– AS de Beer &  CJH Vorster

40 Years in brief: A chronology from 1974 to 2014 of the South African Communications Association (SACOMM)

The South African Communications Association (SACOMM) is the official academic organization representing members mostly affiliated with departments and schools of communication, journalism, media studies and marketing communication.


The idea of founding an academic body for the communication sciences in South Africa was apparently first mooted during a communication disciplinary meeting held in May 1974 at the University of South Africa (Unisa).

  • The South African Communication Association (SACOMM) was founded in 1977 at its first conference at the then Rand Afrikaans University as a bilingual (Afrikaans/English) and non- racial academic association.
  • SACOMM became one of the few, if not the only SA academic association that has succeeded in bonding its members together through the annual conference, an event that always seemed to have rekindled the idea that the organization should strive to do better than the previous years.
  • At the time when academic associations in SA tended to be divided between more liberal English language associations and more conservative Afrikaans language associations, Sacomm was perhaps the only the only SA academic association that was from the outset constituted as a bilingual and multi-racial organization.
  • The regular annual conferences provided an opportunity for academics, their students and practitioners to bond, working towards a common goal, viz the improvement of the science of communication in all its facets.
  • Sacomm is perhaps the strongest SA academic association as far as journal publishing is concerned. In 2014 six journals were affiliated to SACOMM, two were ISI listed: Critical Arts and Ecquid Novi (as from 2015: African Journalism Studies), and four journals on the subsidy list of the Department of Higher Education and Training: Communicatio, Communicare, and Global Media Journal-Africa. As will be shown in a special edition of Communicatio in 2015, SACOMM does not have an own journal, which is in part the function of a rather acrimonious journal history.
  • The downside to SACOMM’s history is the fact that record-keeping of the association’s activities was less than sterling. SACOMM’s archive is incomplete in the extreme and does not do justice to an academic association, not the least a communication one.
  • One reason for the lack of a decent archive lies in the fact that the presidency changes annually (presently every two years). As a result, the administration of the association roams from campus to campus and with it the paperwork. In the process, large amounts of paper record keeping disappeared. The coming of the computer age did not improve matters. Few, if any, efforts at keeping an electronic record fell by the wayside. The appointment of an administrative officer in the 1990s facilitated record-keeping to a large extent.
 In 2014 Sacomm held its 40th-anniversary conference at NWU in Potchefstroom where the first SA department of journalism was founded in 1959, followed by communication departments in the 1970s.

1974 – First meetings to discuss the forming of an Academic Association for Communication studies. Members of eight communication and journalism departments meet at Unisa in 1974 to discuss the state and future of the field. Meeting chaired by Hennie Fourie, later second president of Sacomm. Other later Sacomm presidents attending were TL (Tom) de Koning, H (Bok) Marais, AS (Arrie) de Beer (RAU), HJ (Hennie) Groenewald (UOFS) and PCJ (Peet) Jordaan (Human Sciences Research Council – HSRC). No decision on the name of the new subject was field taken, neither on whether emphasis should be placed on theory or practice. Meeting decides “time is not ripe yet” to start a SA communication association or a journal, but that follow-up meetings would be held to discuss the issue.

– The first annual conference organized by the RAU Communication Department with De Koning as chair and held at the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), now the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Discussions were about the teaching of different elements of communication as a university subject. According to information available, the then Southern African Communication Association (SACOMM) was established on 14 September during this conference. The first constitution, now lost, was drawn up by Arrie de Beer and Gavin Stewart (Rhodes) and unanimously accepted.

– Second conference with Prof H P (Hennie) Fourie (Unisa) as chair. No indication of a conference theme. Indications are that it could have been held at Rhodes University in Grahamstown.

– The annual conference took place, but no information available. It appears that Prof H J Fourie was again elected as chair.

 – The annual conference organized by the Department of Communication at PU for CHE (now NWU). Theme: How Responsible is the South African Press?
Keynote speaker: Mr Louis le Grange, Minister of Police, on “Press Responsibility as Seen by the State”. Presidential address: Prof H P Fourie. Theme: “SA and International Communication”. No further information about SACOMM activities for the year available.

