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Where are we 20 years after apartheid?

Date Released: Thu, 25 July 2013 08:34 +0200

Ten years ago Rich Beckman, then from the University of North Carolina, and Brian Garman from Rhodes University launched a multimedia project called, “10 years on” that explored the conditions of townships 10 years after apartheid came to an end. This year students from Rhodes and Miami University have continued to produce multimedia stories on townships, which will be put together this year and launched in April 2014 on the 20 year anniversary of the end of apartheid.

The idea came about while Beckman, Garman and Professor Guy Berger, a Fullbright Scholar at the time, worked on another project called “The Living Stage” during the National Arts Festival where students looked at how performances and art reflect the realities of the surrounding areas. This led to discussions about the 10 year anniversary of the end of apartheid, and they thought it would be a good time to look at townships and how they’ve changed (or haven’t) since apartheid came to an end in 1994.

A multimedia project was born. Students from the Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies went to the University of North Carolina for training, and students from UNC came to Grahamstown for three months to write stories about the conditions of Grahamstown’s townships. The project was hosted on a website.

Since then Beckman moved to Miami University where he is a Professor and Knight Chair in Visual Journalism, but he kept in touch with Rhodes University and frequently visited the campus to lecture and to attend the annual Highway Africa Conference.

Beckman came back to Rhodes in November last year with a team of student from Miami University to work on a pilot project with students from the School of Journalism and Media Studies, along with Brian Garman, Evelio Contreras from CNN and Beauregard Tromp, a Nieman Fellow who works for eNews Africa. They started the pilot project to recruit other universities to engage in a much bigger project, now called, “20 years on”. This trailer was made by Aubrey Aden-Buie and features the stories produced by Rhodes JMS students and Miami University students about townships in Grahamstown.

The University of Miami and the Knight Foundation provided funding to hire a journalist in South Africa, Beauregard Tromp, who will continue the project with other universities when the Miami team leaves South Africa. Tromp will visit institutions all over South Africa, and help students produce similar stories about the townships in their areas. These institutions are the University of Stellenbosch, University of Cape Town, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Durban University of Technology and Big Fish, an independent television school in Johannesburg. Beckman says at least three regions from South Africa will be represented, which will provide a much broader perspective than one series on townships in one student town in South Africa.

This year they have continued to produce multimedia stories on townships, which will be put together during the rest of the year and launched in April.

Beckman’s favourite part of the pilot project was finding people who they interviewed 10 years ago and finding out where they are now. They showed them their photographs and found out how their lives have changed in the past 10 and 20 years.

Beckman says the value of the project is to get the stories from the townships out to different media, schools, libraries, government organisations and NGOs. He says that media coverage of townships is often negative. It’s easy to ignore townships, to see it as a negative place people wish would go away. The stories they’ve been working on feature role models, normal people without a voice. The project tries to move social change a little further along, he says. With “20 years on” they’ve tried to make a difference, one story, and one person at a time.

Aubrey Aden-Buie, a multimedia journalism graduate student at Miami University, was one of the student journalists who came to Rhodes in November for the pilot project, and she has returned this year to work as a coach. She says that her first encounter with townships in South Africa last year was eye-opening, and changed everything she wanted to do with her life and her career. She says she got along with the Rhodes students right away, and the stories they found in the townships were “moving” and “powerful”.

Will there be a similar project 30 years from now?

Beckman says he’ll probably be retired in 10 years, but he hopes there will be a life, someone who will be excited to carry on. ‘We’ll see what life’s like in Africa in 10 more years,” he says. The people they have talked to are hopeful and realistic, but they haven’t seen a change. “I hope there won’t be a need for ‘30 years on’, I hope there won’t be townships or informal settlements. But realistically, there will probably be a need.”