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Thursday, October 14, 2010


Notes from a talk I gave at the Cape Town Press Club recently:

Addressing about 25 mid-career students at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard during a speech practical earlier this year, I asked the class who among them had read the newspaper that morning. Not one student raised their hand.
A disciple of print (I had started out with a typewriter as a journ student at Rhodes), I was gobsmacked.
I then asked who had read the news online. Almost everyone raised their hand.
Still stunned, I was relieved that at least the class had an appetite for news, albeit online.
This was my rude awakening in the USA, where this trend has rattled the media industry in recent years.
South Africa too has been hit by the recession and the switch online, but nowhere near as dramatically as in the US.
But the media here is also feeling the pinch, with traditional media bosses insisting that newsrooms achieve more, with less.
In addition, we have another threat. Our independence – imperfect as it may be – is under threat of government interference (a threat that we thought was buried with apartheid).
But for now, I would like to concentrate on the insights I gained – especially about New Media - during my year in Cambridge.
As an aside, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the local media industry for supporting the Nieman Foundation over the past 50 years to ensure that a mid-career South African journalist is selected each year as a fellow. The first two fellows were Aubrey Sussens in 1960, followed closely by Lewis Nkosi, who passed away a few weeks ago.The latest fellow, investigative financial journalist Rob Rose, left for Cambridge on my return in August.

I was among a class of 23 fellows. The group consisted of 11 Americans and 12 Internationals, from a range of countries such as Venezuela and Chile to Portugal, Britain, Zimbabwe and Gaza. Of these, there were 15 women and eight men (amazing to think that for years, the fellowship was an exclusive men’s club). There were also 12 affiliates (the fellows’ spouses, most of whom were men, including my husband Steve Pike). They were an integral part of the group.
The result was a year of inspirational insight into the craft and power of journalism, and a group camaraderie that I will cherish forever.
I was exposed to the reality of life in the occupied zone of Gaza by Associated Press reporter Ibrahim Barzaq. I learnt about the violent campaign waged against journalists in Sri Lanka, when one of the fellows, newspaper journalist Sonali Samarasinghe described the day her husband, a newspaper editor, was assassinated on his way to work on January 8, last year. An outspoken journalist herself and fearing for her life, she fled into exile.
Among the things I was reminded was that all governments try to exert influence and control over the media, either covertly or overtly.
But sometimes – all too often - the enemy is within. For example, journalists described the disgraceful self-censorship that existed within US media during the invasion of Iraq in the wake of 911. The mainstream press has had to apologise to its readers for its blinkered view and for failing to bring home the true picture.
The Nieman programme has traditionally drawn its fellows from the print industry. In my year, 10 of the fellows were freelancers or self-employed. Only five of us – out of 23 - were returning to permanent positions at newspapers. The rest of the class was made up of journalists in radio, television, news agencies, war photography and online media. One journalist, Kevin Sites, covered 20 wars in one year for with little more than a multi-media backpack that empowered him to stream words, photos and video in a flash. Another livewire, Jeff Howe, worked for the digital magazine Wired. He coined the term Crowdsourcing,, a word that is constantly referred to by disciples of the media digital revolution.
It was challenging for traditional newspaper hacks like myself to try and keep up with these IT-savvy journalists in our weekly New Media classes (another new addition to the traditional Nieman programme). I had arrived at Harvard barely able to log into facebook, and was dismissive of tools such as Twitter, which allow only 140 characters per entry.
At times, an Us-vs-Them divide developed, a divide that plays itself out in many non-integrated newsrooms. We would get defensive when new media disciples callously predicted that the epitaph has already been written for print journalism.
But as you can tell from my anecdote, I did get a wake up call. And this month, a Pew study showed that in the US, only 26 % of people surveyed had read a newspaper the day before, down from 38% in 2006.
I can’t tell you how many last-minute engagements I missed because the America that I was introduced to – it was Harvard after all – sent emails, not text message updates through the day. So, bad luck if you did not have email on your cell phone, you simply missed out.
Although international fellows all reported digital shifts in the media, nowhere is it more pronounced than in the cut-throat USA, the most advanced capitalist country in the world – a country under severe economic strain.
In the US, everybody knows somebody who has been laid off, newspapers have closed down, others like the Christian Science Monitor have switched online. These shifts have been well-documented
One blogger who tracks shifts in the media is Romanesko, on the Poynter Institute web site. It can be depressing to receive his news updates that monitor the attrition in the print industry.
There is even a ghastly web site, Newspaper Death watch -, which takes great delight in highlighting the pressures facing newspapers.
American journalists at the fellowship often described the emotional upheavals.
I would like to read an edited extract from a friend and fellow Nieman from the Roanoke Times, a regional paper in Virginia. She sums up the sentiment of many US journalists in an article that she read out to the fellows:

Hunkering Down, by Beth Macy

“There are days when I dream about quitting the newspaper business and opening my own coffee shop. I'd call it the Underdog Café. On rainy days, the lunch special would be tomato pie and biscuits … Customers would feel so at home at the Underdog that sometimes – but not too often – they would forget to pay.
“But the daydream always ends there, before the dinner menu is even sketched out.
“After 23 years in the business, after seeing my white-haired brethren grudgingly accept buyouts, after the uncertainty of watching the corporate execs put our newspaper on the market – only to take it off when the economy tanked – not only am I still here at the Roanoke Times, but I still get excited when I happen onto a great story. That's why I stick with journalism, even as it threatens to bail on me.
“Call me a Pollyanna … But there's a certain relief that came when I decided earlier this year to plant my entire body in the sand, Reporter's Notebook and all. I don't like the presses shutting down in Denver and Seattle. I hate the fact that thousands of American journalists have lost their jobs to buyouts and layoffs already this year, and many others have made the preemptive move of getting out before they're forced out.
“But more than 40,000 newspaper journalists are still cranking away, and I'm grateful to be among them, having vowed to ride out the tsunami until they pry the company-owned laptop from my cold, ink-stained hands....”


Fueled by the economic meltdown, the year 2009 was possibly the bleakest year for print media in the US. The local paper, the Boston Globe, had just come out of a culling operation. During a tour of the newsroom, the lights were dimmed on a lifeless wing with rows of empty desks and terminals lying idle.
But the editor Marty Baron was upbeat that the worst of the attrition was over. They were rebuilding with the resources available. The newsroom was fully integrated, with online and print mediums working together, and a combined staff operation. I noticed with interest:

