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

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 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.

Tweets a power tool for journos

Social media in journalism is increasingly becoming a useful tool for investigative journalism said Raymond Joseph, social media expert and freelance journalist, at this year’s Power

Reporting journalism conference. Twitter, if used properly, can be used as a tool to probe sources for investigative stories. According to Joseph, Twitter can be creepy because you can monitor what

people say and do without their being aware of it.

“There are conversations that are going on there [Twitter] about things that you want to know. You can actually monitor someone without them actually knowing that you are watching them. There

are useful tools which allow you to get to the heart of a subject or source.”

Garaki Fadzi, a delegate from Zimbabwe, said he was not active on Twitter until he attended a talk on its use for investigative journalism. He says he now realises how helpful Twitter is when it comes to crowd-sourcing stories.

“I’ll be able to get leads from people without following them directly and I will be able to get more depth than I was doing now.

It also keeps me secure when I’m confronting people … So I think I will benefit a lot,” he said.

A journalist from China says there is a Chinese twitter called Weibo. It works the same as

Twitter and people interact in the same way as they would here in South Africa.

You can actually monitor someone without them actually knowing that you are watching them.

Liam Lee, a delegate from Hong Kong, said he noticed South Africa and China have similar ways of using social media as an investigative tool to write stories. He used Weibo to find out what happened to people after an earthquake struck a small town in China.

“I try use my Chinese version of Twitter to find people who were living in a small town where there was an earthquake.” He thinks social media is fast and efficient because ordinary people are always posting breaking news and are at the scene when a story breaks. When the story broke about the earthquake, people using Weibo who were at the scene were very descriptive in how it all happened.

“A young, kind father replied to my request and gave me leads to phone numbers and an email so

I could contact people to tell me what happened and they described every detail for me so I appreciate it,” Lee said.

Adeonke Ogunleye, from Nigeria, thinks Twitter can have positive and negative effects on journalism. She said she has been bullied on Twitter for exposing corruption in Nigeria. Ogunleye complained about the bullying to Twitter and the harasser was suspended, only to return to social media two weeks later.

“I’m a victim of Twitter bullying because of all of my stories from the past, stories I’ve done or investigative stories I have been able to carry out and so many people have come after me on Twitter, they bully me, even fellow reporters and journalists.”

However, according to Joseph, Twitter, if used correctly, can help journalists uncover stories in a way they have never been covered before. He said in all his experience as a journalist he has never seen such a powerful tool.

“If you use Twitter properly you should never have to look for stories … If you’re doing it properly. The tools do the heavy lifting.”

He admits that Twitter on its own is not enough and conversations on Twitter need to be written and read in context so that the story is not skewed or clouded by rumours. He said using lists is also a way for users to sift through tweets.

“Twitter on its own is not enough. There is a variety of tools that you are using that you use around it. The secret source is lists where you can distil right down to subjects so what you really want is an controlled stream,” Joseph said.

No journalism in Ethiopia

Journalism in Ethiopia is becoming obsolete following the government’s lock-down on press freedom, according to Ethiopian journalists attending the Power Reporting journalism conference. Wits Vuvuzela spoke to some of the Ethiopian delegates who all asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions when they return to their home.

“There is no such thing as journalism in Ethiopia,” said the Ethiopian delegate, drawing on the frustrations experienced by many practising journalists in the country. Ethiopia is one of the most repressive nations in Africa for journalists and is the second worst jailer of journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), after neighbouring Eritrea.

“We are expecting one day we have a media like yours,” said the delegate who expressed envy of the South African media system, citing it as a “beacon of freedom”.

“With each journalist sentenced to prison, Ethiopia takes another step further from freedom of the press and democratic society,” said CPJ East Africa representative Tom Rhodes in the statement. Earlier this year, Ethiopian authorities staged a crack-down on independent journalists and bloggers, causing many to flee the country. The CPJ said 17 journalists are presently imprisoned in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian writers and journalists who were at the conference spoke out about their government’s role as democracy’s locksmith.According to one of the delegates, many of their colleagues have been arrested and beaten for expressing their opinions. As a result many abandon journalism.“We are expecting one day we have a media like yours,” said the delegate who expressed envy of the South African media system, citing it as a “beacon of freedom”.

The Guardian’s Africa correspondent David Smith said Africa’s image of media freedom is varied, saying “there is a very mixed picture of [media censorship]” in different countries in Africa.Smith has reported in Ethiopia and described the government’s hostility towards independent journalists as “terrifying”.Despite the lack of media freedom, the Ethiopian delegates remain optimistic on the state of media independence in Africa, but reiterate that, in Ethiopia, “the condition is not conducive for any journalist”.


