Lecturers Present at artSPACE Seminar


Last Friday, Academic Leader in the School of Arts, Dr Nicola Jones, and PhD student and contract lecturer from Media & Cultural Studies, Ms Sandra Pitcher, were invited to present their ideas surrounding the future of social media at a seminar hosted by artSPACE Durban.  The seminar, entitled “Looking Forward: Our Lives in 2034”, brought together academics from various disciplines from across South Africa to discuss changing social, cultural and technological trends that could emerge in the coming future.

Dr Jones led the discussion and began by looking at the importance of free speech and gossip in the development of culture.  The discussion then went on to highlight the role of social media in this development and the impact that it may have on individuals’ responses to future events.

However, the most interesting aspect of their presentation was the idea that those policies which attempt to govern social media are outdated and require careful re-consideration to protect both the individual and the power of a shared online community.

Pitcher remarked that, currently, policy is too in favour of Western ideals and the wants of large capitalists, while Jones emphasised the benefits of creating a platform in which anyone has the ability to contribute.  It was acknowledged that social media is still in its infancy, but both Jones and Pitcher agreed that as the medium develops, the more important it will become in social discussions and global culture.

The seminar aimed to inspire local artists in preparation for their exhibition, “Looking Forward: Our Lives in 2034”, curated by artSPACE and hosted by Gallery 4 in August.






MECS Graduate Awarded MFA

Mlondolozi Zondi

Mlondolozi Zondi

Media and Cultural Studies alumnus, Mlondolozi Zondi, has recently been awarded a Master of Fine Art (MFA) from the University of California, Irvine in the United States. Zondi, who graduated with a BA degree specialising in Media and Cultural Studies and Drama in 2007 from UKZN, was awarded a Fulbright scholarship, in recognition of his creative talent, to study as a MFA candidate in dance at the Claire Trevor School of Arts at the University of California, Irvine in 2012.  The School of Arts, which was founded by Academy Award winner Claire Trevor, is recognised by Times Higher Education as the top, less than 50 year old, university in the United States.

Since joining the School in 2012, Zondi, who describes himself as a choreographer and performance activist in his online CV, was commissioned by the acclaimed Laguna Beach Art Museum to create a piece entitled Ceremonious for its annual dance festival in 2013.  Other work he has completed while in the United States includes choreographing In-Mate, a dark apocalyptic themed piece, which premiered at the Claire Trevor New Slate exhibition, and was described “as an unforgettable work of art“.

This work has been complimented by several other creative pieces, produced both individually and in collaboration with South Africa’s Flatfoot Dance Company since 2007.

Zondi performing at UCI Dance Escape 2013.

Zondi performing at UCI Dance Escape 2013.





Honours Class Attends Nat Nasaka Reading


Learning how to use a typewriter.

Honours students outside the exhibition.

Honours students outside the exhibition.

On Thursday 15 May, the MECS Honours journalism class visited the Old Courthouse Museum in Durban to listen to a reading and the history of apartheid journalist Nat Nakasa.  The trip, which included a tour of the Museum’s Nat Nakasa exhibition, demonstrated to students the hardships experienced by black journalists during the apartheid era and gave them the opportunity to read some of Nakasa’s most famous pieces. In addition, they were shown and given the opportunity to use the type of equipment used by journalists during the 1960s.

Some of the most shocking articles that students were confronted with dealt with issues of race.  Many were outraged by the realities of the apartheid system and remarked how thankful they were that South Africa ‘had woken up to its absurdities’.

Students reading about Nakasa's work.

Students reading about Nakasa’s work.

After the reading, the Honours class were given the opportunity to partake in the production of a music video on the Durban beachfront.  The video, which is a South African version of Pharrell’s hit Happy, gave students the opportunity to learn directing, acting and in-field editing. While some students were hesitant to appear in front of the camera, they were all happy direct those who were.


Checking playback and discussing direction.

After a full day, and with some students having never visited the beach before, the class decided to end their day with a quick lunch at Moyo’s to sum up what they had learnt and enjoy the fantastic Durban winter sunshine.


The whole class after a long day in the field.

MECS Students Graduate with Most Distinctions

Masters graduate Genevieve Phillips and her supervisor Prof Anton van der Hoven.

Masters graduate Genevieve Phillips and her supervisor Prof Anton van der Hoven.

On Monday 14 April, the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s College of Humanities, Pietermaritzburg, held their graduation ceremony at the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds.  The Department of Media and Cultural Studies was well represented with two Master’s, seven Honours and 54 Bachelor degrees awarded to their students.  However, the Department can also boast as having the most students in the College graduate with distinctions.

