Addressing a full classroom of over 50 journalists and students, Cheryl Thompson, a journalist from the Washington Post, shared her insights into investigative journalism at the Power Reporting conference in Johannesburg today. Anelisa Tuswa, a student journalist, shares her five takeaways from the talk.
Thompson, also an associate professor of journalism at George Washington University, used anecdotes from her own work to outline the key lessons she’s learned over the course of her career.
HARD-HITTING: Cheryl W. Thompson of the Washington Post, shared her insights into developing an investigative story at the 2015 Power Reporting Conference at Wits University today. Photo: Samantha Camara.
Outlining steps into the investigation process, Thompson described investigative journalism as “jigsaw puzzle”, where all the pieces in the puzzle matter.
Briefly, Thompson says the key steps are deciding on a topic, researching the topic, developing your sources, analysing your data, fact-check and writing, rewriting and writing some more.
5 Key lessons to learn:
- “Always ask questions that you already know the answer to”
The emphasis on well researched investigation remains key in all parts of Thompsons presentation. As a result, Thompson believes that when you are preparing for an interview, you’re must “be mentally prepared” and that includes well researched questions.
- “Never sacrifice speed to file for accuracy“
It might take you a couple of years to complete an investigative piece, but rather you spend years in it than to rush for a timeline that is less researched and lacks accuracy.
- Confrontational Questions? Keep those for later
According to Thompson, questions like “why did you steal the money” should be at the bottom of your list. She says to start with questions that allow your interviewees “ease into the interview'”, added Thompson. “Try to find a commonality or connection with your interviewee”.
- “Don’t pick up the phone for interviews, go there in person”
Thompson notes that on one of her investigative pieces that she was working on there were “ghost children in a ghost school” and she only figured this out by actually visiting the schools.
- Trust your intuition
“I trust my instincts, especially as a woman”, said Thompson, addressing safety and security issues related to investigative journalism.
Mosiah Moshe Tau serves as the current Miss Limpopo Province. This third-year Civil Engineering student is one of the few black South African women to have won a major pageant with their natural hair. Wits Vuvuzela sat down with her to pick her brain on African beauty and beauty pageants.
What is the role of beauty pageants in African societies in 2015?
The aim of pageants in general is to empower women and create role models, most especially for our young people. We encourage being happy in our own skin. But nowadays, we are steering in a direction where the title holder is an ambassador, rather than a beauty queen. It’s not just a beauty contest, it’s ‘beauty with a purpose’. So it is more about what the woman can do with the title to better the society than her own physical beauty.
Are beauty pageants in S.A a reflection of South African beauty?
No. I think they tend to be a bit superficial and most of them still miss the point. I wasn’t aware of how many pageants there are out there until I was crowned. I get invitations to come judge local pageants and sometimes when I ask the organisers what the pageant is about I realise that they don’t really have a real intention, but to make money but they hide behind “we just want to motivate the young girls”.
Following the cancellation of swimsuit wear in the Miss World pageant, do you think that South African pageants should adopt the same principle?
Yes, definitely. Like I said it’s not just a beauty contest, it’s ‘beauty with a purpose’. The beauty we are promoting is the beauty that is within the heart and mind, and I think with swimsuits it is more focused on the outside, on who is more physically appealing than the other, so I don’t think we need to have a swimsuit section. As for the outside beauty, we are saying let’s love ourselves and be comfortable and happy in our own skins.
I think it is commendable what the Miss World board did, because it is a step closer to sending the message of what pageants in these modern days stand for. Beauty with brains.
As a beauty pageant ‘queen’, in an African community, how do you celebrate African traditional values without conflicting the ‘beauty standard of the pageant world’?
By being myself I think I have already conflicted those standards *jokes*, for instance, I was the first person to be crowned Miss Limpopo with short, natural hair as opposed to popular belief that a beauty queen has to have long [sexy] hair, because that is what is more appealing apparently.
I am an African and I am beautiful. I see myself as an agent of societal change than just a ‘beauty queen’. I have come to learn that there are really no rules of being a beauty queen, but just perceptions and a mentality that people have developed over the years and I am rebellious to those ‘standards’.
Eighteen-year-old Francis Salman, who was recently crowned Mr Wits Residence, does not consider himself a “beauty pageant guy”, and does not see himself going further than Mr Wits Res.
Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, Salman said: “This was my first and although I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, it probably was my last.”
Photo by Anelisa Tuswa
How would you describe yourself?
I’m a calm person, outgoing and I love meeting new people.
How did you get into the All Residence Pageant and why?
A friend of mine suggested it and I thought it would be fun. So I took the opportunity to get myself out there and meet new people and I’ve made a whole lot of friends in the process.
Holding the title, Mr. Wits Res, what does it mean to you?
I’m yet to find out hey, but honestly speaking at the moment I’m still trying to get used to the idea. I am hoping to figure it out soon, though.
Are you hoping to continue with the “beauty pageant” life, and if so, what’s next?
No, I feel like I should focus on my studies for the next few years.
So in the future, will we be seeing you competing for Mr. South Africa?
Definitely not, this was my first and although I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, it probably was my last.
Besides being handsome and a Witsie, what are your actual talents?
I wouldn’t call myself an artist or a poet but I love writing. I write more socio-economic related poetry and about the way I view the world.
The Wits All Residence Council (ARC) only started with the Mr. Element (the inclusion of male contestants) in the Wits Res beauty pageant this year. Do you think all beauty pageants should have the Mr. Element and Why?
I think they should, I mean recently there’s been a trend in beauty pageants of celebrating and including different women. So including men in such competitions might be part of the transition, but also celebration of men in society is important.
Two university students believe they have introduced a new culture, by creating “a vibe” around their newly launched brand, Kaus Kulture.
Two students, from Wits University and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) have combined heads to launch a new ‘culture,’ a Kaus Kulture.
ITS NOT JUST SOCKS: One of the distinct designs by Kaus Kulture. Photo by Anelisa Tuswa
Marcus Prime, 3rd year Architecture student from Wits, and business partner Kabelo Moabelo, from UJ, recently launched a range of socks, which they design and sell.
According to the two students, the idea of ‘socks’ came about during a conversation that they were having as friends.
Prime and Moabelo described their design elements of the socks as “a balance between class and sophistication … you could be a rebellious business man or your Wits student.”
Moabelo says he remembers seeing “an image on the internet that had a black man with a sign stating that ‘socks are the most needed but least donated article of clothing in homeless shelters’… this statement inspired me and Marcus to research into socks as a product.”
Even though their business is still operating in a “you call, we will deliver” environment, they have managed to sell their socks at a boutique in Braamfontein.
“But we are definitely hoping to open our own store soon,” said Prime.
Kaus Kulture’s business model depends on them creating a fashion buzz around the idea of socks and sock-wearing. They pride themselves in creating an appreciation for the small details in fashion culture.
Following rumors of “eviction” for Parktown Village Residents to expand parking space for Wits Business School, Wits University has responded.
PARKTOWN UNITED: All Res Council (ARC) Treasurer Tebogo Mothivhi singing along with the workers last week Thursday during their protest. Singing “uHabib kasoze ayithole le” the workers, were mainly concern with their jobs if the residence closes. Photo: Anelisa Tuswa
WITS Business School (WBS) has responded that a plan to turn a student residence into a parking lot it still just a “draft” though student leaders say the university has confirmed to them privately that the plan is to go ahead.
Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, Jane Balnaves, spokesperson for WBS, said the plan to close Parktown Village (PKV) residence is still a “drafted potential expansion plan.”
However, deputy chair of the All Residence Council (ARC), William Mokone, says the university has sent an official response to the SRC which confirms that the university is planning on closing Parktown village for WBS’ facilities, including a parking lot.
“The university has made it clear that, they will not stop the expansion on WBS into the village,” added Mokone. “But we have agreed, that they will not move any student before the end of the year.”
Students have raised concerns that the removal of Parktown Village Residence, a series of small houses that accommodates 150 students, will leave postgraduate students without affordable accommodation. PKV costs only R33 785 a year, which makes it the cheapest postgraduate residence. In comparison, West Campus Village costs R67 160 and Wits Junction costs R45 753 for shared rooms and R54 540 for singles.
The residence is also popular with medical students because of its longer, more flexible time tables accommodates the Wits Medical Schools’ schedule.
Gloria Phasha, a 5th year medical student and PKV resident, told Wits Vuvuzela that she has no idea where she would stay if not for PKV.
