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?

Q&A with Aspasia Karras

Aspasia Karras, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire South Africa.

Aspasia Karras, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire South Africa. Photo: Facebook

Aspasia Karras is the editor-in-chief of Marie Claire. Wits Vuvuzela spoke to Karras about this months “Naked Edition” of Marie Claire which is a yearly publication whose proceeds are donated to charity.

What are some of the difficulties that come with being an editor for a monthly women’s publication?
I wouldn’t say difficulties. Because it’s a monthly publication, what you put in the magazine has to be carefully considered, edited and curated. As media we are very fortunate because when you curate a brand like Marie Claire you have a website and Twitter that allow us to communicate things all the time for our readers which gives them a 24/7 experience of what’s happening and that can keep us very busy.

What are the origins behind the “Naked Issue” of Marie Claire?
The “Naked Issue” was started nine years ago. At the time doing a naked edition of a magazine was pretty dramatic stuff. I mean now you see celebrities like Helena Bonham Carter naked with a fish. This shows that naked has become a popular means of drawing attention to a particular cause. And that was the idea with the naked edition then and it still is the focus now.

What charity was used for this year’s edition and why?
This year’s campaign was for Blow the Whistle and it draws attention to, essentially, the terrible plague of violence that affects women and children in this country. So we felt that working with Blow the Whistle and getting amazing celebrities with real calibre and integrity to pose in the most vulnerable way really associated themselves with the victims. When you pose naked you are exposed and exposed to the entire nation. You become vulnerable like the victims.

Were you aiming for the same kind of response as last year’s #BoityReaction?
We haven’t had the Boity affect this year. The reason behind this is the seriousness of the campaign. I feel this year people have actually just understood what it was for and so we’re also celebrating this edition as well. The other thing that was moving about this year’s edition is the men who participated. They really exposed themselves and it’s a very brave act. They’ve really embraced the campaign.

Witsie’s naked cause

By Tendai Dube & Palesa Vuyolwethu Tshandu

Thomas Revington is an indie-rocker and resident Witsie who forms part of the band Shortstraw, was recently featured in Marie Claire’s annual naked issue using his derriere for the betterment of humanity.

This year Marie Claire's naked issue has caused a bit of a stir on social media and led to the issue flying off the stands in no time. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

This year Marie Claire’s naked issue has caused a bit of a stir on social media and led to the issue flying off the stands in no time.                  Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Marie Claire brought together 36 South African celebrities, to raise funds for the non-governmental organisation (NGO) the Lunch-Box Fund. This year’s naked issue comprises a spread of celebrities whose naked bodies have become a talking-point on social media.

Actress and TV presenter Boity Thulo has been trending on Twitter all week because of her risqué pose. The celebrity’s naked frame brought about the most entertaining reactions under the hashtag #BoityReaction.

Wits University has also claimed its stake in the issue,  having one of their own baring it all in the name of a good cause.

Revington holds a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts degree from Wits and is also a guitarist. He and his band were approached by Marie Claire after performing at their trunk show last year.

After grudgingly accepting to feature in the naked issue, Revington attributed the charitable impacts as the primary reasons for agreeing to do the shoot.

“At first we were all a bit hesitant, but we got into it. Tons of awkward laughs,” the guitarist said about being naked with his band mates and other celebrities.

Now that the magazine is in store, we imagine fellow students will have a lot to say regarding their fellow peer’s good deed.

Revington foresees ‘lols’ from his friends but the musician doesn’t think it will be  awkward, “I’m still Jenny from the block,” he joked.