  •  the role of the online editor, who is a powerful figure, attending all news conferences. A simple rule is followed: breaking news goes online immediately, and exclusives and insight is written up for the following day’s paper.
  •  The use of social media tools such as facebook and twitter to build communities and to build the paper’s profile online.
  •  The use of flipcams – nifty video recorders for reporters, so they can return from a breaking story and post a video online. The same is done with audio recordings for podcasts.
  •  A new lease of life for traditional agency reporters – they are skilled at “instant reporting” and also filing updates repetitively, which is what is required online.
  •  Reporters were enthusiastic about learning new skills, they didn’t want to be left behind.
IN the US, there has been a push to integrate the print operation with the web operation.
The term used to describe the new scribe is a tra-digital journalist or transitional journalist, somebody who is willing to combine traditional elements with digital innovations, somebody who is willing to learn from the younger generation about the new way of communicating.
Faced with dwindling revenue, a big debate – a somewhat tiring one - in the US is whether to charge for online content, something the Wall Street Journal had done successfully but right from the start. But traditional newspapers have been reluctant to set up paywalls so far down the line in fear of losing audiences to other networks.
At the fellowship, speakers would address us about alternative business models. Some web sites have been set up that call on people to contribute funds to do specific investigative stories, others rely on philanthropic funding. A local example would be health-e, which relies on funding to carry out a vital task of health reporting. Controversial calls to consider the government stepping in to subsidise the industry to keep journalism alive were hotly contested because of the potential threat to the industry’s independence.
 few examples of new media models and buzzwords doing the rounds in the US include the following:
  •  Hyper-local is a buzzword. The Vegas Sun was working on a plan to launch hyper-local news sites based on zip codes – with news, crime, entertainment for the area.
  •  Synergies are being investigated: the New York University journalism department has teamed up with the NYTimes to start an online newspaper called the East Village Blog (
  •  Huffington post is a big national site that offers free online content. The downside, and it is a big one, is they have a history of not paying their bloggers, and they rely on a lot of aggregated news – news that is not sourced themselves.
  •  Wikileaks, which is described as the first stateless news organisation, one that defies any form of state clampdown on information.
  • Citizen journalism is a buzzword, generating a lot of discussion about all the pros and cons that come with that.
  •  The potential for democratization is enormous – anybody can blog and transmit news online. This has put big corporations and media empires under threat – and many predict that we have reached the end of the business model as we know it. Of course, you need access to the web and either a computer or a mobile phone, which are fairly costly and out of the reach of many sectors of society, even in the US.
During the Nieman year, the debate shifted. We emerged from the gloom and began to focus on journalism. We stopped obsessing about the medium.
We reminded ourselves that irrespective of the medium, journalism is about storytelling, truth-telling, exposing injustice and abuse of power.
We were reminded of the power of print newsrooms:
• For instance, that up to 80% of the aggregated news found online originates from newsrooms.
• We were reminded that the long narrative is far from dead. Front page stories in the US often turn to inside pages, running 1000s of words long. People definitely want to read.
During the year, we looked at ways that the Internet and social media can complement newspapers, not cannibalize them. We looked at ways for newspapers to build online readership.
And anyway, doomsayers are wrong when they say that newspapers are dead. There is some life in our ink-stained bones yet.
Figures released by the World Association of Newspapers show that :
1.7 billion people read a daily newspaper, representing 25% of the world’s adult population.
While overall, paid-for daily newspaper circulation fell about 1% in 2009, in Africa, it rose almost 5%. Over five years, circulation in Africa rose 30%.
The report showed that circulation declines largely occurred in mature media markets of the developed world, and that trends in the US do not necessarily reflect the picture in other parts of the world.

In developing countries, there is a keen interest in mobile technology. Mobile news delivery appears to hold more promise for newspapers than traditional internet delivery.
The report found that though traditional newspapers in many mature markets have lost readership, these companies are at the forefront of the digital revolution.
They have embraced new ways of operating, and combined the printing operation with a digitally expansionist new business model.
They focus on coexistence, building synergies between mediums and integrating operations.
I returned home on Mandela’s birthday, a week after the closing ceremony of the world cup.
Soaking up the afterglow, it was a blow to find myself on the picket line in support of press freedom within weeks of returning. This was an activity I had last participated in outside the Star in Sauer Street in the 1980s.
This is a big concern, and one that requires a concerted campaign, not only from journalists but from civil society.
But when it comes to the digital revolution, I have a new resolve to be positive: the struggle is about saving journalism, fighting for a fearless and independent press, focusing on investigations that expose the abuse of power, and also on ground-breaking local stories.
For democracy to work, we need a free, thriving press, irrespective of the medium. We need robust newsrooms that are equipped to play their role as credible watchdogs. We need to fight for resources to build strong newsrooms.
Sure, I have a few new tools: a netbook, a twitter account, a blog, more comprehensive knowledge about facebook , especially as a source of information for news reporting. I have google news alerts, I have a Blackberry with g-mail, instant messaging and constant news updates, though I rely on the young reporters in the newsroom to guide me through the weird apps.
I need these tools because the world is changing the way it communicates. The reality is that all journalists – yes even print journalists - need these tools to access information.
Every now and then, I feel the urge to pack it all in and set up a surf shop in Muizenberg. But, like my friend Beth Macy, the moment soon passes.
There is no point feeling threatened. We need to experiment. We need to look at different ways of reporting news. But we also need to uphold the traditional values of good journalism, and ensure that whatever models develop, these core values are always upheld.

*  See the Cape Town press Club web site:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sense of justice forged in apartheid fires (Cape Times, 12 Aug 2010, Page 9)

Sense of justice forged in apartheid fires
Janet Heard
Cape Times
12 Aug 2010

WHEN Margaret Marshall was a schoolgirl in Newcastle in the 1950s, she imagined growing up to be what sensible white girls were expected to be in those days – a wife and mother, with no career outside the home. At Wits University, she registered more...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Returning home in the afterglow of the World Cup

