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The Mediated Town Halls of the Eastern Cape (Connections 2016)

The eight-page article, “The Mediated Town Halls of the Eastern Cape” by Rod Amner was published in Kettering Foundation‘s 2016 edition of their annual newsletter, Connections – Kettering’s Multinational Research. In the fourth article of the newsletter, Amner discusses the ways in which public engagement has been transforming in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, focusing on the ways in which journalism outlets have facilitated engagement spaces with the community to better amplify the voices of the people. Below is an excerpt from the article and Connections 2016 is available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

From the article…

The town hall meeting is a simple, old-fashioned idea: an informal public space in which community members come together to discuss issues, to voice opinions, or to engage with public figures.

But, despite 22 years of democracy, it is a relative rarity in South Africa.

So, it is significant that in recent years, a number of “legacy” and “emerging” community news organizations in the Eastern Cape province of the country have hosted scores of town hall meetings in a range of formats, all ostensibly aimed at re-engineering in some way relationships with and between the people they formerly knew as their audiences.

It is also surprising because the Eastern Cape does not immediately suggest itself as a promising incubator of journalistic, civic, or any other kind of innovation. It is South Africa’s poorest province—beset with stagnating industries in the urban areas and the frustrating persistence of sub-subsistence agriculture in most of the countryside. Just 26 percent of its citizens have jobs, and its schools produce the worst educational outcomes in the country— and by most benchmarks, the entire world.

On the other hand, despite its apparent marginality, this province has always been an important fulcrum of South African politics. It is a traditional stronghold of the African National Congress (ANC), producing the bulk of its struggle icons (Mandela, Tambo, Biko, and Hani) and nurturing decades of peaceful, mass-based protest.

So, when the hitherto unassailable ANC lost political control of Nelson Mandela Bay (formerly Port Elizabeth) to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in the August 3, 2016, local government elections, the resulting shock waves convulsed the region’s post-apartheid political landscape.

But, many of the region’s journalists were not shocked. Mainstream media houses like Nelson Mandela Bay’s Eastern Province Herald and Buffalo City’s Daily Dispatch, along with community outlets like Grahamstown’s Grocott’s Mail, Skawara News in the rural hamlet of Cofimvaba, and radio stations like ZQKM, had for years been convening public platforms for engaging citizens in political discourse. Many of their journalists had therefore been in unusually close and deep dialogue with local citizens and communities and had seen the writing on the wall. The Kettering Foundation has a longstanding interest in how journalists go about the work of reporting in a way that encourages greater citizen engagement in the democratic politics of a given community. The examples in this article reveal how journalism practice and community agency can be transformed by a citizen-centered approach to reporting.

This is just an excerpt, you can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2016 issue of Connections, edited by KF program officer and senior writer/editor Melinda Gilmore; KF senior associate Philip Stewart; and KF vice president, secretary, and general counsel Maxine Thomas, focuses on our year-long review of our multinational research.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/periodical-article/Amner-Connections-2016.pdf

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