Democracy, the Media, and Social Change in South Africa

Democracy, the Media, and Social Change in South Africa

This program is no longer accepting applications for 2017. To be notified about this program in future years, please e-mail

South Africa women marchingThe faculty seminar will explore the important role of the media in democracy and social change in South Africa.

In May 1994, South Africa was front page news around the world. Nelson Mandela, a man who had spent much of his adult life in prison under a brutal apartheid regime, was elected president, ushering in an era of tolerance and hope. 

By late 2013, when Mandela died, many were wondering whether that era had died with him. Mandela’s party, the African National Congress (ANC), is accused of widespread corruption. Many parastatal organizations, including the South African Broadcasting Commission, have been experiencing a leadership crisis.

Recently, in municipal elections, the ANC suffered significant electoral losses. Some analysts forecast a dramatic political change when South Africans go to the polls in national elections in 2019 and 2024. Nonetheless, many of the central pivots in South Africa’s democracy, including some of the media and civil society, remain vibrant. This is an exciting and opportune time for a seminar in South Africa, especially one focused on the media and democracy.

Participants can expect to go on field visits where they will hear directly from scholars along with social and political actors. They will meet with professional journalists and editors at major media houses like the independent and much-acclaimed Times Media Group, which has print, online, and broadcast outlets, with visits in particular to offices of the Sunday Times.

The seminar draws upon the resources and networks created through SIT’s semester-long undergraduate program South Africa: Social and Political Transformation, which has a journalism track. SIT Study Abroad has offered programs in South Africa since 1992. All SIT programs are designed around principles of field-based, experiential education, with a strong focus on social justice and intercultural communication. In South Africa and on all programs, SIT places the highest priority on the health, safety, and security of all program participants.


This seminar will explore the following themes:

  • The historical background of South Africa’s apartheid system along with contemporary developments leading to the dismantling of that system
  • Visions for post-apartheid South Africa; political, economic, and social structures with an emphasis on the role of the media (along with civil society and education) in the goal of nation building.
  • The South African Constitution and its provisions for freedom of speech, free press, hate speech, etc. We will compare with US constitution and the First Amendment, and how this plays out in the media and society in both countries.
  • Good governance: how the constitutional court operates in South Africa as a watchdog of democratic freedoms and caretaker of constitutional freedoms, including freedom of speech, press etc. 
  • Media ownership: look at diversity of media, diversity of media consumers, with a special focus on the importance of radio (townships, illiteracy, etc) and digital/mobile phone media. Analysis of media ownership, local and/or foreign, and distribution.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this seminar, participants will be able to:

  • critically examine current issues of development and nation building in South Africa;
  • distinguish the challenges to nation building in post-apartheid South Africa and evaluate the role of journalism and media in that effort;
  • discuss past and current threats to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, as well as political and social movements to protect and defend those freedoms; and
  • identify major media outlets in South Africa, their consumers, and their history of influence and impact in the post-apartheid era.

On this seminar, participants will explore South Africa’s recent social and political history through the lens of its media and journalism outlets.

Lectures Include:

  • The media as a tool for political mobilization – Jay Naidoo, former minister in Mandela’s cabinet
  • The media as a central pivot in our democracy – Fikile Moyà, editor of The Mercury, Durban’s morning newspaper
  • The State of South Africa’s democracy – Dr. Michael Sutcliffe, former Durban city manager and ANC activist
  • Is media freedom under threat in South Africa? – Professor Steven Friedman, leading newspaper columnist and academic

Other lectures included in site visits described below.

