Thursday, December 4, 2014

SPI’s graduates take centre stage in shaping African media

Peter du Toit (PdT), the Deputy Director for the Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI) for Media Leadership, has been with the institute since its founding in 2002. He shares some insights on the SPI’s development and where it is going with Katharine Holmes (KH).

(KH) What inspired the development of the SPI in 2002?

PdT: The Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI) for Media Leadership was the brain child of Professor Guy Berger, the former head of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University. At that time the Department was getting frequent requests from organizations supporting media development in Africa to provide management training for journalists, and the Department was responding to these requests on an ad hoc basis. The idea of setting up a management training institute was hatched and Prof Berger was able to secure funding from Atlantic Philanthropies. This funding made it possible for the Department to launch an institute with a grant that covered the costs of maintaining a small core staff, including a director, a deputy director, an administrator and a fulltime researcher. The SPI was officially launched in late 2002 with the appointment of its first director, Govan Reddy. Its activities included taking over the NSJ courses – these continued for about five or six years after the Institute was launched – and developing new offerings. The Institute was also positioned to conduct research into questions confronting managers in the region. Prior to the launch of the SPI, the Department had also been granted permission to launch a new Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management (PDMM) and the task of developing and teaching this course became the SPI’s flagship activity. I joined the SPI about six months after its launch and was responsible for developing the initial Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management (PDMM) and running several of our short courses.

KH: What are the SPI's major achievements from 2002 up until now?

PdT: Without doubt, I think our biggest achievement has been developing the PDMM into a very strong programme that is responsive to the dramatic changes that are happening in the media industry. I’m also especially proud of the successes that have been achieved by our graduates, many of whom have risen to influential positions as journalists, managers and entrepreneurs in the media industry. I also think that we have been able to develop a very strong basket of short courses targeting managers and editors from the print, broadcast and online sectors which attract top level participants from South Africa and across the continent. The course we offer to Government media leaders is also very strong. The Institute’s research arm has also produced a number of exceptionally useful reports and papers that inform our teaching and which have benefited people in the media industry. Perhaps our biggest achievement is the fact that we are still able to offer services to the media industry in the region. We are operating in a challenging environment and keeping an institute like ours going has taken real dedication from our small core staff.

KH: What are the biggest challenges that the SPI has faced since its inception?

PdT: Our biggest challenge has to do with the fact that we are operating in turbulent times when many media organizations are struggling financially. It’s unfortunate that companies will often be reluctant to spend money on training their staff when times are tough and this has a knock-on effect on us. Another of our challenges has been the ongoing struggle to find scholarships for our students. We would love to attract more students from across the continent, but many simply cannot afford to spend a year in South Africa completing the PDMM, although we receive constant requests from people who would like to do so. From a staff point of view, the SPI has always been lean and mean. We have a small staff and everyone has a multitude of different responsibilities. This has been good in terms making the organization sustainable, but it can be difficult to make time to develop new opportunities.

KH: What contribution does the SPI make to the African media market?

PdT: To my knowledge, we are the only organization in Africa exclusively dedicated to educating and training media managers. We have seen close to 200 people graduate from our PDMM programme and well over 2,000 people will have completed our short courses by the end of this year. All of these have taken valuable knowledge and skills into the media industry and many have drawn on these lessons to ensure their organizations become sustainable and profitable. We have also been able to make some very valuable partnerships over the years which have enabled us to make an impact. For instance, through our partnership with the Open Society for Southern Africa we have seen more than 20 women from Southern African media organizations complete the PDMM programme. Our recent work with the International Research & Exchanges Board in Mozambique has also enabled us to train more than 80 media managers in that country.

KH: Where are the opportunities for the SPI to grow?

PdT: From a growth point of view, the SPI will be exploring different ways of reaching managers and editors who need support in running their organizations. There are tremendous opportunities out there for us to provide distance learning and to make use of interactive technologies to run courses with media leaders in different parts of Africa. There is enormous demand for this kind of training. At the same time, I’d loathe to see us lose the value that comes from having people coming together in the same room to thrash out their problems. We will need to find a balance here. The SPI also needs to be providing relevant training to people that equips them to deal with rapid change. This does not just mean helping organizations to find workable business models in response to the online environment, it also means helping people to deal with the way these environments have changed work places. Tomorrow’s leaders will require a very different skills set. We need to be conducting research into the ways in which media managers are responding to these challenges and to draw on this research to develop programmes that enable managers to respond to these changes.

