On Wednesday this past week, the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research kicked off its year with a conversation regarding the role female student journalists played in the protest. The talk was titled “Inter sectional writing in times of protest: Conversations with young woman journalists”
Four young, black, female journalists shared their experiences of the 2015 Fees Must Fall protests at a seminar hosted by Wiser (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research) on the Wits main campus on Wednesday evening.
Pontsho Pilane, a former Daily Vox journalist, Daily Vox’s Aisha Dadi Patel together with Wits Vuvuzela’s Michelle Gumede and Zimasa Mpemnyama spoke to a packed audience about the tensions between their role as journalists and their personal identities as black women and students.
While their stories of the protests were all different, their identities as young Black women had opened them up to a variety of challenging experiences.
“I have been liberated by conversations around confronting privilege, especially patriarchy and I also faced sexism and intimidation that occurred in my belief, because I am a Muslim woman,” said Dadi Patel.
Gumede said she that while she did not experience sexism at the hands of the #FeesMustFall men , she felt that violence and discrimination came from the outside the movement and in particular from the police/law enforcement personnel at Wits. Gumede added that she felt a tension between her job as a journalist and her identity as a student.
“I experienced the #FeesMustFall movement as a Black female student journalist, the ways in which I experienced the movement were peculiar, as many a time I felt like I had to choose between being a student and a journalist”, she said.
Discussant and editor of the Daily Vox, Khadija Patel explained how she believed that activism and journalism could co-exist, regardless of what traditional journalism teaches. “There are traditional journalists who will say absolutely you cannot be an activist and a journalist … at the Daily Vox, what we tried to do was seek a new journalism. Early on we had an editorial spelling out our stance on the fees movement … so that helped our journalists reconcile the contradiction they faced,” Patel said.
Audience remarks reflected on the impact some Black journalists who worked in the apartheid era had had on these young journalists and how they possibly identified with them, to whether they were able to, in their writing, create parallels between other protest situations and the #FeesMustFall movement in South Africa.
The panel was chaired by the Media Studies department’s Dr Nicky Falkof who explained the point of the discussion in her opening remarks: “What we wanted to do [with this debate] was we wanted to bring together the intellectual capital, that a space like WISER inherently has with the really vital, vibrant, significant political discussions that are happening among the student body at Wits”.