SLICE OF LIFE: The unpaid internship nightmare


A couple of weeks ago while lazily going through my Twitter feed, I saw Marie Claire magazine trending. Curious, I checked what the furore was about. What was circulating was a screen grab showing an advert for a 6-month internship at the magazine’s online platform. The intern would be required to work eight hours a day, five days a week. All for a stipend of R30 per day.

From Nyanga East, where I grew up, a return trip to Gardens (where Marie Claire and a number of media and advertising companies are situated) using public transport can cost up to R50. And considering Cape Town’s spatial make-up, the further away from the city, the poorer the neighbourhoods, and the more expensive it becomes to get to the city centre.

“the structural, spatial and economic layout of South African society has remained largely unchanged since 1994”

Not so long ago, Marie Claire’s sister magazine, Cosmopolitan, was also under fire for advertising an unpaid internship where the intern was required to have a driver’s licence, own transport, and to  work fulltime plus overtime. The Marie Claire advert prompted a long conversation with a friend about the growing trend of unpaid and low paying worldwide. We came to the conclusion that given
the historical context of South Africa, one of dispossession and disenfranchisement for the black majority, such ‘opportunities’ are part of a larger system of exclusion; of privileging the privileged, and marginalising the marginalised.


The current South African reality is such that the structural, spatial and economic layout of South African society has remained largely unchanged since 1994. Meaning that the face of poverty is still black. So for the majority of black people in this country who don’t have access to personal vehicles, who live far from workplaces, the idea of being paid a stipend as little as R600 a month is a clear tool to exclude them.

My friend and I shared our experiences of  how hard it was to try and make a living within the media space. I shared my experiences of how, even though I had the option to extend it, I had to quit my first magazine internship because I couldn’t afford to not get any income for another three months. That being an unpaid intern meant lunch hours with no lunch and trips home dragging because of the unbearable hunger pains.

My second internship paid R2,000 per month, but because I had to take a bus and a train to get to and from work, all my money went to transport. And when I received another internship in Johannesburg my family had to get into debt because I had to relocate and find accommodation, while I was getting paid R1,000 more than the previous internship. I felt like crying every time I had to pay rent, because afterwards I knew that the coming weeks would be bleak.

One is aware that newsrooms are currently running on paper-thin budgets, but surely employers have a social responsibility not to perpetuate inequality in work spaces? Is getting ‘exposure’, ‘mentoring’ and ‘experience’ – as Marie Claire said when justifying the R30 stipend  – enough, when the ‘opportunity’ only benefits a privileged few?

Shine bright like a diamond

WALKING THE CATWALK: Masego Maponyane doing what he does best.

WALKING THE CATWALK: Masego Maponyane doing what he does best. Photo: Provided

Mesego Maponyane, son of Marks Maponyane, completed his Media Studies degree at Wits only last year, yet has already been featured on Top Billing and named Cosmopolitan’s sexiest man, and is set on making his mark as a media personality.

Fondly known to other Witsies as Maps, he now lives in the mother city and is known for his modelling and television presenting. He is working as a creative director on a new men’s wear suit range, Augustine, leading the design team within local clothing brand.

“It’s quite a step for me, but I’m excited to see what we can come up with.”

He also has plans to move back to Johannesburg to shoot a movie. But he said he was “unable to release any information about the movie at this moment.”

He has written columns for GQ, Glamour and advice pieces for Cosmo. His latest piece for Cosmo appears in the May issue under the headline The Big Question – about the “romance boundary” for men. He has also acted in art films and appeared in TV commercials.

Maponyane studied English, French, Media Studies and International Human Rights. “I enjoyed it very much because it was all academically orientated and that made it easier to work and study at the same time.”

He came from humble beginnings in Protea North, Soweto, where he lived until the age of four. His family later moved to Naturena in Johannesburg south. He attended St John’s College and King Edward Preparatory School.

“My parents taught me to earn everything I desired in life … I was very fortunate that they sacrificed a lot to send me to two great schools.”

[pullquote align=”right”]“Challenge yourself, take few risks. Work out what you want, put in the hours, gain experience by being persistent and applying yourself, then make things happen.”[/pullquote]

Maponyane attributed the kind of person he is to his upbringing and the morals and values his parents instilled in him. “My parents were always hardworking, savvy and very supportive.”

Asked about his five year plan, he said he liked to “make plans by setting up a list of goals”, which could be achieved in a certain amount of time.

“It’s key to keeping me focused and preventing my head from getting lost in the clouds by delusions of looming grandeur.”

Ever the proud Witsie, Maponyane has kept up with campus news. He shared his opinion on the sexual harassment issue,

“This is something that has occurred behind closed doors in institutions for decades … it is a bit of a surprise and somewhat of a let-down when it’s happening right under your nose with staff that you trust.”

Some of the things Maponyane enjoys best are travelling, writing, playing sport to keep fit, cooking and spending time with friends. He is also a keen fashion enthusiast and readily shares advice for men and women. He had these tips for Wits Vuvuzela:

“Don’t limit yourself on having set outfits or you will end getting bored of your clothes … Mix and match your clothes and wear your clothes with confidence and dress for your body type.”

And a final message for Witsies: “Challenge yourself, take few risks. Work out what you want, put in the hours, gain experience by being persistent and applying yourself, then make things happen.”

Related links:

Wits Vuvuzela May 17, 2013 Sex scandals scar

Wits Vuvuzela April 19, 2013 Sex accused kicked off campus

Wits Vuvuzela March 15, 2013 Media studies tackles sexual harassment allegations