Brief Historical Overview
It was only towards the end of the 1970s, and especially after the mid-1980s, that sustained theoretical and historical scholarship began to be written and published by South African scholars. A distinguishing event was the Rhodes University Survival of the Press Conference held in 1979. Academics, practitioners, editors, and unionists debated both the press and journalism education. The following year a group of radical academics mapped out a conceptual space for a South African media studies at the Association for Sociology in Southern Africa (ASSA) Conference, Maseru. This initiative was actively pursued at Rhodes in the early 1980s, with the help of the Wits-based journal, then titled Critical Arts: A Journal for Media Studies. Critical Arts relocated to Rhodes University in May 1981 when the editor took up a lectureship there.
South African media studies scholars have never settled comfortably into any organisational structure. ASSA, a broadbased, transdisciplinary, anti-apartheid grouping, provided a temporary home to media studies scholars/activists during the 1980s. But media studies was never very high on ASSA's agenda. The small number of media studies scholars active within ASSA made it difficult to obtain a critical mass. The later, but brief existence of the SA Association for Semiotics (1992-1995), provided some sense of security, but this organisation stalled because of institutional incapacity. Semiotics offers a transdisciplinary method, from media studies to music and medicine. The success of the Conference was to bring together semioticians from law, media and journalism studies, drama, philosophy and theology, and literature. These scholars, notwithstanding their different ideological positions, constructively debated issues of expression in a politically transitional society.
The South African Communication Association (SACOMM), established in 1980, is the most enduring of the academic associations which serviced the field. Its constitution, written by Arnold De Beer, then at Rand Afrikaans University, and Gavin Stewart, then of the Natal Technikon, adhered to non-racial principles in membership. SACOMM was, however, perceived by anti-apartheid scholars to be supportive of National Party (NP) policies. Attempts to steer the Association from this political conservatism by a succession of new presidents from the late 1980s, however, failed to systematically attract English-speaking cultural and media studies scholars, or academics of colour from HBU's.
Once sanctions ended it became possible for South Africans to join the African Council for Communication Education (ACCE), based in Nairobi. Eric Louw participated in the 1992 IAMCR/ACCE Cairo meeting, and Tomaselli was the first resident South African to be elected to the ACCE Executive in 1994. Themba Masilela, who grew up in exile, however, had been a member for a longer period. A South African national chapter was established in 1994, and worked hard under the chairmanship of Eronini Megwa of the Peninsula Technikon to host the 1996 congress. So successful was the congress in terms of organisation and attendance that some scholars, eg., Arnold De Beer later argued for the closure of SACOMM, as he felt that ACCE would offer the best route ahead. Unfortunately, the South African ACCE Chapter elected in 1996 abjectly failed to capitalise on the earlier momentum, and ACCE itself had to reconstruct itself after 1996 due to severe funding cuts. SACOMM thus limped into the millennium as the only functioning disciplinary association. But SACOMM lacked a broadbased legitimacy because of its prior (if rather disorganised) association with apartheid, and the fact that the majority of its members were Afrikaners whose very identity conferred a conservative image to the organisation (Steenveld 2000).
Thus, SACOMM needs to be dissolved, and a new organisation drawing on a much more catholic communication church needs to be established.
The group needs to take a cue from the disciplines it represents: organisational communication, marketing and advertising, communication and management. Members teach these subjects but do not seem to apply them to their own disciplinary organisation. My suggestion at the 2000 AGM was that a steering committee be tasked with reconstituting the Association. This committee would consist of the current executive plus Lynette Steenveld and Marcia Wilson. It would use the existing resources and infrastructure to start a new strategic planning process. The new association needs to be totally repositioned. One way of doing this is for the steering committee to devise three or four questions and to ask communication scholars to respond to these; individually or in groups.
The steering committee should come up with a one page mission statement after a consultative process within and beyond SACOMM. A preamble should explain why a steering committee was constituted and request feedback. The strategic planning exercise should emerge from this consultative process. Many existing SACOMM members have excellent credentials in devising such a plan, and a small group with such expertise should be tasked with developing such a plan in implementing the mission statement. In this way we can draw on the strengths of existent SACOMM members and beyond.
A new name arising from this process could be tabled at the next conference. PU has offered to host the Conference.
What is common to SACOMM members, no matter highly divergent political or paradigmatic positions, are two activities: a) methodology; and b) SAQA issues. The new organisation should capitalise on this commonality.
The domination of HODS of the organisation needs to be tempered by a more horizontal structure where office bearers see a professional benefit in holding office (tenure, promotion, community service etc.)
Steenveld answered a question that SACOMM should provide a home for a variety of approaches, an that its members should feel comfortable therein. This necessitates the inclusion of cultural and media studies, which is a critical approach to communication studies not normally taught in professionally-oriented departments. Cultural and media studies scholars should freely interface with other communications paradigms via the association - a house with many rooms, as Johannes Froneman put it.
Fourie suggested that the new association should NOT try to be all things to all people: it should be an academic organisation, so as to consolidate and organise a natural constituency.
Communicare's editorial board should be reconstituted to include coordinators of working groups, rather than then present HOD's. Co-ordinators are more likely to coordinate and drum up membership and articles than are overworked HOD's, some of whom possibly want to retain their status without appropriate effort.
A userlist should be established so that members can talk to each other. A moderator might be required to manage the discussion.
A second userlist of all known communication scholars should be developed for PR and development purposes. To develop this list an audit should be undertaken of all tertiary institutions to find out who is teaching communications, media and PR. This would include the private sector, which currently has more students than the public universities and technikons.
Strategic plans and proposals should be circulated for discussion on a userlist
The web page should become a clearing house for all the SA journals via the publication of contents pages with links to their respective home pages.
The Conference at Tukkies, though well organised overall was characterised by aspects of unprofessionalism: starting late, forgetting to devote time to discussion and questions; handouts arriving late; lack of proper chairing; chairs being drawn from the same institution as the speakers; and so on. This reflects badly on the organisation. These kinds of matters need to be worked out prior to the conference. If PU has offered to act as host for 2001, then they should be asked to start planning immediately.
Students should be incorporated into the new organisation. This last occurred at UOFS many years ago when student sessions were organised as part of the main conference. At Pretoria, a separate conference was held by students. Some interaction between the two via plenaries could have been organised to create a sense of community. As it was, the students never interacted with lecturers or vice versa. The student conference should be organically linked to the academics' event, and plenaries should interface lecturers and students in structured environments.
A fundamental change in ethos is required. There must be commitment to the discipline, not towards HOD control.
If the next conference is held at PU, then we should ask its staff to work with their PR students in publicising and organising the conference and the inauguration of the new organisation. This could be a credit bearing project for both PR and journalism students. Invite the press, political commentators and educators to an evening event.
Someone from each educational institution teaching communication studies should be asked to represent the Association and to distribute information.
The heyday of SACOMM coincided with Rhyno Kriek's extraordinary energy as a secretary. This drive and expertise is needed again from everyone to build the new organisation.
Students should be in a position to see their membership of the organisation as a channel towards potential employment. It should become a networking organisation which connects people for a variety of reasons.
Members of the steering committee should visit tertiary institutions (public and private) and discuss the merits of membership of the new organisation with communication lecturers.
Bilateral relations are required with specialist organisations like the SA National Editors Forum, the Print Media Association, PRISA, and so on.
Contact communication managers / graduates known to the organisation to assist in the publication of the new organisation via their inhouse media.
Graduate Programme in Cultural and Media Studies
University of Natal, Durban.