“I hope South Africans don’t start copying Americans,” Tyler, my 14-year-old son, mumbled breathlessly while we were on a run the other day. Back in our neighbourhood after living in the US for a year, we had passed yet another full-size South African flag outside a suburban house.
“What do you mean?” I asked Tyler, who incidentally was wearing a Bafana shirt.
“Will South Africans now keep the flags up forever?” Tyler asked. “Because when I saw the American flag outside people’s homes in the US for no reason, it seemed… arrogant.”
I think I know what Tyler means. He is talking about hubris. Not to be confused with pride, hubris is something America is not known to shy away from.
And too much hubris can be a bad thing.
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, where we were based for the year, the presence of the Stars and Stripes was not an overbearing sight. Here, national pride was discreet, and of a different nature. Inside friends’ homes were Obama paraphernalia, from “Obama in the House” posters and coffee mugs to fridge magnets showing the President’s face, and the words: “America, your eight-year-nightmare is over” (a reference to the previous Bush era).
A curious teenager, Tyler made an effort to learn about his host country’s history and culture. He studied the American War of Independence, the Civil War over slavery and the African-American and Native American civil rights struggles. In Boston, he went to Red Sox (Baseball), Bruins (ice-hockey), and Celtics (basketball) games. He learnt to “beat box” like American rappers, and to wear his peak cap back to front. Ayoba.
But often homesick, Tyler had no problem displaying loyalty to South Africa. He resisted adopting an American accent, switching a Z for an S, or saying Math instead of Maths. He got great pleasure out of teaching his fellow Grade 8 classmates Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and the meaning of laduma, braai and lekker.
When the World Cup got under way, Tyler was the first to carry a South African flag and recite the lyrics to Wavin’ Flag by K’naan.
Just after the World Cup opening ceremony, we went on a family road trip to the south-west of the country. We travelled in a van that had a South African flag on the dashboard.
During our trip, we passed hundreds of full-size American flags outside people’s homes. Tyler was puzzled by this ostentatious display of loyalty. It was patriotism gone too far. (The US even celebrates national Flag Day, on June 14.)
Sometimes hubris is a good thing, I told Tyler as we slowed to a walk in our suburb, another Rainbow nation flag whizzing by on a car.
Like now in South Africa. When we landed at OR Tambo Airport, we felt the raw energy and new-found confidence of South Africans. A week after the World Cup closing ceremony, the country was still decked in green and gold. Choked up with pride, I had tears in my eyes.
In the US, friends had e-mailed me that it seemed that the South African water supply had been spiked with Ecstasy or Prozac. I now know what they meant.
A few weeks after our homecoming, this infectious vibe continues to hold pessimism at bay, filtering down into every corner, from the supermarket to the school.
The country is alive with possibility and hope. It can look to the future, knowing that it has impressed the world.
It has been uplifting to see South Africans, who had never watched local soccer and who objected to the vuvuzela, embrace the beautiful game and feel a sense of common identity with their fellow South Africans.
But while we have all been puffing out our chests with national pride during the after-party, sinister forces have been at play in Luthuli House and Parliament. In an arrogant attempt to control the media, the ANC released a 20-page document – Media Transformation, Ownership and Diversity. In a move that smacks of moral bankruptcy, the party is pushing for the creation of a state tribunal to hold the media “accountable”.
And in a more advanced stage, there is a bid to push a bill through Parliament to “protect state information” that could see journalists who are brave enough to flout it land up in jail for up to 25 years.
These attacks on press freedom have been a shocking reality check, a reminder that there are threats to our 16-year-old democracy.
Blast   from  the past:  Phillippa  De  Villiers makes  a  T-shirt
  statement, at Rhodes University, in the '80s
I started my career in the mid-1980s, during the height of the state of emergency. I still have my well-worn No News is Bad News, Save the Press and SA Students Press Union T-shirts stashed away in a suitcase.
The new powers-that-be pledged respect for a free, independent press. This right, enshrined in our constitution, is one of the hard-earned freedoms that make me proud to be South African.
Yes, a bit of hubris is healthy. South Africa is a remarkable place. Let’s celebrate, and keep the flag flying – for the country, and its constitution.

*  This article  first  appeared  in  the Weekend   Argus  on  7 August, 2010.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Looking to score in the USA


“Are you showing the World Cup soccer on TV?”

The thump of heavy metal blasts through the gaping doorway of the Cowboy Bar in Pinedale, Wyoming, at 7.50am Pacific time, nine hours behind South Africa.

“Nah,” drawls the cleaner, tattooed and grim-jawed, adjusting his baseball cap as he looks up from washing down the floor with a high pressure hose, “only from 11am.”

Something about the taut line of his minimum wage smile keeps the complaint suppressed: “but the banner outside
says you’re showing all the matches.”

We have woken at dawn to bounce down a dirt road in our 12 cylinder, 25 foot RV with two double beds, a shower, stove and fridge from a remote mountainside campsite called Half Moon Lake. We have hurtled across grizzly bear and moose country into this rough-and-tumble town to score us some soccer.

Former colonial masters England are about to face off against Germany. But Wyoming, famous for gun-toting cowboys and rodeos, has no interest in the beautiful game. (see Stars and Stripes pic at a rodeo in Cody)

Outside the Corral Bar, a revving Ford F-250 bakkie belches smoke while a patron staggers from the saloon to hurl abuse at the driver – the detritus of a hard night’s drinking. Inside, a weathered bar woman looks blank. “You can’t bring kids in here unless you order food. It’s the law.”

“That’s okay, we’ll order food, thanks.”

“We don’t serve food til 3pm.”

“Can we just get toast?”

Her eyes narrow, lips purse and bony fingers tense around the glass she cleans: “We don’t serve food til three.”

The inhabitants of cowboy country are getting on with life, oblivious to the biggest sports event in the world. Two taverns later, the lumbering RV makes one last stop – a low-slung wooden edifice called the Wrangler Café that hunkers down on the edge of town.

We strike gold – a thin vein in a corner of “them thar hills”. The soccer is on, tucked away in a back room, the audio a faint murmur. A round table of six elderly locals, one sporting a white cowboy hat, tuck into pancakes and coffee under a tiny TV. (See pic left). Germany 2: England 0. We sit. England scores, and minutes later scores again, this time off the crossbar. But the ref and his assistant don’t see it. Neither do the patrons of the Wrangler Café. We groan. We finish our fry-up and leave. Score: 4-1.

This frantic hunt for games has been our routine for two weeks. Unable to return home after air ticket complications following a university fellowship in Cambridge, we have been stuck in the non-soccer loving US of A where soccer star Landon Donovan is not exactly a household name.

We had drained our credit account and flew to Vegas to pick up a rented RV for a road trip adventure out West – four excitable South Africans, aged 8 to 46, let loose in a stuffy metal cabin on wheels cruising small town USA during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

What was the first thing we did in Vegas? Gamble? Hell no. We hunted down a sports bar in a giant casino to watch diving divas Uruguay thrash Bafana 3-0. It was unnerving to watch The Boys gored with such inglorious repetition on 10 TV screens. The other 12 screens were dedicated to horse racing at Belmont Park. Rows of punters glued to private PC screens couldn’t give a hoot about our result, or pain. (see tv screen pic)

Yet countrywide, ABC aired all US World Cup games, and cable channel ESPN has pushed a national campaign. Their generic banner, emblazoned with the South Africa 2010 logo, advertise coverage at numerous sports bars scattered across America. Most small-town newspapers have wire agency coverage, and the New York Times dedicates up to two pages per day. Even Vanity Fair magazine featured a glossy cover of topless soccer heroes.

And yet we were the only people at a venue in Rock Springs, Wyoming, to watch last African hope Ghana defeat the US. Hauling the 25 foot bus around in a desperate bid to find a friendly screen, we walked into Mexican restaurant La Bamba, where the owner was watching solo on a small TV. The kindest of hosts, he switched from his Hispanic channel to English-speaking ABC, and lost interest.

Patrons meandered in, but were more interested in enchiladas and quesadillas. At 1-1, three minutes into extra time, we roared as Ghana scored. A group of fire-fighters glanced up at the TV, and recoiled with shock when they realized our cheers were for the Black Stars. Dagger eyes shot at us. It took a treasonous act to interrupt their disinterest.

AP journalist Nancy Armour commented that the US was “flat and uninspired”. Add to this mix, supporters who lacked the mojo to elevate them from the second tier. Not even Bill Clinton and LA Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium could wake the slumbering giant to the magic of the World Cup. Their sanctuary is all American sports where professional teams play in “World Series” inside the USA.

But the four of us in our RV have felt the energy emanating from home, bolstered by sporadic pockets of passion in small town America.

We watched England draw with Algeria at Sticks & Steaks, Sedona, a tourist town in Arizona nestling in the famous Red Rock Canyon. The now familiar ESPN banner hung at the entrance, and a board mapped out the path to the finals. At the Carver Brewing Company in Durango, Colorado, over an early-morning breakfast, Bafana scored against France, and did it again. We bellowed, then looked around demurely. But the waiter said we were welcome to shout loud as we liked. We didn’t get that chance. “Bad luck,” he said as we left with heavy stomachs and even heavier hearts.

