A comparison of Drum’s coverage of the 1976 Soweto student uprisings and the 2015 #FeesMustFall student protests
In an essay titled On my philosophy existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers (1941: 133) explores reasons that lie behind the relevance of studying any figure or event from history. Jaspers (ibid.) argues that “[o]ur own power of generation lies in the rebirth of what has been handed down to us. If we do not wish to slip back, nothing must be forgotten…”. This study is based on such a phenomenon in the media and journalism landscape in South Africa. The first occurred on 16 June 1976 – during the height of apartheid – the Soweto Uprisings. In mid-October 2015, 23 years into South Africa‟s democracy, the second event occurred. This was when #FeesMustFall protests broke out. Drum magazine covered both events. Started during the heydays of Sophiatown, a suburb that was a well-known black culture hub during the apartheid years, Drum rose to prominence over the decades by documenting the many poignant moments in South Africa‟s history. By the time the Soweto Uprisings broke out, Drum was already a household name. In democratic South Africa, the magazine still ranks amongst the top-selling magazines in the country, although its focus is less on politics and more on lifestyle and entertainment. The primary intention of this study was to explore what contemporary journalists can learn from a comparison of Drum‟s coverage of the 1976 Soweto student uprisings and the 2015 #FeesMustFall student protests. This study looked at the similarities and differences between the coverage by conducting a frame analysis of articles. The analysis was guided by the Social Constructivist theoretical perspective. The findings include how both Drum magazines were never privately owned, how both were able to capture events which made the Newsmaker of the Year, and how both appear to have a similar target audience: the black community and liberals. When it comes to coverage, responsibility for the protests was attributed to the ruling governments. Another finding reveals how existing in different eras and political landscapes is not the only difference between the two issues. While the 1976 issue focused on contextual reporting, despite the political unrests, the 2015 issue chose to unpack and merely deliver on-the-surface reporting. The comparison between the two different eras of this magazine is relevant to contemporary journalists, despite their different locations in history. There are multiple reasons which strengthen the rationale behind exploring the media history of two eras of Drum magazine, in particular, for the benefit of contemporary journalists. The first reason is embedded in the words of existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers (1941).who argues that “If we do not wish to slip back, nothing must be forgotten…”. The roots of the second rationale arise from John Matshikiza who says that stories from Drum are “a bridge between the past and the present, remarkably fresh in style and contemporary in the situations and emotions they convey in spite of the decades of trauma that have intervened since they were written”. Matshikiza (in Chapman, 2000:xii) further makes a connection to what Jaspers argued by saying how these stories “are an invaluable part of our missing store of memories – without which we are destined to have no future”. In conclusion, this study supports the narrative that Drum magazine is indeed different and, despite this…the beat goes on.