Ms Sarah Dawson was the only MA graduate in the School of Arts to qualify cum laude for her dissertation entitled Capturing ghosts and making them speak: Genre and the Asian horror film remake, and whose examiners described “the experience of writing (and reading) this dissertation […] an intriguing memory in an ongoing game that, although playful, also never ceases to be serious”.

In addition, Ms Tracy Webb was the only student to graduate summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Social Science in Pietermaritzburg, who, along with other students from Media and Cultural Studies, made up 66% of the distinctions in the School of Social Science Bachelor’s degree programme.  In the School of Arts, four out of the seven distinctions awarded for Bachelor Degrees were awarded to Media and Cultural Studies students.

Honours graduates Stephanie Sheik and Nikolai Pillay.

Honours graduates Stephanie Sheik and Nikolai Pillay.

When asked why students in the Department were successful, Ms Mellisa Muchena, who graduated cum laude with her Bachelor of Social Science degree, said that Media is a difficult subject, so it pushes you to do well and that overflows into your other subjects as well.

Lecturer in the Department, Ms Sandra Pitcher, said that these results were just reward for students, but more importantly, demonstrated the dedication of a small department to see their students succeed and compete with other larger departments around the country.

This success has translated into large postgraduate numbers, with more than 38% of the Department’s graduates returning to do Honours in 2014.



MECS Journalism Class Hosts Managing Editor

Michelle Atagana

Michelle Atagana

On Thursday 3 April, the Media & Cultural Studies Honours Journalism class were treated to a guest-seminar by one of South Africa’s leading online journalists, Michelle Atagana.  Atagana, who in 2012, was voted as one of the Mail & Guardian’s top 200 South Africans under-35 to watch, is the managing editor for South Africa’s largest technology-driven news site Memeburn.com.

Now at 27, Atagana has also helped launch the gaming news site Gearburn.com, and a news site for start-up companies Ventureburn.com.  She also appears regularly on numerous television shows and at global technology conferences as an industry expert.

As an alumnus of UKZN, who has returned to complete her PhD on the ‘twitterisation’ of news, under the Media Department’s head of journalism and Cluster Leader for the School of Arts, Dr Nicola Jones, Atagana took time out of her busy schedule to ‘give back’ to the department that helped launch her career.

Students were given an opportunity to understand how their degrees would translate into industry, and more importantly, how vital social media has become in the success of any business.  Atagana spoke at length about one of South Africa’s leading retailers and how their successful management of social media has helped build a stronger community with their customers.


Michelle Atagana speaking to members of the MECS journalism Honours class.

After the seminar, students were excited and re-invigorated for the year ahead as they realised that a degree in Media & Cultural Studies opened up various possibilities for them in the business world; especially due the practical skills taught in Honours in relation to social media and web design.  The Media Department hopes that this will not be Atagana’s last seminar, and that once she has begun working on her PhD will be able to return and educate students on social media and journalism further.

Media Department Says Goodbye to Film Expert

Film lecturer Mike Hatton

Film lecturer Mike Hatton

On Thursday last week, the Media & Cultural Studies department said its official goodbye to film lecturer Mike Hatton.  After teaching film at UKZN for more than 8 years, Hatton will be leaving South Africa for the South Korean island of Jeju to teach English. Hatton who graduated from the New York Film School in 1999, and then from UKZN in 2005 with an Honours degree in film and media, has been an inspiration and mentor to many young aspiring filmmakers who have dedicated their university degrees to filmmaking.  Many of these students have gone on to win many prestigious film awards around South Africa, including the MNet EDIT award.

Unfortunately, due to budgetary cut-backs student numbers have fallen and Hatton has decided  it best to move on, and share his teaching experience in South Korea. At his farewell, Dr Nicola Jones, Academic Cluster Leader for Media, Creative Arts and Drama, along with retired Professor Anton van der Hoven, paid tribute to the work that Hatton had done for the department over the past 8 years.  Lecturer Subeshini Moodley highlighted his dedication as a teacher who was always willing to help a student in need, even if it meant taking 2am phone calls to help with late-night technical problems.  Hatton thanked the department and said that he wished to leave UKZN with positive memories and remember the friends that he had made during his time here.

When hearing of Hatton’s departure, past student, Michelle Atagana, remarked that Hatton’s “attention to detail and character exploration helped [her] craft [her] storytelling skills; skills [she] still use[s] today” as managing editor of Memeburn.com. Other students have expressed sadness, stating that it is a great loss for the department, especially for those who will never get the opportunity to be taught by such a passionate film expert.