There was a vibrant collection of expat fans and tourists – interspersed with bemused Americans – when Mexico faced Argentina at the Sidewinder tavern in Jackson, Wyoming. Patrons watched from a dozen screens lining the walls. We shared a giant Nachos for 10 bucks, chuckling at Diego Maradona’s quirky hubris as his team thrashed Mexico 3-1.

As we enter the finals stage, we will continue to knock on small-town saloon doors. When asked where we were for 2010, we’ll always say, we were there … kinda.
* This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus,


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Growing pains as a grown-up student

Clocks dictate the rhythm of modern life. For journalists, it’s deadlines that rule. So when a group of overworked mid-career hacks were plucked from shrinking newsrooms and conflict zones, relocated to the cerebral US city of Cambridge to indulge in personal growth and academic exploration – and ordered off deadline for 10 months – there was more than a degree of post-traumatic stress.
Going through my crammed sabbatical diary this week as my Nieman fellowship at Harvard University draws to a close, I see how my class contained the jitters. We set our own chaotic rhythm. Talks, media workshops, interviews, Harvard classes, conferences and media award-ceremonies competed with social events, music gigs and squash round robins, family-friendly soccer and sight-seeing across the Charles River in Boston - plus an obligatory Red Sox baseball game.
We dipped into the events calendar of the 34 other institutions of higher learning in Boston, but diary fatigue inevitably kicked in.
“The fellowship is like a hose,” former Nieman fellow, Gail Smith, told me before my departure from South Africa last August. “It just does not stop flowing.”

I left South Africa with my husband Steve Pike and children, Tyler, then 13 and Ella, 7. During “course shopping” in Orientation Week, I sampled classes at the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and Kennedy School of Government. In a Leadership class, a self-assured student dominated discourse with an intimidating professor, Ronald Heifitz. I discovered afterwards that the student was used to seizing centre stage – she was actress Ashley Judd.
Last a student (and not a very studious one) more than 20 years ago at Rhodes University, it was intimidating to walk into an undergraduate class. Here, ambitious, super-privileged young brains gather before world-renowned professors. Instead of pen and paper, students are armed with Apple Macs. They toggle effortlessly between note-taking and social-networking. When they raise their hand to ask a question, they don’t get stage fright or verbal dyslexia. The words flow melodically from their lips.
This is, after all, Harvard with a big H. More than 70 years ago, Nieman founder and benefactor Agnes Wahl Nieman battled to convince the Ivy League university bosses to let a Motley Crew of journalists loose on campus for a year of intellectual enrichment. Considered a “very dubious experiment” at the time, the first class of experienced journalists – some with basic education – were put to the test. The programme flourished. So far, more than 1,300 journalists – including about 80 South Africans starting with Aubrey Sussens and Lewis Nkosi in 1960 – have made the pilgrimage to Harvard for “a year of learning, exploration and fellowship”.
I have had the privilege of observing famous professors in action. Like an extra on a TV show, I saw African-American studies Professor Henry “Skip” Gates impress students with his provocative social oratory. In my modern African History class, Professor Caroline Elkins, who won a Pulitzer for her book on British atrocities in Kenya, Imperial Reckoning, shattered preconceived ideas about my misunderstood continent.
Lippmann House, the headquarters of the Nieman Foundation, became my second home. There, I succeeded where Palestinians in Gaza were thwarted when linguist and US rebel, Noam Chomsky, shared his views with fellows at one of our weekly seminars. At Lippmann, I also experimented with fiction writing under the razor-sharp eye of author Rose Moss – a former South African.

In our weekly New Media class, the crisis in journalism dominated discussion. We quickly grew tired of writing our own epitaph. We looked for solutions. Slow learners like myself embraced new challenges. Switching from seeing the digital era as the Grim Reaper, I latched on to the label “tra-digital journalist” – one who adapts to new mediums, but retains traditional principles and values.

Surrounded by many journalists who have adopted social networking and self-promotion to survive in the revolutionary news business in the United States, I opened a twitter account and a Linked-In account. I started a blog. I downloaded tweetdeck, audacity, realplayer, dropbox and Skype.
Our class of more than 30 fellows and affiliates (spouses) swapped notes about experiences in different corners of the globe – such as Gaza, Venezuela, Chile, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Britain, Portugal, China, Cuba and Peru. Fellows who covered the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and others who have been hounded by the state shocked us with stories about death and destruction, cover-ups and self-censorship.

We became a family. We bonded over shared passions and principles – non-fiction storytelling, press freedom, justice and truth-telling. We agreed that the craft of journalism needs to be cherished, no matter the medium.

End-of-year panic set in a few weeks ago. Over-stimulated and exhausted, I reached out for more. I toured the Boston Globe – the daily metropolitan newspaper. I sneaked a visit to the Lampoon – Harvard’s satirical magazine. I ventured into one of eight all-male final clubs, The Spee – which stands chauvinistically today 50 years after feminism. I also popped in to the court house in Boston to say howzit to the Chief Justice of Massachusetts, Margaret Marshall, a former South African anti-apartheid activist.

The Nieman tap is still flowing, but I have reached my word count and missed my deadline. I wonder, do you think my editor-in-chief will be sympathetic if I ask for a sabbatical from my sabbatical when I get back to Cape Town?

This article appeared first on the South African media web site grubstreet:

Pictures: top: Harvard commencement on May 27. middle: Nieman sports team
bottom: With African American studies professor, Henry "Skip" Gates

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Karoo flavour burns in P-town

Cape Cod is clam chowder and fried clam territory, but a *boeremeisie from the Karoo has introduced a new menu to the experimental village of Provincetown. She offers everything from Bobotie and bunny chow to ostrich burgers and boerewors rolls.

Karoo Kafe is situated next to the boldly displayed MG Leather Shop for gay men along the crammed tourist strip in Commercial St. To people alien to South Africa, Karoo Kafe means nothing. But when I saw the friendly yellow and black sign and the South African flag from the street, it felt like home.

You are unlikely to be greeted by the owner, Sanette Groenewald. She will be in the tiny kitchen at the back preparing the food. But she has made it easy
for her patrons by offering explanations for the foreign-sounding dishes on her menu. Karoo Bunny Chow is a “curried ground beef covering a bed of French fries in a quarter loaf of white bread.” A “Boeri Roll” is a "traditional South African farmer sausage on a bun with Karoo chutney". Etcetera.

Eager to chat to a South African, Sanette (pictured right) emerged from the kitchen after I had eaten my lunch, a Peri-Peri chicken Pita, and after I had introduced my curious non-South African buddies Sonali and Anita (pictured above) to a range of tasty culinary experiences, from Durban bunny chow to ostrich satay and curried slaw.

So how did a farm girl from the Karoo land up running an authentic South African restaurant on the tip of Cape Cod?

“I never would have imagined that one day I would end up here,” she confessed with a hearty chuckle.

Sanette grew up on a farm in Wolseley. She studied food service management at the Cape Technikon. While working as a chef at the Burgundy in Hermanus in 1995, she was headhunted by a restaurant in New York City. “I thought, okay, this sounds like a good thing. I am ready for a change.”

