WITS NEWS: Wits becomes first African partner of leading online course provider

WITS NEWS: Wits becomes first African partner of leading online course provider

The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Wits) today announced its partnership with edX, the nonprofit online learning destination founded by MIT and Harvard to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) to a global learning audience. The collaboration is the first of its kind between a major international MOOC provider and an African University.

The total number of students pursuing higher education in Africa tripled between 1991 and 2006, however public investment in education has remained the same[1]. This increase in demand, along with the growing value of university degrees on the continent, means that the current high levels of educational expansion may still not be enough[2]. The edX and Wits partnership will help bridge this gap by delivering education opportunities to students on the continent and beyond.

The edX community throughout Africa, which is already more than 200,000 learners strong, will now have access to courses from a top university on the continent.

“This is a pioneering, innovative project spearheaded by Wits, which will indeed unlock new opportunities in South Africa and through the rest of the continent. This is in line with the University’s commitment to being locally responsive and internationally competitive,” says Prof. Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University. “We are still developing the course content but students from around the world will be able to access our international expertise in a variety of fields ranging from economics and law to deep level mining and the palaeosciences.”

Wits courses (WitsX) will be open for enrollment on edx.org towards the end of 2015. A special edX certificate is issued when a course (or module) has been successfully completed.

“We are pleased to welcome the University of Witwatersrand to our global community of educators and learners,” says Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX. “As a premier research institution and our first university partner in Africa, we look forward to collaborating to increase access to high quality education for all, and especially for learners in South Africa and throughout the continent who are eager for new educational opportunities and to develop new skills.”

Wits joins the more than 60 global universities, colleges and institutions that make up edX’s distinguished academic body, which offer online courses to anyone, anywhere in the world with a desire to learn.

SLICE OF LIFE: Paying the rent as a journalist

Percy Matshoba  TJ Lemon

Percy Matshoba
Photo: TJ Lemon

“The only by-line I care about is the one on a cheque” sums up what I took away from the presentation by two seasoned journalists at today’s Power Reporting conference. ‘How to Pay the Rent’ by Raymond and Natasha Joseph, was one of the most well-attended sessions at the conference which took place at Wits University.

As an almost Journalism graduate, I will be the first to admit that despite the nonchalant front I put up about the by-line, it was a very big deal to me. Before the presentation I acted like the infamous by-line did not phase me, although I would work very hard and sometimes free to see my name printed on a newspaper or a glossy magazine. Forget the hours I would dedicated for a by-line, friends and family would easily be shunned if they stood in the way of my glory.

“you can’t pay at Pick n Pay with a by-line.”

The presentation reduced the importance of a by-line to a zero. The Josephs highlighted that for a journalist the by-line is a bonus, and that paying the rent is of fundamental importance. Raymond, a freelancer who has been a journalist since 1973 said “you can’t pay at Pick n Pay with a by-line.” Speaking mostly for the freelance journalists he emphasised the importance of viewing one’s work as a business.

“The free in freelance doesn’t mean free,” he said.

Daughter Natasha, the news editor of the City Press, said that not charging a fee for your work sends the message that “you do not value your work”.

“Don’t end up working where it costs you money,” Raymond Joseph said. “If you are resentful about where you work, you will be resentful about your work.”

Paying the rent is one of the leading factors of stress in the country, and paying the rent as a journalist is even more stressful. Despite the fact that journalists, put in as much hours as doctors at times, however, they do not get paid nearly as much.

The Josephs emphasised that in order to pay the rent, a journalist should care less about the by-line and more about being well read, pitching a relevant story and having a thick enough skin to ask about the cheque upfront. Natasha added that she also found that curiosity and great sense of humour also came in handy in the cut-throat industry.

As I am about to become a full time journalist I am going into the industry with a change of heart about the glorious by-line. However great it is to see my name printed, I have learned that the joys of a by-line are short lived and most importantly, they do not pay the bills.

COOL KID: Freelance journalist Margaret Renn

COOL KID: Freelance journalist Margaret Renn

POWER ORGANISING: Margaret Renn has been  orgnanising the conference since 2009. She says it has grown every year. This year there are over 300 delegates from all over the world

POWER ORGANISING: Margaret Renn has been orgnanising the conference since 2009. She says it has grown every year. This year there are over 300 delegates from all over the world

Margaret Renn is a Wits visiting fellow in investigative journalism. She is the organiser of Power Reporting, The African Investigative Journalism Conference which is hosted each year by the University of the Witswatersrand. Renn is also a freelance journalist in London.