“Where are we supposed to go to next year? Junction is too expensive,” she said.
Last week Thursday residents of PKV staged a protest against the closure of the residence. They were joined by some cleaning staff and students from neighbouring residences. The group chanted “uHabib akasoze ayithole le” (Habib will never get this one), as they protested outside the WBS.
Makone says the concerns raised during the protest have been sent to the university and the university has promised “alternative accommodation of equal standard and pricing.”
However, Makone believes “that the university is either being naive or they are trying to just pacify us.”
The issue came to the ARC’s attention a month ago in a meeting with university management, which indicated that “at first they wanted only three houses.”
However, Makone said that two weeks ago the ARC was called to a meeting by Rob Sharman, the director of Campus Housing & Residence Life. According to Makone, he told the committee that “PKV is only going to have eight houses remaining … and the rest is going to be turned into a parking lot” Mokone said. The eight remaining houses will be turned into facilities for WBS.
Wits Vuvuzela contacted Sharman for comment but he is currently out of the country.
Pandelani Nekhumbe, chair of the PKV house committee, said the proposed closure was causing stress on residents.
“We cannot have villagers stressing and worrying at a time when exams are just a doorstep away.”
Dr Pamela Dube, the Dean of students has assured the students that the University will not further any plans without the interests of the students.
“The University is mindful of our responsibility around the accommodation needs of students, and have given an undertaking that we will not reduce, but rather increase beds” said Dube.
Student residents of Wits University residence, Parktown Village (PKV), staged a protest following an unofficial announcement that parts of the village will be sold to the Wits Business School to build more parking and office space.
CAMPAIGN CONVINCING: Project W’s Musawenkosi Makhelemele tried her best to convince two 2nd year Education students, Thapelo Seanego (left) and Frans Thoka (right) to vote for ProjectW at the elections held in Parktown last week. Photo: Riante Naidoo.
THE 2015 SRC elections started with a lot of cancellations and some near expulsions. However, despite the hitches leading up to the actual voting days Jabu Mashinini, Wits chief electoral officer said “the elections were vibrant and exciting but very peaceful.”
On August 18, the opening event of the campaign, an SRC debate, was cancelled when Wits EFF took over the stage chanting “NO SRC” resulting in a brawl. The fight led to the suspension of seven students, later overturned by a court order, as well as the disqualification of Wits EFF from the SRC campaign.
The expulsion of the Wits EFF is not the only hiccup that occurred during the campaign. Also impeding the candidates’ campaigning was the cancellation of residence circuses and the cancellation of the debates in the Great Hall, Main Campus and the Education Campus.
But according to Mashinini, the only struggle presented during the actual voting period was “removal of candidates’ posters.”
However, many candidates do not agree: “The elections were democratic, but rather not in the spirit of democracy” said Thamsanqa Pooe, a candidate from Project W.
Pooe believes that students didn’t have enough options “especially the strong left-wing”.
However, Floyd Nyalungu, a campaign manager for the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation, disagrees that Wits EFF should have been included saying it “would have been undemocratic, because they broke the rules.”
“Overall, the elections were democratic,” Nyalungu said.
Mashinini defended the cancellation of the circuses and debates, saying that it was the right of the Wits elections office to do so.
“Debates and circuses are platforms created at the discretion of the elections office to expose candidates to the student body,” explained Mashinini. “They are not mandatory”.
Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, Omhle Ntshingila, a Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) campaigner, said the cancellation of the residence campaign affected every political party because “people didn’t get a chance to interact with the students on a personal level.”
However, “for the PYA, it gave us a challenge of being strategic and more creative on the way that we campaigned and engaging with students,” said Ntshingila.
Kagiso Nkudimeng, a Wits student, told Wits Vuvuzela that he did not vote and he “will never vote because the SRC is just another wing of the university”.
“These political parties, just want to get into SRC and wear the blazers,” added Nkudimeng. “And not represent students.”
The Wits Accounting Student Council (ASC) handed over calculators and gave a few words of encouragement to disadvantaged learners in Zola, Soweto.
The Wits School of Accountancy Students Council (ASC) visited Kwadedangendlane High School in Zola, Soweto, earlier today to motivate learners to pursue accounting and mathematics.