But New York was a huge culture shock, and she knew immediately that she couldn’t live there. “I wanted peace and quiet.”

Sanette visited Provincetown for the Easter weekend and fell in love with the simple lifestyle and friendly people…. Just like the Karoo. “Nobody locked their doors, and Christmas lights were on display. I thought, okay, I can do this.”

She shifted gear and moved to the gay seaside holiday resort town, where some shop owners cheekily display “straight-friendly” on their doors. She worked as a chef in various restaurants, but dreamed of opening up a restaurant to introduce locals and tourists to tastes from home in the Karoo semi-desert.

In 2002, she took a deep breath and opened up Karoo Kafe, offering South African dishes that are heavily influenced by Indian, Malay and Portuguese flavours. Being realistic, she adapted her menu to suit American tastes and has tempted patrons’ taste buds by constantly reviving her menu.

“I have adapted traditional dishes and added twists to others. Five years ago, people here had no idea about South African food. Ostrich meat was foreign, but, thanks to the Internet the world has got smaller and I have found that people are keen to experiment.”

To a point, that is. For instance, Mieliepap (maize meal porridge), Vetkoek (fatcake), Offal (variety of meat offcuts) and chakalaka (vegetarian mix) are absent from her menu for now. Sanette also had to tone down her peri-peri chicken to not freak out delicate taste buds. It's no point being too in your face, too risque for P-town patrons.‘It’s a process,” she said. “It takes a while to get people into the tastes.”

Favourites include the Malva pudding, boerewors burgers and somosas. She also has a steady supply of South African products for sale on her shelf – from Ouma rusks, biltong, Mrs Balls Chutney, Rooibos tea, Flake chocolates and, much to the delight of my eight-year-old daughter, Chappies bubble-gum.

Sanette returns to her family home in the Karoo most years to stock up, but she relies on a wholesaler in Atlanta and Britain for the bulk of supplies. Complying with the US Food and Drug Administration has proved frustrating at times. For instance, she cannot import Peppermint Crisp because the green food dye doesn’t comply. At the moment, the only African ale in her fridge is Tuskers, from Kenya, because she is struggling to get South African-brewed beer through the net due to labelling issues.

Does she get homesick? “Of course. I miss seeing my nephews and nieces, I miss having a real *braai, with lamb and boerewors. I miss *tannie’s tert and groot, *geel perskes off the farm.”

braai = BBQ

Boeremeise= farm girl

geel perskes = yellow peaches

Tannie’s tert = aunty’s tart

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What was Alec Baldwin doing at the Kennedy School?

I put my name in a lottery to win a free ticket to a "Conversation with Alec Baldwin" at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. A total of 1500 student names went into the hat, and 750 won the draw. I was among them.
So I made my way to the Institute of Politics event tonight to see Hollywood and US politics interact. I squeezed into a  seat on a back bench on the second floor. I realised the view of the distant stage (picture above right) would be better from the TV screen in front of me (picture left).  As we waited for the show to start, speculation was rife about Baldwin’s motivation to talk to Kennedy school students: was the actor trying to boost his reputation and profile to enter politics a la some of his acting fellows who sit on the other side of the political fence in the two-party American  system?
Wearing a black suit, black shoes and black tie and a faintly striped white shirt, Baldwin – who still hasn’t fully shed that boep that he showed off in his recent film, It’s Complicated - was dressed for the part when he walked on to the stage  at the multi-layered John F Kennedy Jr Forum, the political hub of the school.
Adding a light touch to formal surroundings, he glanced wide-eyed and curiously around the brightly-lit, high-tech, multi-layered, weirdly shaped forum venue:
“Do they teach a class in here,” he asked incredulously.
He took his seat next to moderator Rick Berke, national editor of the New York Times, also dressed formally for the occasion.
Getting down to serious business, Berke – who had stayed up till 1am watching It’s Complicated - kicked off by  revealing that Harvard had put up Baldwin in the dorm room that President John F Kennedy stayed in and which had been recently renovated.
Baldwin talked about his passion for politics and the influence that the Kennedy family had on him. He has been involved in Democratic campaigns since being introduced to the royal family of US politics after attending a Democratic Convention in Atlanta in 1988.
Baldwin said he was grateful that he had been able to “plug into politics” from time to time.
Baldwin, who drew a lot of laughs from the audience during his talk,  has always flirted with politics. He studied politics at George Washington University and planned a career in law, but he landed up auditioning for the New York University Undergraduate Drama progamme - and so his career in acting began.
It became clear during the conversation that after more than 30 years, Baldwin was rather tired of acting, and was looking for change.
“At the best of time, in acting you get to do something really beautiful and thoughtful.  The downside is that you do some jobs just to make a living.”
Switching to the politics of his state, New York, since Hillary Clinton's departure from the Senate to take up the position of Secretary of State, Berke asked if Baldwin had political aspirations. “Your body language reveals that you would love to be the Senator for New York”, said Berke.
Baldwin replied: “Exactly.”
Berke said if the New York Senate seat was not an option, would he settle for a House seat, Baldwin quipped: “You make the House seat sound so sexy.”
A few snippets from the conversation:
On whether he would date a Republican ("I know this is not a New York Times question," said Berke). Baldwin's response: “I have dated a libertarian, but not a Republican.”
On sexual scandals among politicians: “Americans are pretty uptight  about sex in that arena.”
“If you betray someone, you lose the public’s trust. People think – if you lie to your partner, how can I be expected to trust you.”
On US presidents: “All presidents need something to take the edge off. Finding people to do this job is tough. All presidents bring something ... Obama ... he smokes."
On Obama: “He has been successful and prevailed and won with health care reform. I also deeply admire his cool and disposition. He doesn’t take the bait from the seething hissing animals who are …. throwing tomatoes at him. We have never lived in a time that more inelegant … full of maniacs.”
On the priorities for the US: “I am glad that Obama won on health care reform, but I believe that energy policy ... oil ... is far more important. It is the lynch pin.”

Thursday, April 15, 2010

2010 fever - better late than never

BOSTON - In South Africa, it's one word - "2010". In the United States it's a mouthful -  "the Fifa World Cup Soccer tournament", and even then, you are likely to get a few blank stares.
2010 fever has taken a while to penetrate in this football-basketball-baseball-ice hockey crazed country, but I got a taste of the hype a few days ago during a posh fund-raising awards function at the Moakley US Courthouse in the city. The function was organised by South Africa Partners, a Boston group which "aims to forge deeper and more meaingful relationships between the US and South Africa".
I made a rare crossing over the Charles River from our  Cambridge student bubble for the evening to find out more about the links between South Africa and Boston.
Here I learnt that an initiative called World Cup Boston 2010 had launched back in September. I also learnt that it had the support of Boston mayor Thomas Menino (see picture above), who was present at the function to receive the Desmond Tutu Award for his commitment to social justice. World Cup Boston 2010 has been calling for volunteers to assist with public programmes in soccer, culture, community and education for Boston youth and families. It also aims to bring the Beautiful Game to fields in various communities, culminating in the Mini World Cup Youth Soccer Tournament between June 26 and 27. Viewing parties during World Cup Games will also be unrolled during the event. (see
I met many Bostonians with links to SA. I also met a few South Africans, some of whom who were just visiting Boston and others who had not returned home after leaving SA during apartheid. One particularly impressive young South African who is set to return home later this year after
completing one year at a local High School was volunteer Tumi Ramafoko (pictured top left). At 18, Tumi has the gift of the gab, has a face and voice for television, and is set to go places in any career that she chooses (you heard it hear first!). I also met Bostonians with a passion for South Africa, including Jacqueline Maloney (pictured left), a church and community activist from Dorchester in Boston who told me she has visited South Africa 10 times.
The overall mood was upbeat, celebratory and measured.  None of the speakers mentioned either of the two rogues back home in South Africa who had dominated SA headlines all week - the old white supremacist who has just departed or the young troublemaker who is an extremist in the making. But that didn't silence the guests. Tales of Eugene Terreblanche and Julius Malema dominated dinner table talk, with the hot-off-the-press Terreblanche sex scandal stealing the thunder.
It's 2010, and South Africa is back in the news in more ways than one.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Habib spotted at Harvard

