A status update is a status upgrade

Facebook is seen as a social medium for the university “elite” by young South Africans who can’t find work and are not studying.

This is according to a paper presented at a media conference on campus earlier this week.

Wits hosted over 70 international media scholars at Beyond Normative Approaches: Everyday Media Culture in Africa to share and debate their studies on how different people in Africa interact with different kinds of media.

Facebook was seen as a social network of higher status than Mxit by young people who are unemployed and do not attend university.

These are the findings of Marion Walton from the University of Cape Town, Milagros Rivera and TT Sreekumar from the National University of Singapore, who studied 18 to 21-year-old youths in Khayelitsha.

To these youths, the platform used to communicate with their friends can say much about their status and success, or failure.

One person said she closed her Facebook account when she wasn’t accepted for university. Another said: “I won’t get on Facebook because I don’t wear Carvela or I do not attend UCT.”

Despite being unemployed, these young people use mobile phones to create opportunities for themselves or as distractions from the realities of life.

Some run illegal businesses or “hustle” using their phones. Others chat on Mxit until the early hours of the morning instead of going to shebeens.

Mxit was also shown to bridge cultural divides between the apartheid definitions of “coloured” and “black African” in the Eastern Cape.

Mxit constructs “new hybrid ways of being which allow one to ‘live both cultures’, or to be ‘Mix’,” according to Alette Schoon from Rhodes University.

Unemployed and uneducated youth face the problem of expensive bandwidth associated with Facebook and Twitter, and regard the media as selfish for saying “follow us on Twitter” or “talk to us on Facebook”.

But university students and graduates, despite having relatively easy access to media and information, do not necessarily participate in the public sphere.

This was the conclusion of a study by Tamsin van Tonder, from the University of Johannesburg.

The internet allows for active debate around issues that could influence governance. But she found that more than half of 18 to 35-year-olds in Johannesburg seldom or never engage in debate via tweets, blogs, Facebook posts, or comments sections.

Adapt or die

Preventing climate change is no longer the issue – we must adapt to it.

 This was the message of photojournalist Jeffrey Barbee at the screening of his documentary Creating a Climate of Change at the Wits Origins Centre on Tuesday.

 Barbee’s film shows real-world examples of how southern African rural communities have adapted to variable rainfall and arid soil caused by climate change.

 Barbee, who studied climatology as a young researcher, said huge issues in Africa, like AIDS and starvation, were compounded by climate change. Climate change adaptations, like conservation farming and the restoration of ecosystems, provided jobs, food and tourism revenue for communities.

 Conservation farming makes the best use of resources in a variable climate.

 Barbee said that when people watched the film they should think: “Ah, we can do something. If they [African communities] can do it, so can we.”

 He hopes his film will reach as many people as possible, but said he needed funding to bring it to poorer communities without internet access.

 Although this documentary focuses on rural adaptations, his next documentary would present urban solutions. Barbee believed conservation farming could be applied on a commercial scale, based on his experience of a Zambian project.

“We all need to be part of the solution,” he said.

 He concurred with scientist Francois Engelbrecht that climate change would definitely happen.  

 Engelbrecht, an atmospheric modeller at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), told the audience the reliance of the world’s economy on fossil fuels had committed us to climate change. Even if greenhouse gas emissions were kept at a level that limited global temperatures to a 2˚C rise in the next century, southern Africa’s temperatures would still rise by 4˚C.

The greenhouse effect caused more high pressure systems (associated with the clear skies in winter), which in turn caused less rain to fall and higher surface temperatures.

Wits’ Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute was recently established to research “adaptation and innovation in the rapidly changing southern African region”. Climate change is a major cause of these changes.

The documentary can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/user/jefftube4view?feature=watch.