The department wishes Hatton well and hopes that he will return soon with even more experience to help young South African filmmakers.

Of Hazard and Safety

This is the latest article written by Professor Keyan Tomaselli for his column UKZN Griot. We’d like to thank Professor Tomaselli for allowing us to re-publish his work. Hope you enjoy!


A law derived by one of my students who started his degree studies at the age of 36, after working as an electrician on the mines, goes something like this: “The likelihood of a disaster occurring increases in proportion to the educational level of management.” In other words, disaster is likely to strike when the professionally certificated and managers refuse to listen to the workers on safety issues.

The Tongaat mall labourers knew this. They knew that building codes were being violated. They anticipated disaster. The disaster happened. The contractor had taken short cuts and removed scaffolding before the concrete had set. The city council had tried to stop the illegal building. It lacked the necessary teeth. Labourers’ lives were at stake and some paid the price. The owners who did not seek building permission are “sorry” for the death and injuries caused. They assured the council that the contractor had guaranteed safety. And, as the press soon revealed, the mall developer had his fingers in many municipal and other tills.

This story that broke in late November last year goes to the heart of how people make sense. When the good sense of workers when it comes to safety issues is ignored – as has always been the norm in South Africa –the price can be high. This is the case in the minibus taxi and trucking industries where some owners force their drivers to endanger millions every day to save costs and time. Just look at the stats for Field’s Hill.

The mall collapse reminded me of Shepperson Law. Arnold Shepperson had warned mine management for many months in the early 1980s that a switching gear on a mine shaft was faulty, that when it failed that people would get killed. He was ignored, belittled and told to mind his own business; he was not a qualified engineer, and didn’t even have a diploma. Eventually, the inevitable happened and eight miners were killed. That the union lost the court case – despite his testimony – further eroded Shepperson’s confidence in the value of education, this time in relation to the judiciary. So Shepperson decided to enter the belly of the beast – the educational institution – to find out what ails it.

Arnold registered for electrical engineering. His worst fears were realised. The curriculum, he said, was idealised, and in his view did not address the kinds of daily problems that workers face both above and underground. So he shifted to English and Philosophy. Perhaps via these disciplines he might be able to make sense of how certified professionals make sense, and of why they can’t see the wood for the trees. But sometimes they can: the engineers’ warning to NASA management of a seal flaw went unheeded and in 1986 the Challenger shuttle was launched against their advice – only to explode 73 second later, killing all astronauts on board.

In Philosophy Shepperson bumped up against logical positivism. In English he learned about how literature shaped the Anglo-Saxon world view of culture, problem solving and how the world is interpreted. Neither explained his lived experiences on the mines. So, he ended up doing cultural studies in his search for a theory to explain the ideas of hazard and safety and how to develop strategies to deal with these. He soon realised that the central mechanism is that of ‘power’. In the case of the mall it was the power of the owners and the contractor to ignore the law, to pull on political networks, and to dismiss hazard (‘we know best, because we have decision-making power, the expertise and the educational certificates to prove it; we know better than the council’s building inspectors, and in any case neither they nor legal injunctions can stop us’).

In the case of the mine incident, Shepperson, who was already reading Immanuel Kant’s Philosophy of Reason at the coalface, was ignored because his reading habits identified him as “learned”, and because he did not have any electrical engineering certificates. All he had was on-site experience, clearly muddled by reading also Heidegger and Wittgenstein. Like with the mall labourers, the (ill-educated) but certified supervisors and managers dismissed him as a crank. In both cases people died and were injured. In these circumstances, knowledge is not power. It is a burden because the workers know that the managers are putting their lives in danger. It is a double bind because the workers need their jobs. Shepperson’s academic motivation until his premature death was the study of the semiotics of hazard. He raised funds from the Safety In Mining Research Council (SIMRAC) to pursue his PhD. He delved into historical discussions of culture, literature and applied semiotics (the study of meaning-making) to make sense of how the mining industry and the legal system made sense of hazard. How does culture and ideology blind one to the real material world where concrete slabs collapse, lifts crash, runaway trucks cause massacres and space shuttles explode? Why is what is so blindly obvious to uneducated and uncertified victims of hazard so opaque to better educated supervisors, managers and owners? The workers in these instances were not blinded by power, ideology and output imperatives but by the culture of fear – fear for their safety and fear for their jobs, and fear for loss of self-esteem. The owners who are responsible for crashes on Field’s Hill and mining and construction disasters fear little, as they have expensive lawyers who will protect them. In the political realm they have tame doctors in tow who will diagnose them as terminal and let them out of jail, when they will resume their former golfing ways.