KH: Where is the SPI going in the future?

PdT: I think we will want to continue to grow our PDMM class, offer a wider range of innovative short courses and to continue conducting relevant research that informs both the industry and our teaching. We are exploring the possibility of offering a more advanced qualification in media management, possibly offering a course at a master’s level. This is an idea that still needs a lot of work.

Friday, October 31, 2014

How the PDMM, OSISA scholarship impacted my life: A reflective piece

By PDMM graduate Takondwa Jumbe (TJ) of Malawi

When I applied for the OSISA (Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa) Scholarship to join the PDMM (Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management) Programme at Rhodes University in South Africa, I was working as a humble programme producer driven by a desire to experience the world, learn new things and, of course, take a break from the daily grind for a few months at the same time.

Fortunately, I was successful and I found myself on the Rhodes Campus in February of 2006 – six years after my first degree -- feeling a bit rusty in terms of class work but with high hopes and expectations.

For me, the PDMM was a wonderful experience. During this time, I rediscovered some things about myself such as the fact that I’m actually a nerd who loves to learn (Shh, don’t tell anyone or I lose my street cred!). I also found out that although I am mostly an introvert, I loved the practical classes where we had to develop ideas and present them to the class for critical input and debate. These activities taught me to develop and present my ideas and also to accept both positive and negative criticisms gracefully. We all know that (SPI director) Francis (Mdlongwa) is not at all shy to dispense his criticism, with that laugh of his! That said, the PDMM programme sharpened my leadership skills through helping me to build up my confidence and other abilities as a media manager.

It wasn’t all work though and during my time with the SPI, I made some lifelong friendships with some of my classmates. I can confidently say that I have a sister in Lesotho, another in Swaziland and a brother in Kenya. Not forgetting the home away from home that I consider the SPI to be to me.

It is during this time that TJ, as a brand, was born as that is what my Francis, Pete (Du Toit, SPI deputy director), classmates and friends would call me to get around pronouncing my name, Takondwa. To this day, TJ has stuck and I’m pretty sure that there are some people I work with today who have no idea what my actual name is!

When I returned home after completing my PDMM, my career took off. I was promoted to Regional Manager for Television Malawi within six months of my return. A year later I studied for my master’s degree in leadership and change management and I will honestly say that the PDMM course built a strong foundation for this.

Today I work as the Controller of Business Affairs at Malawi Broadcasting Corporation and I am responsible for marketing and brand management for both television and radio services. The job can be exhausting but it has its moments. When you see the results of your work and that of your team, you smile to yourself and think: yes, I did that. That makes all the exhaustion worth it. So for me, hard work is not an option; it’s necessary for success.

For me, the PDMM --through Francis and Pete -- is that critical first step that has enabled me to get this far and I will forever be grateful to OSISA for the scholarship opportunity.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Government media course a great knowledge-sharing platform

By Vuyokazi Burwana

GRAHAMSTOWN -- Journalists and senior communicators from different municipalities in South Africa spent last week learning the ropes of doing their work in a rapidly changing media landscape, and most said afterwards that the course run by the Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI) for Media Leadership was a great platform for sharing knowledge and tips to improve their work.

One of the course participants, Tumelo Taunyane, a Deputy Director for Media Liaison in the Gauteng Department of Sports, Culture and Recreation, said the course – officially known as ‘Government Media: Essential Tools for Editors and Journalists” – had helped him understand media relations issues and how to implement concrete and workable ideas.

“One would have ideas and they would remain ideas so this (course) has given me the platform to be confident and to develop strategies to implement those ideas,” he told this reporter.

The participants said the training accorded them an opportunity to share their experiences and to broaden their view of government communication and the changing media industry, where an increasing number of people in South Africa is accessing news content through digital and social media platforms compared to traditional newspapers, radio and television.