Why you should care about being digitally secure

SAFE AND SOUND?:  At the Internews station, Power Reporting delegates got the chance to have their software and anti-virus checked  for safety.  Photo:  Lameez Omarjee

SAFE AND SOUND?: At the Internews station, Power Reporting delegates got the chance to have their software and anti-virus checked for safety. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

Hackers  pose the threat of defacing media organisations or putting news sources at risk.  Besides surveillance by mobile companies and internet service providers, digital safety is most threatened by using pirated software, followed by spam.

Pirated software creates “weaknesses or vulnerabilities” and create an “open window” for hackers, said Dylan Jones from international non-profit organisation Internews.  Surveillance technology poses a greater threat to journalists than regular citizens because journalists collect and work with information.

“Surveillance technology can track your physical location, the calls you make and messages you send and to whom.”

Pirated software is most well-known as programmes for which the users download and do not pay for. However, some journalists may be using pirated software without even realising it if their devices are set up by others. This puts them, their sources and their work at risk.

Surveillance technology can track your physical location, the calls you make and messages you send and to whom.  It can cause financial loss and theft to individuals, companies and government and journalists can lose years of work, said Jones.

Zimbabwean journalist Winstone Antonio said he was aware of telephone hacking, but he was not sure about the extent to which it happened, or how he could become a victim or the measures to protect himself.Antonio says as a journalist he is most concerned about “protecting his sources.”

Antonio said he knows using pirated software poses a threat to his work and tries to get a specialist to check his devices regularly. For journalists and delegates at the Power Reporting Conference, Internews set up a work station to check if their mobile devices and laptops have genuine software.  The station offers the free service of updating software with genuine programmes.  Additionally the anti-virus software is checked.

“You can’t trust a pirated anti-virus to protect against malware,” said Jones.

Previously Antonio relied on using strong passwords to protect the different accounts on his devices.  Since attending the session on how to be digitally secure, he learnt that “encryption of data” could be useful in helping him protect his sources.  This works by encoding the data before it is sent to a cloud archive like Google Drive.

“You need to have a secure foundation before you do anything else,”said Jones.  Encrypting data on devices is among the most important protection measures.

Apple products and Android devices come with encryption settings to protect data.  However, a lot of countries have laws against using encryption, said Jones.

Jones also suggests practical ways to keep your digital accounts and movements secure.  These include using “real” software and anti-virus applications, updated programmes and two-step verification to protect accounts.

Unnecessary information or messages, photos and videos should be cleared from your device.  Using a password is more effective than a four-digit pin or a swipe-pattern and fingerprint technology.

Although, these solutions are not perfect, they are better than not having any safety measures at all.


Swedish journalist urges delegates to ‘never give up’

Daniel Ohman, of Swedish Radio, was one of the journalists who uncovered the Swedish-Saudi arms deal, back in 2012. Photo: TJ Lemon

Daniel Öhman, of Swedish Radio, was one of the journalists who uncovered the Swedish-Saudi arms deal in 2012. Photo: TJ Lemon

When Swedish journalist Daniel Öhman heard the words “I got something for you” he knew he was onto something big.

Öhman, a Swedish Radio journalist who helped uncover his country’s secret arms deal with Saudi Arabia, was on a train when he got a phone call from an unknown person and simply given a meeting date and time. When he showed up, he was given an envelope, with a brief introduction to the story.

“Don’t give up after the first time you’ve seen them, try and try again.”

Öhman gave the opening address on the second day of the investigative journalism conference, Power Reporting, earlier today.

The most important thing, said Öhman, is that his team never gave up. “If you have a person who is crucial to your story, don’t give up after your first phone call, or your second. Don’t give up after the first time you’ve seen them, try and try again”, he said.

The Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) had plans to help Saudi Arabia build an advanced arms factory in the desert. Known as Project Simoom, it began in 2007 and was exposed by a group of journalists five years later.

Two years before the operation officially began, Sweden signed a “military cooperation treaty” with the Saudi regime. The agreement was to assist the Saudi government in the building of its own weapons industry, but everything was “top secret”, according to Öhman.

In the two months that followed the initial story, which exposed the Swedish government, 5 400 articles were published in local media while the international media continuously reported on developments in the story while plans to build the weapons factory were stopped and the Swedish defence minister was forced to resign.

“It is not like in other countries, where you can be killed”

One of the biggest challenges they faced was gaining the public’s trust. They knew right from the start that the government was lying and “we needed to make sure people believed in us and not in government agencies”, Ohman said.

Öhman said the situation for journalists in Sweden as very different to that of other countries. While the team were undermined and threatened by government officials, at no point did they fear for their lives. “It is not like in other countries, where you can be killed,” he said.

Solidarity with journalists under fire

PRESS POWER: Human rights 'defender' and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation for his moving address at the third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture at Wits University this evening.  Photo:  Zelmarie Goosen

PRESS POWER: Human rights ‘defender’ and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation for his  address at Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen

Standing in solidarity with imprisoned Ethiopian journalists, Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation from fellow journalists and other guests, at the Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture held this evening at Wits University.

