Dispatches From Abroad: Young South Africans Discover The Power Of Journalism
In mid-June, I joined a handful of Annenberg graduate students to organize a radio workshop for young aspiring journalists in Paarl, South Africa.
In just three days, we taught the learners (the South African term for “students”) interviewing, scripting and editing—skills we learned ourselves over a period of months in journalism school.
My group had five young people: Buzi Seeland, 23, a journalism student and intern at the Daily Sun; Twaih Ngada, 25, a radio DJ at a local community station; Ray-Marsha Sharter, 16, who writes for her school newspaper; Marshall Afrika, 25, a rapper and poet; and Amber, 17, an aspiring print journalist.
Each of us oversaw a handful of learners. We all found interviewing the residents of Paarl to be the most revealing and enriching experience of our trip abroad.
The weekend coincided with Youth Day, a public holiday in remembrance of student-led protests against the use of Afrikaans, which was associated with apartheid, as the language of instruction in South Africa. The uprising began in Soweto, the largest and most well-known township in South Africa.
My team tackled the theme of joy and pain in their community. Specifically, the learners asked community members in Paarl's Amstelhof neighborhood about the disconnect between older and younger generations, as well as the new struggles young people encounter today—substance abuse, unemployment and teen pregnancy.
Afrika, the poet, knew everyone, which made sense. This was the kind of small neighborhood where people spent more time outside their homes than in, especially if the sun was out.
The warm, sunny day was conducive to wandering down the streets and interviewing whoever was keen. As a result, we encountered a myriad of interesting characters each deserving of their own feature.
The first person we visited was a choreographer who teaches dance to a group of young children and teens to “keep them out of trouble."
Next we met a young fashion designer who had his own clothing design business in a refurbished shipping container. He makes his money on designing wedding dresses and formal wear but also constructs avant garde pants and structural jackets with punk details like chains and plaid.
Next door, aging former prostitutes at a community center handed out their daily meals to a line of hungry men, women and very young children.
Across the street, two elderly women spoke about their hopes for the youth of today as they sat in lawn chairs. Little boys rolled past on a makeshift racecar repurposed from an old cart.
My impression from the interviews was that the lives of young people in Paarl teeter precariously on the edge of easy oblivion or hard-won opportunity.
One teenage girl told the youth reporters that she had dropped out of school because of her drug abuse. On the same block, we talked with a young man who is pursuing an IT degree at university.
By the end of the workshop, my team of learners had displayed enthusiasm, passion and positivity. For me, it was a reminder of why journalism is important in underprivileged communities. For these youth reporters, journalism brings with it the power to change lives—theirs and of those around them—by exposing the stories of the overlooked, underrepresented and in many cases, forgotten.
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