At its annual general meeting in September 2018, the South African Communications Association agreed to officially partner with The Journalist.  The Journalist fills a knowledge gap about indigenous storytellers and journalists that have largely been ignored at universities. In the age of decolonising the university, this partnership will prove essential in working towards inclusion at our tertiary institutions.

The university association that links most journalism media and communication departments across the country has entered into a partnership with The Journalist.

The association known as the South African Communications Association (SACOMM) is a professional body that represents academics from around southern Africa working in communications and related fields. The body hosts an annual conference where academic papers are delivered and academics can mingle. All key journalism departments across the country encourage academics to become members of SACOMM.

According to its website, SACOMM was founded in 1977 at its first conference at the then Rand Afrikaans University as a bilingual and non- racial academic association. Back then it was one of the few, academic associations in the country that has succeeded in bonding its members together through its annual conference.

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 SA academic association that was from the outset constituted as a bilingual and multi-racial organisation. The organisation has slowly transformed post 1994 into a racially diverse organisation, according to the body’s website.

Until recently universities have individually agreed to partner with The Journalist. These include the University of the Free State, the University of Venda, the University of Johannesburg as well as Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the University of Cape Town.

At the SACOMM conference held in September 2018, it was resolved that the organisation would enter into a partnership with The Journalist.

This means that theoretically all students and academics will be encouraged to sign up to the database and use the articles as part of their class study.

The aim is to encourage all universities to form The Journalist Circles. These circles consist of student volunteers who can pitch and write multimedia stories to be published monthly on The Journalist website. Academics are free to do the same and also offer information about interesting academic papers for posting on the site.

The Journalist provides a platform for wider interaction not confined to small tight groups of academia. It also allows both students, academics and other interested individuals to develop a media profile and often be picked up by the mainstream media.

Most importantly it provides a national platform for conversations on important issues of decolonising the university.

The specifics of the partnership are evolving through discussion but already The Journalist has supported the establishment of the Emerging Scholars network and launched a Touching Base series that facilitated close to 20 students from UFS and UJ travelling home during their vacation and writing about conditions in their home villages and towns. Their stories provided a unique insight into a varied landscape before the last local government elections.

Once adequate funding is identified, across-university reporting could be an enormous benefit to the country and teach student journalists and storytellers about their relationship with their communities. This could also benefit communication between universities.

The Sol Plaatje University, for instance, is not only furthering studies into South Africa’s iconic journalist Sol Plaatje but also gives attention to the KhoiSan story teller Kabbo whose stories are recorded at UNESCO. This study is important for an audience beyond the academic sphere, with which The Journalist will assist.

The Journalist also fills a knowledge gap about indigenous storytellers and journalists that have largely been ignored at universities. Existing textbooks have to be completely rewritten from a South African point of view and not a colonial one.

Until such time, The Journalist is a knowledge bank of the neglected journalists that require further intense study. Our Pioneers section has been running since 2014 with the principle aim of unearthing the history buried away during the colonial and apartheid periods, in a bid to obliterate the legacy built by Africans, particularly in the literary world. Since its launch the Pioneers section has recorded and brought to light the Black Press players of the 1800s. The era produced giants such as Tiyo Soga, the first black literary figure, John Tengo Jabavu, Pixley Ka Izaka Seme and women pioneers including Noni Jabavu and living legend Joyce Nomafa Sikhakhane-Rankin.

In a post Fees Must Fall democratic South Africa, and increased discussions around decolonising the university, this partnership will prove essential in working towards inclusion and equality at our tertiary institutions.

The Journalist is an independent, not for profit organisation working with the academic community and a range of credible online entities to make knowledge more accessible to the wider public.