– Conference organized by the Department of Communication held on 24-25 September on the UFS campus in Bloemfontein. Theme: International Communication. The President for the term was Dr H C (Bok) Marais. Keynote speaker: Dr Piet Koornhof, Minister of Cooperation and Development with the topic “Inter-cultural Communication”. Although Dr Marais was president, the presidential address was delivered by Prof H P Fourie with the theme: “The Role of Communication Science in South Africa”. No reason for this switch available.

1982 – 1988
No information available.

 – Hardly any information about SACOMM activities available in existing documents. The one exception is a programme for the 1987 conference. This event, from 2-4 September, was organized by the Institute for Communication Research, HSRC, and took place in Pretoria. The dual theme was: Communication in Negotiation and The Media as Creator and Interpreter of the South African Reality.

 – Annual conference, organized by the Department of Communication, Unisa, under die presidency of Prof P J (Pieter) Fourie, held at the HSRC Centre, Pretoria on 6-7 September. Theme: Communication in a Changing South African Society I – New Directions and Alternatives.

– Conference 26 – 27 September. Organized by Department of Communication, Unisa. Venue: Indaba Hotel, Witkoppen. President: Prof F H (Terry) Terblanche (UFS). Theme: Communication in a Changing South Africa II. Keynote speaker: Prof Kobus van Rooyen, Chair, SA Media Council. Topic not recorded.

 – Conference from 23-25 September on UFS campus, Bloemfontein. President: Dr Peet Jordaan. Theme: Communication in Southern Africa: Past, Present and Future. Keynote address: Dr Theuns Eloff, Executive Director: Consultative Business Movement on “The State of the Nation”. In his Presidential address, Prof Terry Terblanche made a strong plea for the introduction of Communication Studies at a school level.

 – An historical highlight achieved with the first WCA-SACOMM international conference. Ronald L Applebaum, President of the WCA, delivered an address on a worldwide dream of peace through effective communication. President for this term: Prof J (Koos) Roelofse. Conference: 25 – 30 July, Conference Centre, HSRC, Pretoria. Theme: Unity Through Communication. Keynote address delivered by Dr H C (Bok) Marais on “Perspectives on Inter-cultural Communication in a Democratic Society”. First available copy of AGM minutes. Date: 27 July. Topics considered: Communication as a school subject, several amendments to Constitution, the election of a new management under Prof Koos Roelofse as President.

 – AnnualConference, 13 – 15 July presented by UP with the theme Communication and Change. The June edition of the Newsletter had an article on protocol in the new South Africa by Eddie Ward, Senior Communication Manager, KwaNdebele Development Corporation. He predicts dramatic changes in the way protocol will function in future. In an article by George Angelopulo (Unisa) in the September edition new SACOMM incentives are urged. The writer argues that critical questions must be asked. Prof Gustav Puth, President, indicated in his annual report that communication was in the crucible. An important issue was the question of language in the electronic media. Then Puth elaborated on the malaise he had found within the association: I came to the conclusion that many SA academics and practitioners alike at this time regard the cause and activities of learning societies: as peripheral issues in the greater picture of their current experience. The functioning of the various interest groups, or rather the lack thereof, must be regarded as possibly the most disappointing aspect of the past year…. It is my impression that little of any significance materialized in either the various interest groups or the regions. As a further symptom of this apparent apathy, scores of regular members have to date failed to pay their membership fees.

The prevailing mentality that the livelihood of the association is the sole responsibility of the management committee and the executive officer will certainly lead to the demise of the organization. Despite the discouraging situation regarding the functioning of Sacomm as a body, exciting new development has taken place at some of the feeding institutions (of Sacomm) it is noticeable that institutional news in the Sacomm newsletter is always buzzing with development and growth. This is why it seems virtually inexcusable for the umbrella body to find itself in the prevailing grip of lethargy.
These matters (viewing SACOMM as peripheral to SA academics’ interest and activities; the non-functioning of interest groups; membership fees; mainly leaving the activities of SACOMM to the Management; and a general feeling of lethargy) plagued SACOMM into the 2010s and further.