Political analyst and academic Professor Adam Habib (pictured) has made a safe landing in the United States, after previously being barred from the country and accused of having ties to terrorism.

I had a brief chat to him and his wife Fatima on campus at Harvard University this week, where he had a victorious grin on his face.

He said the welcome he had received this time around on arrival at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia was an extremely inviting one compared with his previous attempt to visit the US in October 2006 when he was put on an plane at JFK International Airport and sent home.

This time around, Habib was among a delegation from the University of Johannesburg, of which he is a deputy vice-chancellor for research, innovation and advancement.

It took secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s personal intervention to secure his entry to the US. The way was paved in January this year after Clinton signed orders enabling his re-entry and also that of another scholar professor Tariq Ramadan of Oxford Univeristy in England.

Not surprisingly, Habib’s topic of debate at a talk he delivered to law students at Harvard one evening this week was: ideological exclusion.

A few days earlier, he told a reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education at Virginia Tech that the Obama administration needed to do more than simply grant visas, on a case-by-case basis, to scholars who previously were barred because of their political views or associations.

The Obama administration should put an end to Bush administration police which kept scholars out in the first place, he was quoted as saying.

Habib has been a vocal critic of the Iraq war and some US anti-terrorism policies. The American Association of University Professors described his exclusion at the time as “reminiscent of the Cold War, when the US government regularly barred from the country visitors whose views it rejected.”

The Johannesburg University delegation, headed by vice-chancellor Ihron Rensburg, is on a tour of US institutions. They were at Harvard to discuss synergies between the two campuses, particularly around the theme of educational leadership.

The delegation was also due to visit Boston University during their stay in the city.

Also in attendance were Professor Angina Parekh, deputy vice-chancellor (academic affairs), and her partner, former deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad.

Rensburg , whom amazingly I had not seen face-to-face since my days as an education reporter at The Star in the 1980s when he was a key member of the National Education Crisis Committee, was hosted at a lunch time meeting by Vice-Provost Jorge I Dominguez.

Habib lived in the US for two years while studying for a doctoral degree in political science from the City University of New York.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The US of Africa in New York City

How do you spend your time if you have just 28 hours in New York?

Follow your instincts and see where they take you. This is what my intrepid travel mate, Beth Macy, and I set out to do on a fleeting overnight trip to the Big Apple last week.


And where did we land up? Well, by sheer coincidence, home from home. This meant that my American mate Beth got a touch of Africa in her home country. We drank beer in a shebeen, listened to the pounding Afrobeat of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, and saw the celebrated work of top South African artist William Kentridge at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa). But this is what you can expect in the diverse city of New York.


We arrived in the city on St Patrick's Day. The city was unusually green, unusually kilted, unusually Irish. After getting off the bus in Manhattan and settling in at our downtown hotel on the fringe of Chinatown and Little Italy, we googled Irish pubs in Greenwich Village, thanks to Beth's iphone, a handy travel companion. A list of establishments popped up, but I was drawn to the pub with the surprisingly South African-sounding name - Molly's Shebeen in 287 Third Ave.

Parched from the journey and eager to celebrate all things Irish over a liquid lunch, we headed down to the low-lit, licensed shebeen, which had sawdust on the floor and wood panels on the walls. We fought our way through the crowds to a tiny table at the back of the authentic Irish pub. From the comfort of bar stools, Guinness drinkers watched the annual St Patrick Day's Parade down 5th Ave on a giant television screen. Other than the beer, little else resembled shebeen life back home.

I pestered the preoccupied manager, who was struggling to seat all the patrons streaming into the pub, to explain the origin of the word shebeen. Turns out that the Irish and South Africans have more than a thirst for beer in common. The word, he said, is Gaelic for "after hours".


That evening we headed towards the theatre district to take our $75 (ouch!) seats on the Mezzanine floor at the Eugene O'neill Theatre to see a Broadway musical show that tracks the life of the legend, Fela. (We had booked tickets on our way into the city on the spur of the moment, after reading a one-paragraph, thumbs-up snippet in the New York magazine). The theatre had been turned into The Shrine, the night club that Fela played at for years in Lagos and from where he was perpetually harassed by the military regime. I grew up on Fela's music, especially from my rebellious student days at Rhodes University. When the lead actor and singer Sahr Ngaujah sang International Thief Thief, I got goosebumps as I recalled the huge influence that this wonderfully subversive performer had on my life in those dark, oppressive days in South Africa. After the show (during which time you could recharge your glass at the downstairs bar), I resolved to go out and buy one of his CD's. (Fela died of Aids in 1997).


The next day we joined the queue at the MoMa near Central Park at 10.30am. With less than two hours to explore the multi-layered modern art building, we headed straight to the Kentridge multi media exhibits. There, I felt a mix of pride and anguish for my home country.

The pride stemmed from the huge crowd of people milling around, admiring the Joburg artist's iconic animated films and charcoal drawings on the walls.  (The New York Times reported that as many as 10 000 people a day - "comparable to a rock concert" - are viewing the exhibition). The anguish (or "existential orgasm", according to my husband Steve Pike) stemmed from Kentridge's black and white images which convey the naked pain and brutality of South Africa's past, and the challenges ahead.
My head buzzing, I left with one word for Kentridge: Genius.

Feeling emotionally charged, Beth and I - and our empty wallets - made our way to the Bolt bus to get our ride back to Boston. Just as well I didn't haul Beth off to another home-from-home location, such as Braai on 329 West 51st St, because then she would finally be convinced that I was manipulating our travel agenda to ensure that all the star attractions in New York have their roots in Africa.

We also:

* Walked about 60 blocks, from Chinatown to Central Park. We passed through Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Museum of Sex, the New York Library.

* Sat in a horse-driven carriage for a 35 minute tour of Central Park (note: a costly exercise, but our worn-out feet dictated the decision to splurge)

* Slept for seven hours at our room in the So Hotel in downtown NY.

* Ate dinner at a tres trendy corner restaurant and bar in Broome St, but the highlight was breakfast - tea and granola with yoghurt - at the Oro Bakery and Bar on the same street.