FUTURE WITSIES: Grade 11 accounting students accepting calculators from ASC’s chairperson Sewela Makgolane and Social Development office Siphindile Gumede with Miss Magagula.
The students took the opportunity to hand over 40 calculators that will be used by the Grade 11 class at the school.
Siphindile Gumede, ASC’s social development officer, said the visit was to “encourage but also emphasise the importance of education to township learners”.
Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, the head of the commerce department in Kwadedangendlane High, Iris Magagula said “when it comes to commerce, we hardly get visitors”.
“I promise you, you are not betting on a losing horse” said Tom Mnisi, school principal.
According the Mnisi, “the learners in this school come from squatter camps around the area”. He added that “despite these circumstances, our matric pass rate has never been less than 80%”.
The ASC started collecting the calculators in May and are hoping to collect more before the year ends.
“The initial plan was to collect calculators from students, but we got companies like SAICA [South African Institute of Chartered Accountants] and LBOC Fund [Lets build our count] to sponsor us”, said Gumede.
“We hope those who become part of the council continue with the initiative and do more,” she said.
A group of Wits academic staff have signed a petition requesting the Wits vice chancellor to withdraw the suspension of seven Wits students and EFF members.
By the end of the day yesterday, over 35 signatures were added to a petition by Wits academic staff calling on the vice chancellor (VC), Professor Adam Habib, to reinstate seven suspended Wits students. The students were suspended last week as a result of their involvement in the disruption of a SRC election debate in the Great Hall.
Zimitri Erasmus, associate professor in Sociology, who started the petition, told Wits Vuvuzela that, “the most important part of the request is that the VC is more mindful about the ways he uses his power and authority”.
The petition indicated that while the group condemned the events of last week’s disruption, it was concerned with the way in which the disruptions were handled. “Given both the fragility of this moment at Wits, and the widespread perception that the VC’s response to student activism thus far has been repressive, a more peaceable or amicable approach on the part of the VC would be, in our view, more conducive to transformation and more supportive of cultivating a democratic ethos.”
In response, Habib said the academics who have signed the petition have every right to do so.
“However, I am surprised that they have chosen to take a public stance and to draw conclusions without having all the facts at their disposal,” he added.
Habib explained that he provided “further details of the threats and the actions with which Council Executive committee was confronted and explained why it was necessary to take the action that we did. The safety and security of our staff and students is paramount and the executive management and executive committee has taken the responsibility for this and acted accordingly”.
The Wits SRC honoured women on campus through a series of events under the campaign ‘pretty is last on my list’ this past week.
Something for the sisters: Maziya Sibeko, Jason Erasmus and Abby Molema do their street dance for the SRC talent show. Photo: Anelisa Tuswa
The Wits SRC (Student Representative Council), hosted a week full of events titled ‘Pretty is last on my list’ to the empowerment of women. From a battle of the sexes competition to an outdoor talent show, the week brought out the talent in Witsies.
Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, Blaise Koetsie, the SRC projects, media and campaigns officer said this week (17-21 August) is dedicated to breaking stereotypes and showcasing that “there’s more to women than their exterior.”
“We also want to get men in our society to celebrate women beyond their bodies and faces,” said Koetsie.
One of the objectives of this campaign was to give women different platforms to express themselves.
The launch kicked off on Monday with a variety of mental and physical games between men and women.
“That was just a minor way to show that we are equals,” added Koetsie.
Tuesday’s programme included an outdoor talent show where students performed poetry, danced and sang.
One of the performances included Thandiwe Lerato Sekhibane’s, contemporary dance piece called The costume doesn’t fit, which was dedicated to full-figured women.
Sekhibane told Wits Vuvuzela that said she hasn’t performed since her matric year (2008) and that this was her “return”.
Her performance was meant to “express the struggles” a young woman in performance and academia goes through. She is not only a dancer, but also masters student in Science Education.
“The expectations that people have of you are ridiculous,” said Sekhibane. “Things like you must be small, you must fit a particular genre, or you can’t dance if you are this size.”
Chaanice Lee, 1st year BA, sang Pretty hurts by Beyonce. Her performance was dedicated to women who struggle due to “beauty standards” set by society.
“I feel like I’m one of those girls that are not pretty or beautiful enough even though we try.”
