Word has it that all those at the helm of the Afrikaans media are Stellenbosch University graduates, a supposed ‘old boys’ (and girls) club. Professor Lizette Rabe agreed to give the inside track on this ‘rumour’.
Of course, such an observation is true. Many of those in the Afrikaans media – not all – were once upon a time Maties (name given to Stellenbosch University students).
This was reinforced recently when Media24 announced new senior appointments within the company. It is mostly a list of Matie alumni. And all bright young stars: Ainsley Moos, editor and publisher of Volksblad, has been appointed publisher and editor-in-chief of Sake24. Waldimar Pelser, editor of NewsNow/NuusNou, has been appointed senior deputy editor of Rapport. Charlene Rolls, currently assistant editor of NewsNow/NuusNou, will replace Pelser as editor. Moos was in the Journalism school’s (J-school’s) class of 2001, Waldimar in 2000 and Rolls in 2004.
And, check a television advert during the same period: it is for Huisgenoot’s reality TV show, Saktyd. The panel of judges consists of editor-in-chief of Huisgenoot/You/Drum, Izelle Venter, and two of her staff members, Haidee Muller and Wicus Pretorius, all Matie alumni. Venter was in the SU J-school class of 1998, and Muller in 2002. Pretorius studied to become a teacher, but clearly the call of the newsroom also worked its magic on him.
So yes, one may indeed hypothesise that the Afrikaans media is almost “infused” with Stellenbosch University alumni. Start at the top and you’ll find Koos Bekker, CEO of Naspers, an alumnus, although not of the J-school. The postgraduate department of journalism was established in 1978, just after Bekker’s glory years of, among others thing, being editor of the student newspaper Die Matie.
Next in the pecking order is CEO of Media24, Esmaré Weideman, class of ’84. She studied commercial sciences, and one day in her third year she had to drop something at the J-school. She heard the typewriters clanking away in the newsroom and was hooked – still a magic moment when she recounts that life-changing day. She applied for the next year’s honours class, was selected, and the rest is, as we now know, media history.
And so one can trawl the passages of Naspers’s various offices: you’ll find Stellenbosch University (SU) alumni in their dozens. Not only in leadership positions (Tim du Plessis as head of Afrikaans papers, Bun Booyens as editor of Die Burger, Barnie Louw as editor of Weg!, Michélle van Breda as editor of Sarie, Irna van Zyl, CEO of New Media and a previous editor of De Kat, and Chris Burgess, editor-in-chief of Landbouweekblad). Move down the lines, and you’ll find many an alumnus on the newsroom floor doing what they love best: getting it first and getting it right.
But then, should this be surprising?
Of course not. Although the “unholy trinity” of the Bad Old Days – namely SU, Naspers and the Nationalist Party – thank goodness, is a thing of the past, and not due to the demise of the latter, but independent leadership of the former two. No more can a rector pick up a phone and call a Broeder to ask: “Ag, please man, do us a favour, won’t you just put a lid on that story…?”
But there is also no need for a conspiracy theory behind the fact that so many people in Afrikaans media can call SU their alma mater.
With Naspers as almost sole creator of Afrikaans media products, it is no wonder that many of the SU alumni will be employed by the company. The simple fact is that SU’s postgraduate J-school is the only institution where beginner-journalists get focused education and training in Afrikaans (others attempt to, but due to the postgraduate nature of SU’s school, and the limited number of students, this can be done more effectively).
Still, Matie alumni do not only perform in Afrikaans media. Since the school’s inception in 1978, the languages of instruction are both Afrikaans and English. The practical one-year honours course, preparing beginners as
multi-skilled, multimedia journalists, draws students from all other universities, and the Afrikaans/English mix is more or less 50/50.
Two of the three SU J-school alumni on the 2011 Mail & Guardian’s list of young media achievers are working in English media: Mpumelelo Makhabela (class of ’99), now editor of the Sowetan and Julie Cunningham (class of ’03), editor of South Africa the Good News (Ainsley Moos was the third).
The school has a reputation for a rigorous practical honours course, with, as final “test”, an internship of four weeks in the news industry, where students are also evaluated. Since statistics were kept, each year’s average mark for these internships has been a cum laude mark – a mark given by the real world.
But alumni are not only performing in Media24 print products. Freek Robinson, e.tv’s Afrikaans newsreader and presenter of ‘Robinson Regstreeks’, is a Masters alumnus. But alumni do not only perform in Afrikaans media. Makhabela, editor of the Sowetan, was previously editor of the Daily Dispatch. Stefaans Brümmer (class of ’90) is an award-winning journalist at the Mail & Guardian. John Bailey (class of ’95) is the SABC’s representative in Beijing, and doing a great job. So is Hannes Oosthuizen (class of ’99), editor of CAR at RamsayMedia, and James Eedes (class of ’98), on RamsayMedia’s board. Leonie Prinsloo, a Masters’ alumnus, is a star in the increasingly important field of science journalism. Melanie Gosling (’79), assistant editor at The Cape Times, is one of a handful of Matie Nieman Fellowship recipients. And there is Charlene Lackay (class of ’99), TV presenter and media personality. Another bright star moving up the ranks is Susan Davis (class of ’02), currently publishing manager of 18 titles in the Media24 Magazine stable.
Matie journalism alumni have even proven that they can read maps and solve all sorts of clues – Le Roux Schoeman (class of ’01) and Erns Grundling (class of ’02) won kykNet’s first ‘Fortuinsoekers’ series. Le Roux is a digital whizz at Touchlab (and part-time lecturer in social media at his alma mater), and Erns is an award-winning journalist at Weg! (where Andrea Weiss heads up the English version of Go!). And yes, the list of alumni in journalism practice can indeed go on (to those who searched for their names, apologies from Crozier Street…).
Alumni are not only in journalism practice though. Professor Johann de Wet is head of the University of the Free State’s Communication Department, Professor Herman Wasserman is deputy head of Rhodes’s Journalism and Media Studies, and Elna Rossouw is head of the journalism programme at University of Johannesburg’s Communication Studies Department – among others.
And then some of the most well-known authors in Afrikaans count among the SU J-school alumni – Marita van der Vyver and Rachelle Greeff, both in the class of ’79.
Ruda Landman is also an alumnus, but, like Bekker, also just missed the institution’s journalism school during her studies. But the school is making up for it: she is now a part-time lecturer in TV Documentary Production, a course sponsored by M-Net.
So: Afrikaans media infused with mediated Maties?
Yes. And no. Other media environments also have their fair share, whether in mainstream media, community media or tabloid media; whether print, broadcast or online. As, one must add, one will also find the products of other reputed j-schools. As it should be. Otherwise we’re not doing our job properly. n
Professor Lizette Rabe (class of ’78), in her previous life editor of Sarie, was Head of Department of Stellenbosch University since January 2001, but has handed the reins in January 2012 to colleague Dr Gawie Botma (class of ’88), in his previous life arts editor at Die Burger.
This story was first published in a special June 2012 edition of ‘Die Media’ magazine that focused on Afrikaans media.