Site Visits and Field-Based Lectures

  • Johannesburg: visits to Apartheid Museum, constitutional court and Soweto (Mandela and Tutu homes and site of June 1976 youth uprising)
  • Johannesburg: Visit to Times Media Group and engagement with editor and staff
  • Durban: Visit to Gandhi’s home and the International Printing Press at the Phoenix Settlement; meet with Ela Gandhi, grandaughter
  • Visit to Luthuli Museum – honoring Chief Albert Luthuli, former ANC president and first African Nobel laureate
  • Durban: Visit to Ohlange Institute, founded by John Dube, co-founder of the ANC, and the JL Dube African Renaissance Resource Centre at the site where Nelson Mandela cast his first vote. This area is seen as the cradle of South Africa’s democracy
  • Cape Town: visit to Robben Island, where Mandela spent a significant part of his prison term
  • Optional table mountain trip in Cape Town – hike or cable car 

Imraan Buccus, PhD Fellow

Imraan BuccusImraan Buccus has an undergraduate degree in education and a master’s degree in social policy from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in South Africa. During apartheid, he was active in student politics, serving on forums linked to the Student Representative Council. He began his PhD as a Ford Fellow in development studies at Radboud Nijmegen University in the Netherlands and is currently a PhD fellow at UKZN. He has been a lecturer in political science at UKZN and is currently a research fellow in the university’s School of Politics. He is widely published in academic journals and book chapters in the areas of participatory democracy, poverty, and civil society. Imraan is the former editor of Critical Dialogue, a journal of public participation in review, and the current editor of Democracy Dialogue.

Imraan has experience in the civil society sector, having served in research and policy NGOs for many years. He was involved in a number of international research projects and co-authored the National Framework on Public Participation for the South African government. During his time at the Centre for Public Participation, he led an initiative to bring policymaking spaces closer to ordinary people and led a project to assess the state of participatory democracy in Namibia. He has wide-ranging experience working with various donor agencies including the Ford Foundation, NiZA, EU, Kellogg Foundation, and the Open Society Foundation.

Imraan has worked as academic coordinator of the Workers College, a progressive experiential education college for workers from the trade union movement, where he developed a passion for experiential education and its personal and academic developmental potential. In 2008, he was an Open Society Foundation Media Fellow, and in 2009 he appeared on the prestigious Mail & Guardian list of South Africa’s 200 Leading Young South Africans. He is currently a columnist for Durban’s popular paper Mail & Guardian and is often called upon by television and radio stations to offer political analysis. In 2011 and 2016, he was part of the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s team of election analysts.

Imraan has traveled extensively in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. He has also served as academic director of various SIT Study Abroad summer programs since 2010, running both SIT’s World Cup program in 2010 and, since 2011, SIT’s summer Education and Social Change program.

Mary Stucky

Mary StuckyMary Stucky is the founder and executive director of Round Earth Media, an award-winning international journalism nonprofit organization.

Ms. Stucky created Round Earth Media to help develop a new generation of global correspondents and to cover issues and places that are ignored in this era of shuttered foreign bureaus and shrinking newsrooms. In 2014, Round Earth Media won a Peabody Award, the highest award in broadcast journalism, for its reporting from Honduras.

A veteran journalist, Ms. Stucky has more than 30 years of experience reporting from the United States, Mexico, Central and South America and Africa, primarily for National Public Radio. Her reports on Chinese and Hmong immigrants were part of the documentary series “Crossing East,” which won a 2006 Peabody. Ms. Stucky is also the senior advisor for SIT Study Abroad’s groundbreaking journalism programs in South Africa, the Balkans, and Morocco. Round Earth’s veteran journalists guide the students on SIT Study Abroad journalism programs to produce journalism of the highest professional and ethical standards in a range of mediums including print, radio, photo, and video. When a story is exceptionally good, the journalists at Round Earth help place the student’s reporting in top-tier media outlets, ranging from The New York Times to National Public Radio to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Participants in the South Africa seminar should plan to arrive in Johannesburg on May 15, 2017, and depart from Cape Town on May 23, 2017.

The program fee for the South Africa seminar is $3,800 per participant. This fee includes:

  • Accommodations in single rooms in tourist-class hotels in Durban
  • All breakfasts, plus approximately half of all remaining meals, including a welcome dinner and farewell banquet
  • Airport transfers on the program start and end dates as well as all transportation to included program activities
  • All program activities as outlined above
  • Health insurance for the duration of the program
  • Pre-departure preparation materials, including informational materials, syllabus, and pre-program assignments

Program fees do not include:

  • International airfare to/from Durban
  • Passport or visa fees, if required (visa not necessary for US passport holders)
  • Immunizations, if needed
  • Approximately one meal (lunch or dinner) per day

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