Amid renewed and amplified calls for decolonisation, including that of the news media, a new book, Decolonising Journalism in South Africa: Critical Perspectives, situates the South African news media in the post-colonial discourse. The writers of this article have edited the book to bring together an array of voices grappling with the pertinent questions around the role of journalism, and with rooting the discipline within an authentic South African context. Unisa Press is set to publish the book before the end of 2021.

Decolonising Journalism Education

Ylva Rodny-Gumede, Colin Chasi, Zubeida Jaffer and Mvuzo Ponono

There is no doubt that in the 21st century, journalism is undergoing radical and fundamental change. Journalism worldwide is adapting to an ever changing digital and social media environment with competing forms of information dissemination, and stricter if not harsher economic conditions. In South Africa, questions regarding whether journalism will survive this time of flux are often coupled with further enquiry around the role of journalism in a changing socio-political landscape. These debates are often characterised by renewed and amplified calls for a decolonisation of news media.

These calls are not new. However, at the birth of South Africa’s democracy in 1994 they slipped into the background, as the word “transformation” became the dominant focus of the discourse. There was no widespread effort to place the issue of “transformation” into the historical context of decolonisation and what the relationship was between the two.

Since the emergence of the #RhodesMustFall student movement there has been renewed interest in South Africa on questions to do with decolonisation. The decolonisation debates that were catalysed by the #RhodesMustFall movement in South Africa have established their new narratives that distinguish this moment from the transformation discourse that was mainstreamed in the early 1990s.

Where the transformation discourse appeared to take cues from notions of South African exceptionalism, thus treating apartheid as distinct from wider colonial experiences, the renewed focus on decolonisation finds its grounding in reading apartheid as an extension and expression of colonialism, a colonialism at once both refined and denied by the South African Nationalist Party. Thus, the call for decolonisation is not one of only breaking down the legacy of apartheid, but of ending colonialism and its resultant indignities.

Journalism is central to democratic processes and plays an important role as disseminator of information, formation of public opinion and the scrutiny of power. This said, current debates around journalism and news dissemination are centred around a crisis of journalism. Where some see journalism in free fall and whose fundamental values ​​can no longer be upheld. Others see, and welcome, a debate that questions the hegemonic role of journalism, particularly as it pertains to the news media’s role in upholding the status quo, discursive practices, representations and ideology.

In spite of the history and the often bad reputation, individual journalists and media outlets have defended the autonomy of news media and have vigorously championed for an independent media system free of government oversight. The good to have come from an independent media system cannot be overlooked, as journalism has been a steady force in keeping an eye on abuse of power.  Media houses and individual journalists, often at a great price to their own safety as well as their careers, have played a leading role in shaping post-apartheid South Africa. Thus, the role of the news media in this sense has often been ambiguous. Various chapters in the book explore these issues in more detail: the call for a media system that is inward looking but also free to fulfil its mandate as watchdog. The aim with this book is to understand journalism from a broad historical and social science perspective. It is also to question the idea of professional journalism, which wields much influence over societal discourse, legitimately representing the public in a country with a history of disparity. This is to understand that journalism has never been a fully cohesive model of self-regulation, especially in the context of South Africa, where the news media, as throughout the post-colony, has often served as an extension of colonial administrative power. This need to preserve independence whilst avoiding an alignment with the hegemonic powers deserves further scrutiny.

The book argues that journalism and its education, a core sphere for the study of communication and media practices, is an arena that can be served better by reflection on decolonisation, and an adoption of its core values. The decolonisation agenda calls institutional cultures into question. It demands access to education by challenging limitations to access that are posed by economic and other structural injustices.  It demands curricula reform in how teaching and learning are conducted, including, but not limited to, assessment practices. As a radical demand for democracy, it speaks for freedom of expression, understanding that colonialism conduces to the silencing of those it oppresses.