“I find the course to be very relevant to what I’m doing, and a lot is changing in the media so this has helped me to enhance my knowledge and confidence,” said another attendee, Sabelo Ncwane, Coordinator for Communication at the Greater Kokstad municipality.

The engagement of participants through presentations brought about what Ncwane described as “thought-provoking, vibrant conversations which provoke debates that can also be applied in workplaces to bring about change”.

The participants also praised the course for giving them a platform to network. They recognised the need for media communicators to engage with each other. Ncwane even exclaimed that “although I and my colleagues on the course met only three days ago, we now know each other like we met three years ago!” He spoke on Wednesday last week, the third day of the five-day course, which is fully accredited and certificated by Rhodes University.

Rendani Khashane, an Assistant Director at the Department of Defence, shared the sentiments of most of the other participants. She opted to liken her learning experience to the analogy of a car: “If people do not upgrade their skills-set, then they will no longer be effective, just like in a car that needs to be serviced and replenished regularly to work properly.”

Ncwane and Khashane’s parting words stemmed from their belief that every government communicator needed this course because “communication is a passion, a calling and an art of leadership”, to quote Ncwane.


The Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI) for Media Leadership at Rhodes University in South Africa, in collaboration with the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), invites applications for six postgraduate scholarships from Southern African women media leaders who wish to study media management at the SPI in 2015.

Applicants should be from Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Successful applicants will register for the SPI’s intensive, one-year-long fulltime Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management (PDMM), the only formal media management qualification in Africa and the developing world. Candidates must already possess an undergraduate degree from a recognised university in order to pursue postgraduate study. The OSISA scholarships cover:

• The full cost of tuition • Accommodation and meals in one of Rhodes University’s postgraduate residences • Course materials and books • A monthly subsistence allowance • Medical aid • Mid-year media management internship costs.

Employers of the successful scholarship applicants or the scholarship winners themselves will need to cover their travel costs to and from Rhodes University, including during the University’s holidays, to encourage greater ownership and appreciation of the scholarship programme by the beneficiaries and their media companies.

The PDMM is a one-year, fulltime programme designed to provide people who work or aspire to work in the media industry with critical skills and knowledge they need to perform more effectively and strategically in their organizations and to fast-track their careers to management positions.

The PDMM is equivalent to an honours degree -- it is pegged at Level 8 on the National Qualifications Framework set by South Africa’s qualifications-setting agency SAQA -- and combines rigorous theoretical and practical grounding, a mid-year management internship and a comprehensive academic portfolio at the end of the year.

The PDMM is composed of eight compulsory modules covering media economics and financial management; media markets, audiences and advertising; managing media content; managing circulation and distribution; media management and leadership; media management contexts, policy and institutions; new media and convergence; and human resources management.

Application details and procedures: Only women candidates who are already working in the media industry in the 10 Southern African countries of OSISA listed above are eligible to apply for these scholarships. Candidates should already have an undergraduate degree in any discipline from a recognised university. The application deadline for these scholarships is 7 November 2014.

Students wishing to apply for these scholarships need to:

• Complete the Rhodes University’s standard Honours Application form (available at under the section ‘Postgraduate Studies’ which must be submitted directly to the Registrar’s Division at Rhodes University and a copy emailed to Linda Snam ( or to Sibonise Mbengashe at at the Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI). • Submit a detailed Curriculum Vitae, including contact details. This is sent to the SPI only. • Submit certified academic transcripts of ALL tertiary qualifications (these are sent to both the SPI and Registrar’s Division at Rhodes University); and • Submit to the SPI (through Linda Snam at or through Sibonise Mbengashe at a 1,000-word letter of motivation, which explains why the student is interested in doing the PDMM, how the PDMM will assist the student’s career and why the student believes she/he qualifies for the OSISA scholarship.

Only short-listed candidates will be contacted after the applications close at 12 mid-day (Southern African time) on 7 November 2014.

OSISA is an African institution committed to the creation of open societies through support for democracy, human rights and good governance and it works in Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The SPI is a pioneering institute of Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies. It educates and trains high-level media managers and leaders for Africa through delivering a unique and innovative honours degree-level formal qualification in media management, the PDMM, and a range of professional business and editorial courses that are fully certificated and accredited for practising media leaders from across the continent.