Human rights activist and journalist, de Morais delivered the address for Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. He stressed the importance of investigative journalism in advancing democracy and defending the freedom of expression in the face of opposition and fear incited by government authorities.

Driven by “national and civic conscience”, de Morais says he is proud of his work in defending the rights of fellow Angolan citizens through the exposure of conflict diamonds and corruption. “Journalists should defend constitutional rights”, he said to a packed auditorium.

SOLIDARITY BROTHERS:  human rights 'defender' and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation for his moving address at Power Reporting's third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture.  Photo:  Zelmarie Goosen

SOLIDARITY BROTHERS: Human rights ‘defender’ and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation for his moving address at Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen

De Morais criticized the Ethiopian government as an enemy to journalism for arresting and imprisoning journalists. “Journalists and human rights campaigners must be embarrassed for doing little to support our peers in Ethiopia.”

He  also called for a campaign to move the African Union, currently based in Ethiopia, to a country that respects human rights.

Although the challenges of investigative journalists have not changed since de Morais started practicing, he says the Internet has proven to be an advantage in publishing content and reaching wider audiences. De Morais has started his own watchdog website Maka Angola which exposes corruption through his investigations.

De Morais told Wits Vuvuzela that as the values in society have deteriorated, so has the quality of investigative journalism. He says investigative journalists can combat opposition if they realise “government officials are men and women like us”. He says we can limit their abuse of power because “the power comes from the people”.

De Morais said he corresponded with but never met Carlos Cardoso, in whose name the lecture was given. Cardoso, a journalist and a Witsie, was murdered in Maputo in 2000 while working on a investigation into fraud at a major bank.


Dead body found outside Wits residence

The unidentified body of a small child was discovered in a plastic bag outside Wits University residence Noswall Hall earlier this evening.

A homeless child picked up the bag on Empire Road after it was dropped off by someone in a passing car. The child picked up the packet thinking it contained “something nice,” according to Campus Control officer George Masilo. The child walked up Bertha street and only discovered the body in the packet when he opened it outside Noswall Hall.

The child is still being questioned by the police and was not able to speak to Wits Vuvuzela.  His friends, while reluctant to answer other questions, said the car that dropped the packet off was a VW Polo. At the scene, the police cordoned off the body with barricade tape and cones, and a police car blocked off onlookers.  The body, which bystanders say was wrapped in cello tape, was covered by an insulation blanket. The police were not able to make a statement.

“How dare they … how can you do this to a baby!” said Palesa Hlungwane, 1st year BA, who lives in Diamond House. “What about conscience? What about maternal attachments?”

“I feel bad, it’s so bad to have so many irresponsible mothers in this day and age,” says Nonkululeko Njilo, 1st year BA from Diamond House. “I feel like we’re a lost generation.”


‘No story is worth a life’

Ron Nixon,

Ron Nixon, of the New York Times, spoke about how to stay safe as an investigative journalist. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen

Many journalists have suffered whilst reporting or working in countries with laws that gag the media. Investigative journalism has cost many journalists their lives in the pursuit of informing the public.

It is the responsibility of the media to pull focus to issues plaguing the society – issues the public should be interested in – however this does not mean the journalist is not a person, someone with friends and a family

Anton Harber, Caxton professor of Journalism at Wits University, said one should take all the necessary precautions and learn as much as possible about apotentially dangerous story before immersing themselves in it.

“The biggest danger is ignorance. Be careful and understand a situation in as much detail as possible,” Harber said.

“No story is worth a life.”

According to Harber, in cases where a journalist might be arrested there are international networks that might responde with help. However, the ultimate responsibility lies with the news organisation toprotect the journalist. A news organisation will almost always support the journalist “if a story is important enough”.

Harber was himself arrested in South Africa while the editor of the Weekly Mail, now known as the Mail & Guardian. In the course of pursuing an investigation into the apartheid government, the paper was caught bugging a hotel room. The bug was discovered before any incriminating evidence had been recorded.

“Ethically it was wrong but I[only] regret getting caught,” Harber said.

Harber said if he faced the same situation again he would be “extremely hesitant”.

Ron Nixon, an investigative journalist for the New York Times, said the best way for investigative journalists to remain safe is to always let someone know where you are and always work in teams or pairs.

“Be aware of your surroundings and always let people know where you are. Including embassies as well. In case anything goes wrong,” he said.

Many journalists prefer to work alone because they’re after scoops. Nixon advises against this the information isn’t worth the risk of working without a safety net.

“Sometimes the information you are getting is not that exclusive.”

It is then up to the journalist to make an individual decision to either report the story, and possibly be first, or to be safe.