CFMS postgrads on graduating: “You can do it”

17 May 2018 - 22:00


CFMS is celebrating the graduation of two of its PhD and two of its masters students. Dr Norita Mdege, Dr Bernadine Jones, Msakha Mona and Rozanne Engel received their degrees in April 2018. Some of these students have been closely involved in the department and leave lasting footprint. We asked them to share their graduation experience and offer advice to future postgraduates.


Dr Norita Mdege:

Title: Heroines, Victims and Survivors: Female Minors as Active Agents in Films about African Colonial and Postcolonial Conflicts

Topic: This thesis analyses the representations of girls as active agents in fictional films about African colonial and postcolonial conflicts. Representations of these girls are located within local and global contexts, and viewed through an intersectional lens that sees girls trebly marginalised as "female," "child soldiers" and "African." A cultural approach that combines textual and contextual analyses is used to draw links between the case study films and the societies within which they are produced and consumed. The thesis notes the shift that occurs between the representations of girls in anti-colonial struggles and postcolonial wars as a demonstration of ideological underpinnings that link these representations to their socio-political contexts.

For films about African anti-colonial conflicts, the author looks at Sarafina! (Darrell Roodt, 1992) and Flame (Ingrid Sinclair, 1996). Representations in the optimistic Sarafina! are used to mark a trajectory that leads to the representations in Flame, which is characterised by postcolonial disillusionment. On the other hand, Heart of Fire/Feuerherz (Luigi Falorni, 2008) and War Witch/Rebelle (Kim Nguyen, 2012), which are produced within the context of postcolonial wars, demonstrate the influences of global politics on the representations of the African girl and the wars she is caught up in.

The thesis finds that films about anti-colonial wars are largely presented from an African perspective, although that perspective is at times male and more symbolic than an exploration of girls’ multiple voices and subject positions. In these films, girls who participate in the conflicts are often represented as brave and heroic, a powerful indication of the moral strength of the African nationalists’ cause. On the contrary, films about African postcolonial wars largely represent girls as innocent and sometimes helpless victims of these “unjust wars.”

The representations in the four case study films are significant in bringing to the fore some of the experiences of girls in African political conflicts. However, they also indicate that sometimes representations of girls become signifiers of ideas relating to local and global socio-political, economic, and other interests rather than a means for expressing the voices of the girls that these films purport to represent.

Advice: I once went to a workshop for PhDs organised by the postgraduate office, and we were told that whenever you feel like giving up just imagine yourself at your graduation. I think it works! Got me through the toughest times.

Graduation was awesome. When I walked up the stage it finally hit me: I was really done. And it was such a wonderful feeling. But now I feel like I am at the beginning of something. Like I have only completed a stage so I can move on to the next. I miss CFMS, especially the Tuesday seminars. I am very grateful to the department and my supervisor, Martin Botha, because I don't think I would have come this far without their support.

Dr Bernadine Jones:

Title: “Desperately Seeking Depth: global and local narratives of the South African general elections on television news, 1994-2014”

Topic: My thesis demonstrates the difference between global and local television news about South African elections, and explores the factors behind these narratives. I offer a new analysis model for broadcast news, which can provide the basis for future studies, and I use this method to analyse over 150 news broadcasts between 1994 and 2014. I observed that local coverage overlooks controversial issues in favour of emphasising the stability of democracy, while international news focuses on scandal, binaries, and controversy but with little depth and understanding. A main finding was that the breakdown between government leaders and journalists over time and decline in citizen voices on the news means that the picture of the elections is reduced to an echo chamber of sound bites. The simple stereotypes about the South African elections tend to entertain, rather than explain.

Advice: Two things: Keep the flow going, and get funding. The most difficult thing I found was to get enough time / space to sustain a long argument in my head. I was lucky enough to acquire funding that allowed me to dedicate a full year to writing up my thesis, and I would advise any PhD candidate to apply for as much funding as possible, as early as possible. The PGFO are invaluable and check UCT’s Funding Noticeboard regularly. I am indebted to the NRF, Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa foundation, and UCT’s merit award to allow me to get through four years of gruelling and intensive study during a moment of unrest in my life and in South African higher education. Funding allows you to live while you study, otherwise you’ll feel like you’re grasping at straws the entire time.

Secondly, get your hands on Dunleavy’s “How to Author a PhD”. I wish I’d found it as I started researching, but even at the final editing process it was a substantial help. Above everything else, though, remember that it’s supposed to be difficult. If it were easy, everyone would get a higher degree. It’s worth it, if you apply yourself, and you CAN do it.

Msakha Mona

Title: Socio-cultural Relevancy and Inclusivity in Academic Development in an “Afropolitan” University: An analysis of DOH1009F at the University of Cape Town. 

Topic: A study into the possibility of a socio-cultural relevant university curriculum was undertaken. The study focused on a first year foundation course in the faculty of Humanities, Concepts in the Social Sciences (DOH1009F). The following underpinnings were problematised as relevant in curriculum development. These are; race, coloniality, canonical selection, and cultural capital. The study employed an analysis of the lecture sessions, the reading materials, class survey, as well as interviews.

The study found that DOH1009F stands as an example of a socio-culturally relevant curriculum. The choice of authors who make up the curriculum; the manner in which the course is positioned in South Africa’s local context; the multilingualism; and the cultural sensitivity, among other findings, qualify DOH1009F as a relevant and exemplary case study.

Throughout the study, race comes up as a problematic concept that influences the education process. The study therefore shows the limitation of race in transforming the curriculum, while also looking at how race is still used for positive discrimination in redressing past educational injustices. 

Advice: WHY? In the midst of all the excitement, challenges, temptations and excuses that we face in life, and particularly at university, you need to be very clear about WHY you are here. The WHY needs to be clear that your progress is not shaken by any why-not that might tempt you not to do your work, attend lectures, have a social life, have a balance and excel. Being clear about the why allows you to evaluate whether any activity you engage in conflicts with your being student or not.

I remember in my first grade, we would have classes under the tree. That’s how under-resourced we were. I also remember going to school barefoot because we could not afford shoes. All of those experiences helped me determine my WHY, part of which is to make sure that what happened to me does not happen to the generations after me.

When you know why you came to university, then position yourself with people who can walk with you and hold you accountable. You need people who can  bring out the best in you. Remember, part of why you are at university is that you are able and you are capable. But I like the attached picture, being able to stand with the workers on my grad day is symbolic of the sweat of the families that lead to us being here.