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Andile Nomabhunga, left, and Dunisani Ntsanwisi, journalists visiting the News from South Africa, met Mayor Pam Conine after watching her and dozens of other villagers perform in the Senior Center’s flash mob on Wednesday, May 31. The South African journalists spent a week working alongside the staff of the Yellow Springs News. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

Yellow Springs News hosts South African journalists

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By Lauren “Chuck” Shows and Andile Nomabhunga

During Memorial Day week, May 29–June 2, the staff of the Yellow Springs News got the chance to visit with and learn from two journalists and publishers of newspapers in South Africa.

Andile Nomabhunga, of Matatiele, in the Eastern Cape Province, and Dunisani Ntsanwisi, of Giyani, in Limpopo Province, spent the week working with the News as part of a three-week fact-finding project investigating ways to boost the sustainability of South Africa’s community media.

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The project is the combined effort of Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism and Institute for International Journalism and the Association of Independent Publishers, or AIP, a South African organization that aims to support independent news outlets in South Africa. As of this year, the AIP has about 150 news media outlets as members; according to the AIP’s website, some of the member organizations are “one-person operations that operate literally at grassroots level,” while others are  “15 staff members strong and have offices on three floors.”

Nomabhunga and Ntsanwisi are two of 10 delegates selected by the AIP from more than 60 applicants to take part in the project, which began on the campus of Ohio University during the week of May 22–26. That week included presentations from journalism educators and independent news proprietors from the U.S. and from the AIP delegates, as well as workshops.

AIP delegates split up to spend the second week with six independently owned Ohio news organizations. Besides the Yellow Springs News, other outlets selected to take part in the project were The Daily Standard, based in Celina; Mansfield’s Richland Source; Ohio Capital Journal; Columbus Underground; and Logan-Hocking Times.

While in Yellow Springs, Nomabhunga and Ntsanwisi also met with Village Manager Josué Salmerón and Mayor Pam Conine — and were surprised to learn that the latter often rides a bike to work, saying that mayors in their municipalities are often accompanied by a security detail. Likewise, the staff of the News was treated to a brief video chat with Mayor Sonwabile Mngenela of Matatiele.

Following their time in the village, the two were set to return to Athens for another week of presentations and workshops.

Sharing similar struggles

The following section was written by Nomabhunga and shared with the News for publication:

Love of journalism, together with the support of the community, is what is keeping us going. It is also what makes us see the importance of producing our newspaper.

This is the view of the team of journalists that publish a newspaper called the Yellow Springs News in the United States of America.

The journalists are working for this newspaper in the state of Ohio, covering a small town of 3,700 residents called Yellow Springs. They spoke to The Informer newspaper and Titimuleni Nthavela Newspaper publishers from South Africa.

In discussions, it became clear that community newspapers are facing similar challenges as far as profit-making is concerned. The Yellow Springs News, which has existed for more than 140 years, was forced recently to change their printing press and now have to drive for two hours to collect their paper for distribution every Friday. 

The newspaper has small offices in town with a small budget to spend, but they rely heavily on the support that they get from the community they serve. The journalists are also enjoying working in an environment where there is less crime.

In sharing their experiences with the Yellow Springs News, colleagues Andile and Dunisani painted a different picture. They said that their coverage is more on crime, corruption and poverty, which is what their communities are dealing with every day.

The other issue is the lack of advertising, which has hit hard the production of the newspapers in South Africa. Many papers have been forced  to close down.

A passion for community news

Andile Nomabhunga has long had “a passion” for the craft of news reporting.

“I really loved news, I really loved the radio,” he said.

After serving in the army, Nomabhunga said he took a chance on a new career focus, meeting with the editor-in-chief at Capital Radio 604 in the late 1980s. Now defunct, Capital Radio 604 was a medium-wave independent radio station famed in South Africa for broadcasting uncensored music and news throughout the 1980s and early ’90s during apartheid, often aligning with pro-liberation sentiments.

