Leading Ladies in the Media

Brian Kamanzi and Phindile Xaba

Kiki Ntuli and Nwabisa Makunga join a legacy of trailblazing women in leading South African media.

There has been a marked increase of black women in top positions in South Africa’s media industry but many still experience discrimination.

This was revealed in the 2018 Glass Ceilings in South African Media study conducted by the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) and Gender Links, with support from the Media Diversity and Development Agency (MDDA). It was the third such study since 2006.

While the study reflects a fivefold increase since 2006 from 6% to 30% in black women occupying top media management positions, its in-depth interviews revealed that women continue to deal with daily struggles enduring racial, gender and misogynistic labels.

The Journalist spoke to two women who have joined a legacy of trailblazing leaders steering South African media houses at the most difficult period of the democratic era.

Kiki Ntuli, the incoming editor of Isolezwe (est 2002) and Nwabisa Makunga a recently appointed editor of Sowetan (est 1981), both say the media is steadily transforming yet multi-layered challenges remain.

Media steadily transforming

Ntuli (39) says, “I feel really humbled to be the second woman editor of this iconic publication and brand. The media industry has transformed from previously being dominated by men, now women hold key positions and I am honoured and proud to have worked hard to get this far.”

Kiki Ntuli

“At the beginning of my career I did experience discrimination, where I was told by colleagues at that time that certain types of stories are better covered by male colleagues. Further probing this point of view, it became clear that they were merely of patriarchal credence as female reporters are as competent.”

Makunga (38) who is the first woman editor at The Sowetan – a newspaper that faced many battles during the oppressive apartheid era – said it was crucial for women’s voices to be amplified in the media in stories as well as in newsroom management.

Nwabisa Makunga

“If our reporting is to accurately mirror our society, voices of women from all walks of life have to be at the centre of that. We cannot talk diversity without women, we cannot talk about our challenges, our growth and development as a nation without positioning women at the centre. If we want to fully understand what happens in our homes, our communities, our schools or workplaces, then we must be deliberate about women telling their own stories.”

Changing attitudes

Ntuli says that Isolezwe has taken steps to centre the voices of women on its platform through dedicated sections of the paper geared towards women empowerment.

Isolezwe, she said, also hosts Intandokazi, which is an annual event where women from different walks of life take time to engage and inspire one another to meet their aspirations.

As we enter the close of South Africa’s annual women’s month activists seeking to highlight the devastating impacts of Gender Based Violence are referring to it as the nation’s ‘other pandemic’. Media platforms hold significant potential to provide accountability and deliver content that helps change attitudes that uphold violent behaviour.

“As women we are in a state of living in fear and often unconfident about our potential because of gender based violence and patriarchy. This is the reason why we came up with a concept of a campaign for women, by women with women’s voices. This campaign is called #SEKWANELE (translation IT IS ENOUGH). It is a series of articles solely targeting women which has testimonies, counsel and information to help women who are abused, those who have survived and to alert and provide support and help for women at large,” says Ntuli.

 

Holding their own

Both women have ample experience in the media. Ntuli worked her way through the ranks of the paper occupying varying editorial and reporting roles throughout her career. Along the road Ntuli says she has come to appreciate the importance of respect, fairness and building relationships as hallmarks of her success. Ntuli emphasised that while there may be pressure on young women to set high personal goals it has been important to work in teams and set realistic targets based on one’s own strengths and weaknesses.

Similar to Ntuli, Makunga places a lot of emphasis on human respect. Prior to her moving to The Sowetan, Makunga had been deputy editor of The Herald and Weekend Post for two years and subsequently served as editor for both publications, out in the Eastern Cape, until she moved to Sowetan in Gauteng.

Makunga described the Sowetan as “a hugely important publication whose history is as illustrious as that of our country”.  Her former colleagues at both The Herald and Weekend Post had described her management style as inclusive, gracious, elegant and calm.

The Sowetan’s history carries political relevance as it was a replacement of the Post Transvaal newspaper and accommodated the editorial staff that had migrated from The World, which had been banned and most of whose staff had been detained under Apartheid’s draconian laws. The Post Transvaal was banned, just two days before staff who had been on a protracted wage strike, planned to return to work.

The Sowetan at the time was one of the many names The Post had registered to dodge the law, in case it too was banned. The fall back name – The Sowetan –  has since stood the test of time and had been edited by greats such as Percy Qoboza, Joe Latakgomo and the architect of Nation Building –  Aggrey Klaaste, Mike Siluma and many others  some of whom had spent time in jail for only being journalists under Apartheid.

The newspaper has survived as a national title even though In the first few years of publication, it was mistakenly assumed to be carrying news only from Soweto, but today it has diverse readership and online presence through SowetanLIVE.

Makunga who is proud to head the 21st century Sowetan team said:

“For almost 40 years Sowetan has told the story of South African life, from Soweto to Khayelitsha, KwaMashu to Polokwane. It is synonymous in expression with those seeking to raise their voice, demanding a just and equal society and a shot at pursuing their dreams.”

And the agenda remains even in the digital era.

Preserving African languages

With South Africa still battling with the preservation of African languages in mainstream print and digital media outlets, as Isolezwe enters its 20th anniversary Ntuli remains optimistic at the prospects of growing its readership. According to Ntuli, the paper has had to work hard to adapt to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic balancing the need for safety for the team with the important role media has played in providing reliable information under lockdown conditions. This isiZulu publication has been at the forefront of delivering local and international reporting and commentary covering a broad spectrum of issues across KwazuluNatal and Gauteng covering a broad spectrum of issues in an indigenous language  and has an impressive growing readership of 1 154 000. Ntuli says she is proud that she is part of a legacy that is crating an inclusive multilingual South African society, a dream that has yet to be fulfilled.

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