I sometimes feel the same away about the academy and its neoliberal instrumentalism, managerialism and commodification. Those at the material class-face (we no longer use chalk) know what’s coming. And it ain’t pretty, no matter our educational qualifications. Anyone for golf? The range is adjacent to the Old Mutual Sports Hall.

Keyan G Tomaselli is still employed at UKZN. This column is dedicated to the memory of Arnold Shepperson as was a special issue of Critical Arts (2008) on the topic of philosophy, logic and mining safety.

– The views expressed in this column are the author’s own.

MECS Student to Attend Top Journalism School

MECS student, Riante Naidoo.

MECS student, Riante Naidoo.

For the first semester of 2014, Media and Cultural Studies (MECS) student, Riante Naidoo will be embarking on an overseas exchange at Drake University in the United States.  Ranked as one of the top ten mid-sized universities in America by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Drake University boasts one of the most prestigious journalism programmes in the world.  

Naidoo, an aspiring journalist herself, remarked that while MECS had given her the necessary critical and theoretical tools for a career in journalism, Drake had the facilities to extend that knowledge with more practical experience.  “The modules I intend to do require me to work a certain number of hours at Drake’s campus magazine [and] there is also a training course held at their on-campus radio station”, said Naidoo.

While Drake University boasts an extensive practice-based journalism programme, Naidoo has opted to compliment her MECS degree by specialising in news broadcasting, radio and television producing, as well as exploring the option of magazine editorial business.

When asked about attending an American university Naidoo stated that she was interested “to see how their media theory is applied on a massive scale; [and because] America [is] more established, it will be interesting to note their media objectives and values, as well as to explore the efficiencies of their systems and technologies”. 

She also remarked that she wanted to go to the United States because “they have created an image in the mind of millions that it is something spectacular to be an American. I’d like to see for myself the reasons which make them feel that way”.

Naidoo already has a job waiting for her as a junior journalist when she returns to South Africa in July, but has confirmed that she will be coming back to UKZN in 2015 to complete her Honours degree in Media and Cultural Studies to help add to her already extensive skill set.

Media Graduate Plays Presidential Chess

President Zuma expounds on the importance of chess.

President Zuma expounds on the importance of chess.

On 23 December UKZN and Media & Cultural Studies alumnus Zarha Sayed led the Sisonke (Harry Gwala) district in their first appearance at the annual Jacob Zuma Nkandla chess tournament.  The tournament, which is run strictly by invitation, is hosted by President Zuma and the Nkandla Municipality to help showcase the talent of chess players from rural schools from around South Africa.

As district chairperson, Sayed was invited to bring ten children with her to play in the tournament.  She describes it as one of the most important chess tournaments in the country because it is given national coverage which helps to exhibit the development of rural chess players.

The tournament began with a speech by President Zuma who emphasised how important chess is in the development of strategic thinking as well as concentration, analytical skills and problem solving. 

Once the tournament had begun, the President demonstrated his own skills by playing with ten children simultaneously, including Sayed, who commented, that playing against President Zuma “was honestly the highlight of [her] chess journey”.

Zarha Sayed smiles as the President makes his move.

Zarha Sayed smiles as the President makes his move.

While the President was unable to finish all his matches due to time constraints, Sayed said that the entire experience was a privilege.  She was also particularly impressed by some of the younger players whose powers of concentration and strategic play gave the President quite a challenge.

While the Sisonke district did not win any prizes, Sayed exclaimed that “everyone played really well.  It was a really good opportunity [and] hopefully we will get something next year”.

This is an edited version of the original article



MECS’ Most Memorable Moments for 2013

As I write this, there are only two days before the final exam results are released. Some already know their fate, some are still hoping they’ve made it through, while others have already managed to beat the stress and found themselves their first grown-up job before even graduating. For the latter, just know that the rest of us hate you and wish you all the best simultaneously.
But as with all famous news sites (we’re getting there), the close of each year brings with it a time to recap one’s favourite, saddest, most poignant and down right weird events that have highlighted the year that has been, so we’ve decided to do the same. So let’s get this list rolling and start counting down the five most memorable moments of 2013 (in no particular order).

