The untold stories of many Johannesburg residents, environmentalists and the people of Alexandra Township have now been recorded on a multimedia website created by The Wits Journalism Honours students of 2009.
Instead of hitting the libraries and writing a traditional Honours thesis, the journalism students went out into Johannesburg and photographed, recorded, blogged, filmed and wrote stories on the Jukskei River. The students discovered how the Jukskei River, labelled ‘stormwater drain’ in many parts of Johannesburg, affects people’s lives in profound ways.
Alleged government corruption at an upmarket property estate on the river, the danger of floods to the poor people who live on the Jukskei’s banks, unkept government promises and the lack of maintenance of water infrastructure are some of the issues that were covered. Happier stories included an introduction to a community-run NGO in Alexandra Township, profiles of interesting people who work to save the river, and a look at Leeukop prison: one of the few self sustaining prisons in South Africa. The polluted Jukskei water is used to irrigate crops at Leeukop prison.
“We chose the Jukskei River as the central theme because we believed it would throw up stories about people, science and the city, and would force students to deal with some very pressing social issues. The group did exceptionally well in finding and telling all sorts of untold stories,” according to Catxon Professor of Journalism and Head of Department at Wits Journalism school, Anton Harber.
The website is also full of multimedia such as a video of students culturing and growing bacteria from the river, an audio slide-show of the rats that breed in the river and bite and maim children in Alexandra Township and an amusing behind the scenes video.
This was the first time that the Wits Journalism Honours students did an in-depth reporting project instead of the traditional Honours thesis. “We felt this was more relevant to the skills needed by journalism students. This project filled out the year’s work by ensuring journalism students have experience in more challenging and in-depth work as well as multimedia production. And it forced students outside of their comfort zones,” said Harber.
Students enjoyed creating a multimedia website but were also challenged.
“This project has taught me how tough it can be out there. Bureaucracy can make a journalist’s life hell, which I learned first hand, but there are always different approaches a journalist can take and if you are a little bit clever, you can get what you need,” said Zaheer Cassim, who also called the project “fun.”
“Near the end of the project I realised that Anton Harber’s threats about us having sleepless nights were actually real,” said Stevi-Mae Kruger.
Taco Kuiper fellow at Wits, Margaret Renn, was one of the supervisors of the project. “I loved the Jukskei project. It was all we imagined it might be and more. For once our journalism students had to get out of the university and find stories – always a challenge for any journalist.”
“As very little information on the Jukskei River is available online the website will become a resource for anyone who wants to know about the river. And perhaps, just perhaps, the authorities will take the content seriously and do something to project this wonderful resource,” added Renn.
View the website at www.jukskeiriver.co.za