Western Vs. African Views

Five of us got an up-close look today at a Wits classroom, its students and the curriculum at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. We started out the day sitting in on a lecture on the ethics of journalism, a topic that I am interested in because I will be taking a course on the same subject next fall. I was fascinated that the structure and content of the discussion were strikingly similar to lectures that I’ve witnessed in Lexington. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Maybe I thought I would hear more about journalistic advocacy and biased writing (since it has become clear to me that these practices are much more pervasive in this country than in the U.S., where we are taught to be objective under all circumstances). Instead, Wits Professor Franz Kruger played off a PowerPoint presentation that outlined four familiar “pillars” of journalistic ethics that reporters should seek to meet: truth-telling, independence, accountability and minimizing harm. Kruger devoted most of his lecture to the Western theory of ethical journalism, not the Afro-centric model, which is geared more towards fostering community and positive thought. Something clicked in my head when I looked around the room and saw mostly black students. I understood concerns raised by many South African students about their curriculum. A debate is raging about Euro-centric versus Afro-centric teachings in a spinoff of a broader movement known as “fees must fall,” which started as a protest against rising tuition but has branched out into several areas of concern for young people in South Africa. I get why it can be frustrating for black students to sit in a classroom listening to a white man spend most of a class period talking about a Western concept.
–Abby Thornton