1995 – Prof Sonja Verwey (UJ) elected as first female president of the association. Vice-President was Dr Jannie de Beer (SABC). Conference date: 20 – 22 September. Organizers: Department of Communication, UJ. Venue: SA Printing College, Honeydew. Theme: Communication and the Environment. Keynote speaker: Dr C M Cameron, Director-General of the Department of Environmental Affairs. There is no indication what his topic was.

1996 – This year’s conference was held in Bloemfontein on the UFS campus from 31 October to 1 November. The organizers were the Unit for Community Communication & the SA Communication Association. Theme: The Key to Consultation and Consensus. Keynote speaker: Prof Willie Breytenbach, Department of Political Science, US with the topic “The Role of Consultation and Consensus in Community Relations”. No indication in the files of what he said. Prof Sonja Verwey delivered the Presidential address. No information about the topic. No material on AGM minutes or minutes of Excom meetings available. The Newsletter (December edition) carried a serious request by the President for SACOMM members to become committed and involved. This plea was much in-line with the one Prof Gustav Puth delivered in 1994. Prof Arrie de Beer and Keyan Tomaselli wrote letters containing suggestions for steps the association should consider. The need to break away from the past is expressed. There is a suggestion that the association should disband and that members should form a SA Chapter of the ACCE. The records do not show what happened about the idea.

1997 – The 21st annual conference took place under the presidency of Dr Jannie de Beer (SABC) from 10 – 12 September on the UFS campus in Bloemfontein with the organizers the Department of Communication. Theme: Striving for Excellence in Communication Standards. Keynote speaker: Johan du Plessis, General Manager, National Electricity Regulator who spoke about the role of communication in transformation. Invited speaker: Prof Sandra Braman, University of Illinois, USA whose topic was “Trends in Communications: Infrastructure, Content, Policy-making and Theory”. At the AGM it was decided that a new corporate identity for the association should be investigated. There is also mention in the minutes of a plan to start a web page. The Newsletter of September 1997 reports the concerns of Prof Verwey (President) about the scattered character of members of SACOMM. This makes attendance of events, including the annual conference, rather difficult. Letters in this edition advocate a different approach. In the December edition the new President, Dr Jannie de Beer, pleads for a return of the “SACOMM spark”. He advocates the use of technology to combat the scatter problem.

 – The annual conference held under the presidency of Ms Andrea Crystal (UJ) from 17 – 18 September on the UJ campus with the theme Communication for a New Millennium. The keynote speaker, whose name does not appear in the records, spoke about “The Global Village revisited – Communication for the New Millennium”. At the AGM proposals for a new corporate ID were submitted and then referred to the new management committee for consideration. It was suggested that a member survey should be launched to test members’ feelings about a corporate identity. At the December meeting of the Excom it was decided to re-look values and incentives.

1999 – Ursula Stroh was President for the term. No information available about activities.

2000 – The annual conference took place from 3 – 5 May on campus at the University of Pretoria, the theme being Communication during Chaos and Change. An American academic and PR expert, Prof Larissa Grunig, University of Maryland, was a guest speaker on the third day of the conference. The programme for this day was dedicated to Corporate Communication and several speakers from the practical field addressed participants. In the April edition of the Newsletter the matter of renewal of membership was addressed. The President (Ursula Stroh) pleaded that members should attend the conference. She also advocated a name change and suggested the name Communication Association of South Africa (CASA). It was also reported in this edition that the working groups should be requested to investigate SACOMM’s future and make an input with suggestions.

2001 – Prof Gideon de Wet was president for this term and conference was on 27 and 28 September at the HSRC conference facilities in Pretoria. The organizers were staff members of the School of Communication at the then PU for CHE. The organizers decided against a specific theme as they wanted to invite as many speakers as possible. According to the invitation, the conference was to be used as a watershed event regarding the future and role of the association. The reason is given that conference activities should revolve around the issues of relevancy, legitimacy and to find a new credibility for the association. If poor progress was made in this regard, the plan was to start something brand new.