“I went to [the editor’s] office and I told him, ‘Look, I can do this — just give me a chance, even if you are not going to pay me,’” Nomabhunga said.

At first, he added, the staff at Capital Radio 604 were skeptical — but Nomabhunga wasn’t ready to give up. On his own time, he put together a piece about a recent protest and presented it to the editor. Nomabhunga was hired as a freelance reporter on the spot.

“That’s when it started,” he said.

Nomabhunga worked at Capital Radio 604 and then Radio Transkei for several years. He also studied for two years at the Advanced School of Journalism in Johannesburg. In 1997, Nomabhunga started his own English- and Xhosa-language newspaper, The Informer, with a staff of four, including himself. The Informer’s original press-run was 10,000 papers each week.

Dunisani Ntsanwisi was a student of Boston Media House, an educational facility based in Sandton, South Africa, focused on media training, where he earned certification as a media studies practitioner.

While at Boston Media House, Ntsanwisi said, a visiting lecturer inspired what would eventually become his career by encouraging students who completed their courses to start their own community newspapers.

“[The lecturer] came up with a list of newspapers in the country — they were in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, but they didn’t have Tsonga, the language that I speak,” Ntsanwisi said.

With that in mind, Ntsanwisi said he worked for several years in a variety of jobs — for six months at Rainbow FM and later for community newspaper Seipone News — to learn as much as he could and to save the capital to start his own Tsonga-language paper in Limpopo Province, where he was born and raised.

As he was pursuing his goal, Ntsanwisi said he was worried someone else would step into the community news gap he sought to fill — but in 2005, he founded Nhluvuko Media, which publishes the Tsonga-language Titimuleni Nthavela newspaper in rural Giyani, in Limpopo. Since its foundation, the paper has won or been a finalist for several awards for its coverage and for promoting the Tsonga language.

As independent community newspapers not controlled by one of the “Big Four” — that is, large national publishing companies Avusa, Naspers, Independent News and Media, and Caxton — small organizations like Nomabhunga’s and Ntsanwisi’s have been undermined by the larger companies. One of the Big Four might buy out and later close small papers, or start their own papers in an area where a fledgling independent outlet was finding its feet, operating at a loss until the independent paper folds. Nomabhunga said mainstream media companies even hired some of his reporters out from under him.

He added, however, that much of this activity was reported to South Africa’s Competition Commission, resulting in hefty fines for the companies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the viability of independent newspapers in South Africa — a problem shared by small papers in the U.S. Both Nomabhunga and Ntsanwisi had to reduce staff and the frequency of their publications due to the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic. The same has been true for the Big Four, however, the journalists said, changing the relationship between large publishers and community media outlets in recent months.

“Because we are all going down, instead they want to assist us,” Nomabhunga said.

Ntsanwisi added that national publisher Avusa recently launched a pilot project in Gauteng Province, bringing revenue to a number of independent newspapers via advertising inserts from large retailers with which Avusa contracts. Ntsanwisi attributed the move to large publishers recognizing the collective strength of the AIP.

“As the Association of Independent Publishers, we’ve got the numbers, because we are scattered all over the country, in all the languages that are spoken in the country,” he said. “Everything in the world is about numbers.”

Nomabhunga said that he’s also faced pushback from his local municipality on The Informer’s coverage of government corruption, which, as he wrote above, is a frequent topic of his paper’s reporting. In 2013, after exposing a municipal manager’s potential misappropriation of funds, he was briefly jailed in retaliation.

The imprisonment was soon picked up by large national news publications in South Africa. The incident, Nomabhunga said, only strengthened his resolve to remain committed to independent journalism.

“If you try to expose what they are doing, they will try by all means to stop you,” he said. “But we have to be the mouth of the community. … You keep on going because of the people in the community — they will support you. They say, ‘Keep going, Andile — we are behind you.’” 

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