* For lunch, ate a hearty three-egg omelette with french fries at the tacky and authentic Tick Tock diner next to the Bolt bus terminus.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

BRAVE NEW WORLD: the 'Tra-digital' journalism era

Did you buy the newspaper today? This is the question I put to a group of Kennedy School of Government graduates last week during a class assignment. Not one student put up their hand. When I asked if they had read the news online, most put up their hands.
Although I wasn't expecting a full house of newspaper readers, the picture painted in that classroom was worse than anticipated.
There may have been only 25 students in the class, but they were mid-career professionals in their late 20s upwards, and so not necessarily from the savvy young Web generation.
For the past six months, I have been engaging with journalists from around the globe about our craft. I have met an incredible bunch of passionate people – from the Nieman fellows and affiliates to visiting journalists such as the New York Times’s David Rohde and the New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson (pictured below left). I have been inspired and uplifted by the high standards and quality of reporting around the globe.

I have attended award ceremonies where journalists have been honoured for their excellence and bravery. Tunisian Naziha Réjiba, editor of the online news journal Kalima (pictured above right) and Somalian Mustafa Haji Abdinur, correspondent for AFP and editor-in-chief of the independent radio station Radio Simba. Others, notably Sri Lankan Lasantha Wickrematunga have been honoured repeatedly, though posthumously (Lasantha was assassinated just over a year ago).
But during our special time together, it has been hard not to talk about the elephant in the room - the crisis in newspapers and the doom and gloom in the industry. At times it has been depressing. At others, painful. Such as when a colleague bluntly told a seminar recently that: “The epitaph has been written… newspapers are dead.”
But what does it mean when we talk about the crisis in the print industry? And why is the public debate centred around the loss of newspapers per se?
As US media columnist Clary Shirky puts it, society doesn’t need newspapers. It needs journalism.
So, shouldn’t we be talking instead about journalism, of the importance of saving quality reporting, of making sure we are still out there where the action is? Shouldn’t we be talking about the struggle to keep the craft of reporting alive amid the technological revolution that is rapidly changing the way the world communicates?

"85% of online content is generated from newspapers"

The newsgathering process is unpredictable, messy and costly. There are no guarantees. Reporting is like fishing. If you don’t cast your rod, you have absolutely no chance of catching a fish. First-hand accounts are paramount.
It is about being there, on the ground, doorstopping people, hounding them at odd hours, hanging out and waiting. It is not about sitting at your computer waiting for a press release to land in your inbox.
And if newsrooms become so stretched that they stop sending out reporters to cover news, then the web will not be getting much news either. Why is this so?  Because most of the news on the web is aggregated content. And where does most of this aggregated news come from? Struggling newspaper newsrooms.
Former Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll estimated in 2007 that "roughly 85 percent of the original reporting that gets done in America gets done by newspapers. ... They're the people who are going out and knocking on doors and rummaging through records and covering events and so on. And most of the other media that provide news to people are really recycling news that's gathered by newspapers."*
Increasingly newsrooms are transforming and catering to both mediums - the Web and newspapers, but the point remains: there is a heavy dependence on traditional newsrooms. It is these newsrooms - the engine rooms of news - which need to be protected and boosted. Newspapers and the Web both need solid newsrooms.
If a newsroom is forced to cut back so much they don’t have reporters covering key beats, it is a loss to society. If a reporter is not given the chance to spend time on an investigative story, then we are going to lose our vital place as the muckrakers of society, keeping the rich, powerful and influential on their toes.
And if we start to let other people compile the  news for us - ie politicians, publicists or Public relations officers - then we are not doing our jobs properly and society is at risk.Let's fact it. News that lands in a reporter's inbox is usually some form of spin.
And if we allow a culture to develop in which managers become so risk-averse that they don't send teams out unless they are absolutely sure they are going to return with a story, then we are on a road to nowhere.
There is a lot to be excited about  in this media revolution. Blogging and twittering have opened up new avenues for citizen journalism and first-hand, on-the-ground reporting. But newsrooms should not go out on a wing and a prayer in the hope that a blogger will do their work for them. They still need to be there, out in the field. They are the professionals, they have the expertise.
Last week during a seminar presented by Columbia Journalism School professor Sree Sreenivasan, a name was thrown around the room for the emerging journalist of today: a "tra-digital journalist" (coined by Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes). This is a journalist who retains the traditional, good old-fashioned values of the craft but who has the right attitude to be able to adapt to the changing technology.
Sounds good to me.
* Caroll source:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Life without Mandela in SA? it's like Wonderland without Alice.

SNEAKING A SHOT: Janet and Mandela in Lavender Hill, Cape Town, about 10 years ago. Picture: Richard Shorey

I want to get sentimental today and talk about a very old man close to my heart, and presumably yours too - Nelson Mandela.

Like America’s freedom fighter Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela had a dream. Unlike Martin Luther King, Mandela lived to see his dream realized. In so doing, he inspired the world.

Mandela is the glue that holds the new SA together.

So the question I want to tackle today is the following: How can South Africa forge ahead without Mandela?

How do we build on the ideals of peace and unity that he helped to carve out of a country shattered by apartheid?

Mandela was released from 27 years in jail exactly 20 years ago today – on February 11, 1990.

That day, I reported the euphoria from the streets of Johannesburg as a journalist for the local newspaper. I feel privileged to have been witness to such an extraordinary event.

Many of you will have seen that seminal freedom clip – Mandela walking out of the prison gates, his fist in the air, his wife Winnie at his side. Some of you have seen it being re-enacted in the film, Invictus. And for those who haven’t, it is worth checking it out on YouTube. I watched it again this morning. Once again, it brought tears to my eyes.

Today, Mandela is frail, fragile and forgetful. In July, he will have 92 candles on his birthday cake. Rumours of his poor health circulate constantly, his office frequently putting out statements reassuring the public that Mandela is still very much with us. On this special day today, he made a rare public appearance in Cape Town just a few hours ago.

But the clock is ticking. The country can no longer rely on his influence to keep everything together.

Although South Africa has made progress in its freedom years, the signs of juvenile decay are a real threat if left unchecked.

So what does the country need to do to ensure that his legacy endures after he is gone?

Mandela’s party, the ANC, needs to get back to its core values – the values that Mandela is so famous for – justice, equality, unity, forgiveness and the fight against poverty.

After 16 years in power, there is an arrogance and complacency that has crept in to the ruling elite and which has led to corruption and abuses of power.

The party also needs to nurture credible leaders in its kindergarten, the ANC Youth League.

At the moment, the only name that keeps cropping up publicly is Julius Malema. He is a controversial hothead whose rantings have alienated many groupings, including women and whites. His comments are not helpful when rebuilding a deeply fractured country, which is one of the reasons why he is dressed in nappies in newspaper cartoons. The ANC may be nurturing other talent, but it should throw the names of other young rising stars into the public ring.

But it would be foolish to leave it up the ANC to be the torchbearers of Mandela’s legacy.

Opposition parties, civic society, business, trade unions, sports and artists groupings also have a responsibility to keep Mandela’s dream alive. Fortunately, we have a glut of talented leaders in many fields.