2002 – Prof Gideon de Wet was President and Prof Johannes Froneman (NWU). The annual conference took place on 4 and 5 October on the NWU campus. Organizers: Department of Communication, NWU. The theme not indicated. Keynote speaker: Prof Simon Bekker (US) on “Communicating from Africa into Africa”. The AGM decided to accept the R8 000 quote for a website The newly elected management committee instructed to implement and manage. The new management also requested to once more look into the constitution and to suggest changes if necessary.

2003 – Conference for the year presented by the Durban Institute of Technology (DIT) with the DIT and the University of KwaZulu/Natal as joint organizers. Prof Johannes Froneman (NWU) was President and Prof Keyan Tomaselli Vice-President. Records do not indicate a theme. Keynote address: Prof Ruth Teer-Tomaselli with the topic “Towards a Political Economy of Media and Communication at Tertiary Level”. At the AGM the constitution was changed to indicate English was accepted as the business language of the association. The name was also changed to South (from Southern) African Communication Association and the terms of presidents changed to two years. At this meeting the first signs of dissatisfaction with the official journal Communicare and the affiliated journal Ecquid Novi, appeared. It was decided to launch a thorough investigation into the matter. Prof Froneman tasked to investigate and report.

2004 – An important year for SACOMM. Prof Keyan Tomaselli proved to be a live-wire president and he and his deputy, Prof Danie Jordaan (NMMU) addressed many matters regarding the association. Conference: 29 September – 1 October at The Kraal (NMMU campus). Theme not indicated in available documents. Keynote speaker: Prof Pieter Fourie (Unisa) on “Researching Public Communication in a Changed Society and Media Environment: Challenges and Priorities”. No copy of the speech available. In his presidential address Prof Tomaselli discussed “Position, Paradigm and Publication, SACOMM and the Future”. In his conclusion he urged members to think about the issues he had raised and pleaded for members to move beyond being a disparate collection of separated individual housemates the association has become. An important decision was to offer Communicare to the UJ to publish as they see fit. It was also decided to make membership of SACOMM compulsory for final-year and postgraduate students. Another founding member, Gavin Stewart, at that stage editor of The Daily Dispatch and former professor in Communication Studies at Rhodes University, was the guest speaker.

2005 – Annual conference from 19 – 21 September at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria. Theme: Exploring (new) Frontiers in Communication. Keynote address: Prof Michael Morgan, University of Massachusetts-Amherst in the US. His theme: “To Count or not to Count in Communication Research: What is the Question?” Presidential speech: Prof Keyan Tomaselli on “Back to the Future: Governance, Policy and Procedure”. (Copy of speech not available.) A membership problem raised at the AGM: a degree needed to become a Sacomm member. Those lecturing at colleges have diplomas only. It was decided to re-investigate the membership profile. A new journal for the association is discussed. Doubt about it voiced. Argument was the market is saturated. The proposed title SA Journal of Communication not generally accepted. The matter of publishing conference proceedings discussed. No final decision indicated in the minutes. Important decisions were made at Excom meetings during the year, e.g. that Communicare would no longer be SACOMM’s official journal. A sub-committee for publications was suggested. Prof Pieter Conradie (TUT) was appointed as chair.

2006 – Ms (now Dr) Estelle de Beer was president for this term. Conference held at Spier, district of Stellenbosch 28 – 30 September. Theme: Creating the Future. At the AGM a full-time secretariat was suggested by the president with a view to establishing continuity. The proposal was accepted. The idea of establishing working groups again raised. Prof Teer- Tomaselli set out her ideas about the matter. No decision was taken. During the year the Excom once more discussed membership because a sharp drop in membership figures was experienced in 2006.