When did you become the coordinator of the power reporting conference?

I took over 2009 and it was the power reporting workshop and then it became the African investigative conference.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face putting the conference together?

Everything is a challenge. From what people are going to eat, the busses, everything. But I think the biggest challenge is the programme, that’s where all of my effort goes and then I kick myself when I come to the conference and then small things have gone wrong and then I think I should have paid attention to that beforehand but then what I was paying attention was important.

The success of the conference?

I’m impressed by then number of Africans that have come to the conference. I’m impressed by everyone’s positivity about the conference, sure you get the odd person who didn’t not like their hotel or the lunch or they couldn’t find the toilet but what I care about is do people go home at the end of the three days with something new. Where they can go back to their work place and say ‘why don’t we do this, I learned how to that and we should be doing that story’. That’s what it’s all about and it always baby steps, nobody goes from being an average journalist to being a top investigative journalist overnight. You have to keep going year after year … And it is better to train as a journalist today with the internet, all these wonderful ways that people that can learn and that makes it so much easier, I mean you have everything.

What is the importance of Power Reporting?

Overall I think the conference has become an attraction for journalists around Africa. They know this is where they can come and learn something new and learn new skills. It’s like building a community of investigative journalists, we have more networks of investigative journalists around the continent.

What do you think about the standard of investigative journalism in Africa?

You know people elsewhere in the world think that Africa is a country and it’s not. But let’s look at the people that are here [Africa]. In Nigeria, they do fantastic journalism, in Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia. All around the continent there are little groups of people in different countries who do incredibly well and I find that so interesting.



Nkandla: More than ‘a very expensive house’

Nkandla: More than ‘a very expensive house’

Nkandla is much more than just a story about a very, very expensive house, according to investigative journalist Sam Sole, one of the members of the Mail & Guardian’s amaBhungane team.

Sole, Lionel Faull and Craig McKunne, three of the journalists who helped uncover and develop the “creation of a presidential palace” in 2012, spoke on Monday at the annual Power Reporting conference about their work on the story dating back to 2009.

Nkandla documents ‘repeated gumpf’

The team spent weeks compiling the data they had received, after months of filing and pushing for the promotion of access to information act (PAIA). After being turned down and appealing several times, they were eventually handed 42 lever arch files, containing 12 000 pages of documents, which they had to copy through a single scanner. The team, comprising of 8 people, split the workload and spent an entire weekend scanning.

Sole said that the team did not know how long they had to deal with the information provided. “We got an exclusive, but in a story that is embarrassing to government, they [the government] tend to make press statements and spoil the exclusive.”

Faull explained that a lot of the information was duplicated. “It was repeated ‘gumpf’, a tactic to slow us down and make it hard.”

The use of data journalism, combined with extensive probing and investigation revealed how much Zuma should have paid for the three private houses he started to build at the time of security upgrades (R19.5 million in total), as well as the fact that he would never have been able to afford it. It also allowed the team to create an “Nkandla phonebook”, which led them to useful contacts, some of whom were willing to speak.

The delegates who attended the session were from predominantly from other African countries and found the team’s investigation “impressive”, considering the amount of work it took to get the information.

There are very few investigative journalists around the continent, according to Panic Malawo Chifulya of the Zambia Daily Mail. “It is too risky,” she told Wits Vuvuzela. “We are all just all-rounders, covering a bit of everything.”

One of her colleagues, Rebecca Chileshe, explained that no editor would ever allow their journalists to conduct such an in-depth investigation, because they would “be the ones to lose their jobs”.

Chileshe spoke of a story she had done, which, if published, would embarrass the Zambian government. Her newspaper refused to publish the story and in the end, it was picked up by a smaller, private media house. According to her, this is one of many examples where stories have been swept under the carpet out of fear.

Margaret Samulela, of the same newspaper, also explained that such large legal costs would make it impossible to do the same type of story in Zambia and other such countries. “But this is happening in our country, it’s just that journalists aren’t able to investigate,” she said.