Five – The Honours Strike of 2013:

This could also be labelled as ‘how the chickens waddled away in 2013’. The walls are thin in the department and word got out that the Honours class were unhappy about writing an exam (every undergrad is rolling their eyes, and every grown-up postgrad is wishing their life was so simple). Anyway, the feelings trickled down and we knew that they had decided to march into the co-ordinator’s office and demand (Ag shame! Such dreamers) that they not write their final exam. We heard them coming: loud, exuberant, revving each other up.

The knock came. They entered. And then…. Silence.

“Hi”, we said, “What can we do for you today?”

“Um… well… we were wondering…”

*Leader pushes another student in front*


Honours students with SO MUCH work.

“Well… You see… We just have so much work…”

*Another student is pushed forward*

*Whispers* “Do you think we could… maybe… perhaps… do you think you could let us write a shorter exam? Like not at all?”

We roar with laughter.


“Ok, well thank you for your time”, they mumble, shuffling back into the corridor.

So sweet, so naïve, but they learnt, you don’t skimp in Honours.  They wrote their exam and are now all about to graduate. Was the work really that bad, really?! I think your results speak for themselves. Well done, guys. You did it. Even if you are a bunch of chickens sometimes.

4 – What Really Happens in Staff Meetings

As any student in the department will tell you, lecturers can be somewhat elusive creatures. Some would compare them to Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster, but the reality is, that when they’re not in lectures, they’re usually in some meeting or other deciding on the fate of the world (or so they like to think – terribly arrogant creatures those academics). What goes on in those meetings is, to the general student, a mystery. So we’ve decided to let you in on one of our most explosive meetings and show you, thanks to our film guru, what really happens behind the scenes in those weekly meetings. Click on the image below to see how it all unfolds.

staff meeting

3 – The Assegais


Anton thanking Mike

You knew it was coming. This is the most important event on our social calendar. This year’s however, is special for two very different reasons. One sad, one wonderful.  Sadly, this will most likely be our last award ceremony that will feature live-action student films as our film programme has been suspended temporarily while film guru Mike embarks on a new challenge teaching English in South Korea next year. Hopefully, we will be able to lure him back in the near future so that we don’t lose out on what has become an amazing film programme.

On the plus side, thanks to the work that was done by Mike, and the publicity that was gained at this year’s viewing, Honour’s student Mzwa Makhanya has been offered a scholarship to do a joint MA with UKZN’s Departments of Agriculture and Media and Cultural Studies based on his film on food security. Well done Mzwa!

2 – The Annual International Association of Media and Communications Research Conference

This has also been an immensely productive research year for MECS with two staff members and one postgraduate student presenting papers at the highly competitive, strictly peer-reviewed and prestigious International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) Conference in Dublin at the end of June 2013.

Attended by over 1500 academics from all over the world, Dr Nicola Jones and Ms Sandra Pitcher (better known as the exploited postgrad) presented a joint paper entitled: “Not dead yet! An examination of the effects of online technology on community newspapers in South Africa” in the category of Community Communication, while Ms Subeshini Moodley presented a paper entitled “Participating in the Visual: A crisis of creative representation” in  the category of Participatory Communication Research. The exploited postgrad also presented her own paper entitled “Deviant Doodling: Assessing South Africa’s Political Cartoons in a Socially Responsible Press” in the category of Ethics and Society.

We were privileged enough to have the conference opened by Irish president, Michael D Higgins, who reminded us of “the universal importance of [the media] given the relationship of an ever more rapidly developing technological sector to what is perceived by some as our ever more fragile public world”.

However, our experience was not just academic and we were lucky enough to take in many of Dublin’s cultural experiences as well: Trinity College and the Book of Kells, St Patrick’s Cathedral where Jonathan Swift once presided as dean, the Writer’s Museum, the Leprechaun Museum, Dublinia, and of course, The Jameson Distillery.

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1 – Prof van der Hoven’s Retirement

antonWhile 2013 has been fantastic and we’ve got some amazing memories to take away with us, we will look back at this year with some sadness as the Godfather of Media, Prof van der Hoven, leaves us for the relaxation of retirement. No more shall students be craning their necks to see what has him so transfixed on that back wall, no more shall we have to navigate a gazillion books and papers to grovel for an extension, and no more will be lucky enough to have somebody around who knows everything. He will be sorely missed, and it seems only apt that his retirement party happened to be on the same night that Mandela passed away. Two magnificent eras closing off on 5 December 2013. Thank you for all you have done Prof!

But don’t worry, we’ll try get him to write a few things for us while he’s trying to relax, so hopefully those of you who didn’t have the privilege of his tutelage will still gain some of the Godfather’s wisdom.

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