2007 – Annual conference organized by the Department of Communication, UFS and presented on the Bloemfontein campus on 19 and 20 September with Prof Ruth Teer-Tomaselli as president. Keynote speaker: Prof Achille Mbembe (Wits) whose topic was A Concept of an African University. President’s address: Dr Estelle de Beer, who pointed out that communicators have a huge role to play in keeping environmental issues on the world’s agenda. We must communicate about environmental issues so that attitudes and behaviour of people can change. At the AGM Prof Arrie de Beer suggested that SACOMM should again (as in the 1980s) honour SACOMM members who make an impact on the Communication discipline. The Exco was requested to follow up. Prof Johann de Wet suggested that a historical record of SACOMM business should be kept. Prof De Beer then added a suggestion that a committee should be formed for this purpose. He pointed out: SACOMM was the first academic organization that was bilingual from the start and was also the first that was multi-racial.

2008 – President for the term was Prof Ruth Teer-Tomaselli (UKZN) with Dr Manyozo Mlaudzi Vice- President. Conference held from 17 – 19 September at the University of Pretoria. Organizers: Department of Marketing and Communication Management. Venue: conference facilities at Muldersdrift on the West Rand. Theme: Communicating in a Global Village. Keynote speaker: Prof Anne Gregory, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK. Her topic: Capabilities of Senior Communicators in the Modern World. No copy of her speech available. There were also two guest speakers: Ms Sue Wolstenholme, President of the European Public Relations Education and Research Association. No record of her speech, as well as Mr Happy Nsingilla, Absa Group Executive Director of Marketing and Communications. No record of what he said. AGM: No records available.

2009 – Prof Lynnette Fourie (NWU) elected president. No records available.

2010 – Prof Lynnette Fourie serves a second term as President. Conference held in Johannesburg 27 – 29 September and presented by the School of Tourism and Communication of the UJ. No further information available.

2011 – Dr Michelle Tager was President. The annual conference presented on 30 August and 1 September at Stone Cradle Conference Centre, Pretoria with the organizers the Department of Communication Science, Unisa. Theme: The Past is Present: Communication and its Malcontents. Conference was preceded by a communications colloquium with the theme: Towards an African Theory of Communication. Keynote speakers: Prof Anton Harber (Wits) and Prof Pieter Fourie (Unisa). Topics and text of addresses not available.

2012 – Dr Michelle Tager was President. No conference held this year. Records do not indicate why this happened.

2013 – Dr Julie Reid (Unisa) was President. Conference presented 25 – 27 September by NMMU in Port Elizabeth and organized by the School of Language, Media and Culture. Theme: Social Cohesion, Engaged Communication. Keynote address: Prof Ruth Teer-Tomaselli as UNESCO Chair of Communication on “Engagement, Public Intellectuals and Surviving the Academy”.

2014 – The  40th anniversary of SACOMM, held at NWU, Potchefstroom, with NWU Communication lecturer, GP van Rheede van Oudtshoorn as organizer. Dr Julie Reid completes her two-year term as President. Dr Colin Chasi (UJ) is Vice-President. Conference held 30 September – 3 October at Potchefstroom with the theme Communicating Histories, Engaging the Present, Charting Futures. Organizers: School of Communication Studies, NWU. Keynote speeches: Mr Max du Preez, former newspaper editor and presently political commentator on “Constitutionalism is the New Struggle” and Dr Carla Enslin of Vega School on “The Purpose of Reflection”.

2015 – The first SACOMM Conference to be hosted by a Private Tertiary Education provider, AFDA on their Cape Town Campus. Organised by Stephen Drake and Chipo Zhou on 28 to 30 September. A Pre-Conference Strategic Workshop was organised by the President. Prof Colin Chasi, titled Towards SACOMM 2024
Full Programme:   Programme SACOMM 2015
Minutes of the Annual General Meeting.

2016 – The annual conference is hosted by UFS and organised by Prof. Milagros (Mili) Rivera and the team from the Communication Science Department from Monday, 3 October to Wednesday, 5 October 2016.
Full Programme: Copy of SACOMM_2016_Programme_FINAL 26 SEPT_16 
Minutes from the Annual General Meeting.

2017 – Prof. Ylva Rodny-Gumede from the University of Johannesburg is elected as the new President at the annual conference which was held at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. The Organising team around Prof. Anthea Garman organised #SACOMM17 around the theme Locating the Power of Communication in a time of Radical Change.
Full programme: 2017 SACOMM Abstracts
Minutes from the Annual General Meeting.