The terms “transformation” and “decolonization” have captured the imagination of South Africans as buzzwords for the renewal of the nation. Transformation and decolonization have perhaps found fertile ground for expression in the fees-must-fall phenomenon. However, this call for a new dynamic are horizontally and vertically cross-cutting with media and journalism being no less affected.  Calls have been made for the transformation and decolonization of journalism in all its facets in South Africa. Journalistic transformation and decolonization is however a continental issue. This was evident at a recent African journalism in Nairobi organized by Wits University’s Department of Journalism, Kenya’s Daystar University and the country’s media regulator, Media Council of Kenya.

While contexts might vary – often only slightly – efforts towards transformation of journalism curricular in South Africa echo similar aspirations in places such as Kenya and Uganda and indeed the rest of the continent. For instance, the South African experience with forms of colonialism is still fresh while most African countries have been independent for five decades now and memories of colonialism are fading. However, the vestiges of colonial journalism curricular specifically and teaching and learning at journalism schools is a shared heritage. In South Africa as in the rest of the continent, journalism educators and regulators are grappling with the problem of creating teaching and learning resources attuned to current, domestic situations. In South Africa as in the rest of the continent, untransformed, colonial journalism, cries out for transformation and decolonization. Transformation and decolonization at the education and training level is important because the practice of journalism and the media industry generally suffers when practitioners are neo-colonially trained as the case is today.

Obviously the colonialism project in South Africa took a different trajectory from colonialism in most other African countries. Besides its unparalleled intensity, the longevity of South African colonialism meant that it took longer to defeat, relative to other African countries. The scale and staying power of South African colonialism when compared to the phenomenon in other African countries is however only a matter of form rather than substance.

It has been pointed out over and over again that a key policy of South African colonialism was alienation of the country from the rest of the continent. However, it is striking that post-apartheid South Africa bears striking similarities with the post-colonial epoch in African countries that gained majority rule much earlier.  In South Africa, as in places such as Ghana, Congo DRC and Senegal, the dawn of “freedom” has not been accompanied by change in, and liberation of, journalism curricular and syllabi. As such, the clamour for a sea change in the teaching and learning of journalism is quite similar in large swathes of the continent.

Having agreed that journalism as an area of study and a field of practice should transform and decolonize across the continent, it follows that broader continental approaches offer much more promise than narrow single-country initiatives. There being little contestation with regards to the need for the transformation of journalism curricular across the continent, the pivotal question that follows is: what has to go or be removed from the current curricular and what is it to be replaced with? Related questions are: how have various African countries gone about transforming and decolonizing their journalism education and training? Where did they fail and why? What lessons can African countries learn from each other in the pursuit of transformed journalism training and education?

Clearly, for African journalism schools to truly claim to be offering education and training in African journalism, a number of resources and structures need to be put in place. Foremost, reliance on curricular and course structures that are little more than cut-and-paste versions of Western practice will have to be dispensed with. Indeed one wonders if African journalism practitioners and scholars can claim to be practicing and teaching African journalism if their curricular are unimaginatively borrowed, lock-stock-barrel from, Western and especially American and British journalism schools.  Worse still, the teaching and training materials such as books and manuals are predominantly Western. The situation is so acute that in some African journalism schools, the questions that students are asked to answer at examination or for assignments are, well, Western. For instance, the American First Amendment is said to be a required reading in African journalism schools! It is no brainer that the journalism that has little to do with African contexts is therefore not very relevant to African contexts.

The lack of African learning and teaching resources in African journalism schools is particularly ironical because content production is a central activity for the profession. All that needs to be done is to bring together journalism scholars and practitioners and charge them with the responsibility of creating a master curriculum template for the continent. Avail the master document to the management of individual African journalism authorities, including universities in countries where institutions develop their own course structures. Follow this up with the development of multimedia teaching and learning resources.  Take cognizance of the changing media ecology on the continent, for instance the rise of digital media. It can be done.

By Bob Wekesa
The writer is a postdoctoral fellow at Wits Journalism