The study of journalism is, after all, a theatre for understanding how people get to know who they are, or at least it presents grounds for understanding how people are estranged from each other. From this vantage point, scholarship on journalism should vitally engage with patterns by which social orders are brought into play to suit the powerful, those who, colonialism and its legacies, casts in the role of what Biko called “the perpetual teacher”.


More stories in Issue 126

THESIS Of – Onkgopotse JJ Tabane


Mancoba in a class of his own

Phindile Xaba The late Ernest Mancoba, painter and sculptor, should be to South Africans as Van Gogh is to the Dutch and Picasso is to the Spanish.  He, like others, have for too long been excluded from the South African narrative. He is considered to be in a class of his own and yet his […]

Towards a new national narrative

Shepherd Mphofu and Zubeida Jaffer South Africa’s transformative national narrative sprung from the intellectual strata.  Way back in 1911 a South African lawyer, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, delivered a lecture that gave intellectual stimulation to the decolonisation process. Seme’s address was part of a cultural and intellectual movement of writers, artists, religious and political leaders […]

Decolonising Journalism Education

Ylva Rodny-Gumede, Colin Chasi, Zubeida Jaffer and Mvuzo Ponono These calls are not new. However, at the birth of South Africa’s democracy in 1994 they slipped into the background, as the word “transformation” became the dominant focus of the discourse. There was no widespread effort to place the issue of “transformation” into the historical context […]

Rediscovering grandeur in ourselves

Vusi Mchunu The carnival takes place in the streets. Dance is a celebration of form over fixity, a momentary triumph over gravitational pull, a symbolic conquest of gravity. In the vein of Afro-Brazilian capoeira, it becomes an anti-oppression martial art-cum-dance sequence. Motion is inherent in change, growth and development in nature and nurture. Orature is […]

Politics and Media Freedom

Dr. Onkgopotse JJ Tabane The tension that is alive between media and the government is caused by wrestling for either to be dominant over the other, to control the national narrative and the public sphere agenda. While South Africa as a country has come a long way since the dark days of apartheid where the […]

Black Wednesday Edition

As South Africa commemorates the 44th anniversary of this day – October 17, 1977 – which, in history became a dark spot and a reminder to reflect on how freedoms of expression were trampled upon, violated and suppressed by the apartheid government, this edition examines where we are today and where South Africa needs to […]

The history of SA’s Media Freedom Day

Ongeziwe Babane and Phindile Xaba On this bleak day, then apartheid state minister Jimmy Kruger clamped down on the media leading to the closure of The World and Sunday World, and the Christian Institute’s publication Pro Veritate that was edited by anti-apartheid activist and Dutch Reformed Church clergyman Beyers Naudé. Percy Qoboza, who was at […]

Media Freedom Statement

Zubeida Jaffer, Shepi Mati, Frank Meintjies and Phindile Xaba Known as Black Wednesday, the day has appropriately become the official South African Media Freedom Day. On that day in 1977, the whites-only racist government banned 19 Black Consciousness Movement organisations and detained scores of activists. It further closed The World and Weekend World newspapers and […]

Writing Ourselves Into History: The liberating narrative of who we are

Sylvia Vollenhoven “We are discouraged from taking history or politics too seriously and pushed towards the titillation of crime, sport and frivolity. The confines of being blinkered in this stifling box is a fitting metaphor for where we find ourselves in the 21st century. Our story is still controlled too often by bourgeois economic interests […]

Sol Plaatje – a writer as the righter of past (mis)representations

Sabata-mpho Mokae He added that he was looking for a publisher. Mhudi was only published ten years later, in 1930. Now, a century later since Plaatje sat down in the cold concrete jungle of London, England, to write this novel, Mhudi is as relevant now as it was back then. Many readers in many parts […]

Can Themba­­ – A form of self-liberation

Frank Meintjies Themba’s life testifies to a commitment to both journalism and creative writing, even though his gainful employment was squarely in the sphere of journalism and, at certain points, teaching. In one sense, educated black people in the 1940s and 1950s faced extremely limited employment options and we thus can’t deduce much from their […]


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