My profession cannot rest on its laurels. The media has a responsibility to challenge authority and defend the media freedoms we gained in 1994. Again, robust leadership is vital. Disillusionment will get us nowhere. We need bulldog reporters, independent editors and media owners prepared to invest in journalism that encourages debate, exposes corruption and highlights issues such as HIV-Aids, human rights abuses and poverty.

Mandela is a symbol of South Africa’s freedom. But he is also a symbol of reconciliation and forgiveness for the globe. He led the country to democracy at a time when horrendous human rights atrocities by one grouping over another were taking place in other parts of the world such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda.

Mandela’s leadership – often expressed with humour and a smile - provided a ray of hope even among hardened cynics that peace is possible in the most trying of circumstances.

To many, the idea of a new South Africa is like Wonderland without Alice.

But we better get used to life without Tata, the father of the nation. He has passed on the torch, and it is up to all South Africans to keep the flame alive.

* This speech was presented by Janet to a Kennedy School of Government section class run by Professor Tim McCarthy on February 11, 2010..

MEETING MADIBA: My coy daughter Ella (coaxed on by her dad Steve Pike) meets Mandela in his home in Cape Town, about four years ago. In the bottom photo, my son Tyler presents a picture that he drew of Mandela being released from prison on 11 February 1990. The two excitable ushers are my father Tony Heard, and his brother Ray.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A golden moment

Since I landed at Harvard last August, I have been waiting for the chance to sit in on a class by celebrated professor Henry "Skip" Gates - yes the Harvard academic who put the debates about race and racial profiling back on the agenda after he was arrested by Cambridge cops for suspected breaking and entering - into his own home.
I wasn't the only one who was curious. His Introduction to African-American Studies undergrad class in one of the larger lecture rooms at Harvard was packed beyond the doorway on day 1 of the Spring semester on Monday.
Would be be jaded? Was he all show and no substance? Could he actually deliver a decent lecture? These were my thoughts as I squeezed my way through the crowd of 18 and 19 year-olds with a few other Nieman fellows.
He opened by telling us that there are 35 million African Americans in the US, and 35 million ways to be black. "There is no one way," he said. "There has never been one way, not since 1619, when 20 slaves arrived here on a boat. the debate has continued since then."
He said in the same way, the "name game" about what to call African-Americans has been going on for 200 years.
He then got a little personal, telling us how when he went to Yale University as an undergraduate, his father warned him about three things: 1) don't mix with only African-Americans in the residences; don't hang out only with African-Americans at the dining tables; and don't go to university to learn only about African Americans.
But what did Gates do? All three.
I am sure that his dad is not complaining now.
The professor was clearly enjoying himself in class as he raced through a history of the horrors of racism and slavery during the so-called Enlightenment. His words were interspersed with lashings of humour. Within minutes, he had the class eating out of his hand.
Moonlighting as a documentary filmmaker, Gates said that in an upcoming documentary, he shows through DNA analysis that comedian Chris Rock is 20% white, and actor Don Cheadle 19%. Chris Rock's response apparently was: "At least I ain't as black as Don Cheadle." To which Cheadle's response was: "Well you can kiss my black arse."
You can be sure that me and a few hundred others rocked up for session 2 on Wednesday.
How did the dapper professor start the next lecture? Wearing a gold tie and a gold handkerchief sticking out of his breast pocket, he put on a rap song by G-Mike that started off: "Read a book, read a book, read a mother-fucking book." Next minute, the erudite, veteran professor with a grey stubble was darting his head around to the beat, making the most of yet another class at Harvard University.
You can be sure Gates's class (which he co-hosts with another impressive professor, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham) was a highlight of the week's course shopping.
But there were others. more later.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Spring" in Boston

The "Spring" semester gets under way at Harvard tomorrow. Why it is called Spring is anyone's guess. You see, tomorrow it will be in minus degrees Celcius, so hold on to your thermals for the next "winter" in Boston. In fact, we are still right in winter, but it is called spring, to entice people into the new year. Few people will have a spring in their step at 8am tomorrow when the snow is still wrapped around the fire hyrdants outside of people's homes, and you get frost bite if you go outside without your thermals, your inner gloves, outer gloves, neck warmers, parka jacket, snow boots..... that's life in spring in Boston. Wrap up.
Somehow, life goes on... people actually go jogging here, dressed up like they are going to climb the North Face. They go cycling, wearing balaclavas that make them look like bank robbers. My face is so pale that my mother saw me on Skype the other day, and said to me: "Janet, you are so white." Duh!!! Like she hadn't noticed before. But I guess i have gone a lighter shade of pale.

Friday, January 22, 2010

On board at last ...

Today is Friday, 22 January, and I have finally climbed on board the blogosphere. Friends back home in South Africa have no doubt been wondering what I have been up to for the past five months as a Nieman fellow at Harvard. This is what I got up to last night:

I crossed the Charles River from Cambridge to attend a special screening of a film about Robert Kennedy's visit to South Africa in the 1960s. The film, RFK IN THE LAND OF APARTHEID: A RIPPLE OF HOPE was screened at the Kennedy Library Forum, a grand, imposing structure in honour of president John F Kennedy.

The film documented the Senator and his wife Ethel's unofficial trip to South Africa during the height of apartheid at the invitation of the National Union of SA Students. The filmmaker took a number of years to collect rare and grainy footage from that time - quite a feat, bearing in mind that there was no national television in SA (though it is likely there would have been a blackout of his visit anyway).
It is interspersed with footage from South Africa today, and includes interviews with NUSAS leaders - Ian Robertson, John Daniels and Margaret Marshall. It also includes interviews with Albertina Luthuli, the daughter of the late Chief Albert Luthuli.

Kennedy, with the help of his speechmaker Adam Walinsky, had a way with words. His "ripple of hope" speech had a big impact on the students whom he addressed during his visit. On his trip, he visited the universities of Stellenbosch, Cape Town and Wits. Kennedy also trekked secretly to a village in kwa-Zulu-Natal to visit the banned Albert Luthuli, who was under banning order and could not be in the company of more than two people at a time. Their meeting was held under the trees.

What was so special about the screening last night was that there was a panel discussion that included two of the key "stars" of the film: Margaret Marshall, who left South Africa a few years after Kennedy's visit and who is now the celebrated Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court; and Albertina Luthuli, now an MP in SA. The other two members of the panel were the filmmaker Larry Shore and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert Kennedy's eldest child.

The film also shows the struggle for human rights and equality being waged by African americans back home at the same time. (NUSAS had invited civil rights leader Martin Luther King to SA the year before, but the apartheid government had declined his visa).

After the debate, my husband Steve and myself were invited to a small dinner hosted by the Chief Justice, Margaret Marshall, who in the Kennedy film is a rather naive-looking petite blonde student activist who had the honour of escorting the Kennedys around SOuth Africa during their trip. She remains as passionate about South Africa today as she was then, back in the 1960s. The chief justice is one of the most respected leaders in the judiciary in the state, and she has continued to champion human rights since being exiled from South Africa in the 1960s. I can't help thinking that she could play such a big role in the rebuilding of South Africa if she returned home....
The filmmaker hopes the film will be screened on SABC next year. The film captures a relatively unknown moment in SA history, and is definitely worth seeing.