The ‘pretty is last on my list’ week also hosted the Silent Protest against sexual abuse and violence on Wednesday.
The 14th annual Ruth First Memorial Lecture stirred up some heated discussion on racism in post-1994 South Africa.
RACE TALK: From left, Eusebius McKaiser moderates a debate about race with Panashe Chigumadzi, middle, and Sisonke Msimang at the 2015 Ruth First Memorial Lecture at Wits University tonight. Photo: Samantha Camara
Frank, and often hard-hitting, observations and commentary characterised the 2015 Ruth First Memorial Lecture as Panashe Chigumadzi and Sisonke Msimang tackled the issue of race in South Africa.
Speaking to an audience of close to a thousand in the Wits Great Hall earlier this evening, Chigumadzi and Msimang, the two Ruth First fellows, reflected on their research around the theme: “Race: Lived Experiences and Contemporary Conversations”.
Chigumadzi, 23, the founder and editor of Vanguard Magazine, presented her work which explored the concept of a “coconut”.
“Coconut experiences are not new,” added Chigumadzi, “Tiyo Soga (a South African journalist and minister from the 1800s), might have been the first black coconut.” In unpacking the term, Chigumadzi said a “coconut” is an “experience of socialisation which leads to a knowledge of white grammar.”
[READ Chigumadzi’s full address]
Despite the many negative connotations attached to the term, Chigumadzi believes “coconuts” can achieve black consciousness.
For Chigumadzi, also a Wits postgraduate student, the language of black consciousness and critical race theory helps to empower “coconuts” to speak back to racism.
“Coconuts” have not been coopted as a white buffer but are joining the Black working class in struggle against racism, she explained.
Presenting her research on “interracial friendships”, Msimang choose the mechanism of performance to deliver her findings. In collaboration with celebrated artist Lebo Mashile, Msimang reflected on the nuances of race relations in South Africa.
Incorporating racialised headline news stories such as Rian Malan’s admission to sex with a domestic worker to the incident of “black face” at the University of Pretoria, the entertaining performance probed the serious topic of “interracial friendships.”
[READ Msimang’s full address]
Their piece ended on a less than promising note with the conclusion, “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”.
A discussion, moderated by political commentator and author, Eusebius McKaiser, saw a number of mixed responses and questions from the audience. One person questioned why the event was named after Ruth First and not Robert Sobukwe. Another criticised the speakers, asking how long were they planning to be “victims”. Several audience members recounted their own experiences of Blackness and their difficulties in negotiating the issue of race in South Africa.
The event, commemorating the life of journalist and activist Ruth First, who was killed by a letter bomb on this day in 1982, opened with an address by a scholar from Jeppe High School which First attended as a child. Susan Mahingaidze paid tribute to First and acknowledged her contribution to South Africa. “Words cannot describe what a remarkable woman she was,” said Mahingaidze.
[VIEW a Facebook album of photographs from the event]
In celebrating International Youth Day, the United Nation’s Population Fund helped 7 young Southern African artists to launched a hip-hop album, as part of the Safeguard Young People Program.
MESSAGE DELIVERED: as the audience set down, listening to the messages delivered by through Hip Hop. Photo: Anelisa Tuswa
Over 500 hundred young people, from across the East and Southern African regions gathered at the Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg earlier today to observe International Youth Day.
The gathering was also used to launch a hip-hop album called “We Will”, a collaboration by 7 young talents representing Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
KrTc, an artist from Swaziland, contributed the song “Jack and Jill”, to the album.
Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela about his influences in writing the song, KrTc said, “I took a story that we are all familiar with, to tell the importance of love and commitment in fighting HIV”.
Zeus, an artist from Botswana described the album as ‘a revisit to hip-hop to real hip-hop.’
According Zues, hip-hop has been “hijacked, its representation today is not what it used to be”.
“Hip-hop is about the community,” added Zeus, it is “not about sex and drugs”.
Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, the East and Southern African regional officer of the UNFPA, Dr Asha Mohamud, said that these young artists were advocating for change.
“This is their contribution to society through their time and talents,” said Mohamud.
“Every young person here today is advocating for an increase in investment on young people or youth development by their governments,” she added.
This year’s International Youth Day theme is “Youth Civic Engagement”. The theme is consistent with the UN’a focus on the youth as key to sustainable development.