Crossings and the Politics of Translation: The Gaze from Southern Africa

Pier Paolo Frassinelli, Borders, Media Crossings and the Politics of Translation: The Gaze from Southern Africa (Routledge 2019).

Available on Taylor & Francis ebooks (as well as in hardback–paperback to follow):


This book examines concepts of the border and translation within the context of social and cultural theory through the lens of southern Africa.

Borders, Media Crossings and the Politics of Translation studies a diverse range of media representations of borders, imagined borders, border struggles, collectivity boundaries and scenes of translation: films, documentaries, literary texts, photographs, websites and other media texts and artistic interventions. The book makes a case for bringing together media texts and sociocultural experiences across multiple platforms. It argues that this transdisciplinary approach is singularly suited to the age of media convergence, when words, speech, music, videos and images compete for attention on the screens of digital devices where the written, oral, aural and visual are constantly mixed and remixed. But it also reminds the reader of the digital divides linked to socioeconomic, cultural, language and geopolitical borders.

With its focus on sociocultural borders and translation, this book will be of interest to scholars and students of media studies, African studies and cultural studies.

Table of Contents

1 The gaze from the south. 2 Heading south. 3 Intersecting temporalities, cultural (un)translatability and African film aesthetics. 4 Living in translation. 5 Reframing the rainbow. 6 Signs of the times.


Borders, Media Crossings and the Politics of Translation is a thoughtful and sophisticated philosophical meditation on borders, translation and media and culture as agents of socio-cultural change, viewed from the perspective of the South. It ties in with a growing literature that critiques the Northern theoretical hegemony and contributes to ongoing debates in this area. Its tone is confident and its voice distinct.

Herman Wasserman, University of Cape Town

In this invigorating work written from the fecund vantage point of southern Africa, Pier Paolo Frassinelli deftly identifies the social borders created by our uneven world’s diverse “cultural time zones” but also the media crossings and translations that sometimes succeed in subverting our politically polarised planet.

Melissa Tandiwe Myambo, University of the Witwatersrand