This topic is covered in Ardis Storm-Mathisen’s book chapter ‘'Gender representations and identity constructions among young teenagers in Botswana - exploring the influence of media' published in: D. Lemish and M. Gotz, Eds (2017).: Beyond the Stereotypes? Images of Boys and Girls, and their consequences. Nordicom, p. 173-181. Your can read the chapter here and the full book here.Read More
At the moment I am doing fieldwork in Overcome Heights an informal settlement in Cape Town of around 4.500 households. This builds on fieldwork from 2016/2017 where I examined health practices in relation to new media with a focus on maternal and infant health. A central finding was that women experience a close relation between health and security in poor and marginalized areas, but also that they experience these relations differently – and here ethnic backgrounds matter. I have teamed up with Steffen Jensen from DIGNITY institute in Denmark, and Capetonian anthropologist Shari Thanjan, to delve further into these matters. Together with community leaders in one of the few multiethnic informal settlements in Cape Town we are following 15 local families of diverse backgrounds over a period of 8 weeks. Three weeks into the project, some interesting links emerge between health, security and new media: Control of public space and crime prevention are central concerns for residents. The messaging platform WhatsApp has revolutionized how community policing and neighborhood watches organize themselves, and is further a resource to call on help in situations where residents do not expect the police to drive out.
New media plays a role in the social control of the area as well. While a number of suburban areas near Overcome Heights have Facebook “community groups”, an old South African new media monster continues to rear its head. The public Russia-based chat website Ou Toilet started as a teen chat site in the Western Cape around 2008 and it became highly publicized, at times banned, and generally despised before it apparently vanished from view of mainstream society. But in the poor and marginalized areas of Cape Town’s southside, the site continues to be a place where the most vile – and sometimes true – accusations are made about sex, drugs, gangs and politics.
For some new media can it themselves be compromising health-security concerns: having a phone makes one a target for robbery and theft. Being on social media, especially for young girls, makes one vulnerable and accessible to potentially predatory men and their seductive tactics in chats and Facebook.
While new media is often celebrated as catalysts and drivers of development, only hampered by lack of access and infrastructure, it is worth taking seriously how poor and marginalized urban residents experience new media as more complex phenomena, and looking at strategies of avoidance or experiences of harm.
Nanna Schneidermann has a new piece out on the medical anthropology platform Somathosphere.net.
The piece asks: What does making a new life look like from the perspective of a mobile phone? And, inspired by James Scott's seminal work, delves into the promises of M-health as a project of governance in South Africa.
Read more here.
Cape Town is running out of water. The region of the Western Cape is experiencing the worst drought since 1933. Since I left Cape Town in June last year human and natural disaster has been looming on the all too bright and sunny horizon. They call it Day Zero. The day the dam levels in the city’s water reserves will be too low to provide safe water for the more than 5 million residents in the city.
Currently the city is at a Level 6 B water restriction scheme. This means that each resident can use 50 liters of water per day. A five minute shower uses just around 40 liters. Flushing the toilet somewhere between 6 and 12 liters. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown flush it down,” are the new guidelines. In some areas of Cape Town the water has been intermittently shut off, for hours or days, without prior notification to residents, apart from the publication of the Level 6 B water restrictions. Commercial and agricultural properties must reduce water use with 45 percent and 60 percent respectively, compared with pre-drought usage.
The calls to defeat Day Zero is printed on posters, broadcasted on the radio and in television ads. Airb’n’b offers free cancellation to tourists who decide to stay at home rather than burden Cape Town with more water users. I like to listen to the Fine Music Radio, and here the messages to use less water seemed tailor made for a middle-class classical music loving audience: “A green lawn was a symbol of pride, now a sign of squander.” The ward councilor in my area posts on Facebook and twitter about sustainable solutions like collecting “grey” water (rain water, water from showers etc.) for recycling under the hashtag #ourresilience. On day Zero, the city government claims, 200 water collection points will be set up across the city, where residents can collect 25 liters per person. Observers argue that this scenario is completely unrealistic and will lead to war-like conditions around the taps. In the informal settlement where I do fieldwork, it doesn’t make much of a difference, though, says the community activist Mary. Most residents are picking up their water at communal taps anyway.
Political Day Zero
This kind of natural disaster by climate change is one that has been creeping in over many years. Rainfall has decreased in the region. Maybe in another time and place the prospect of a city of five million people running dry would warrant some sort of state of emergency, and international intervention. But in Cape Town life just seems to be going on as usual. Meanwhile, some of the decision makers that could have intervened with the #watercrisis have their own crises to worry about. In the City of Cape town the ruling party Democratic Alliance is trying to dethrone their own mayor Patricia De Lille with criminal charges of forgery and corruption. Word on the street is that the DA (typically attracting White and Coloured voters) want to replace her with a Black African front figure to broaden their base in a city receiving hundreds of mainly black south African migrant settlers every day. On a national level the country is facing a bizarre gridlock. The president Jacob Zuma (and other top ranking officials) are accused of state capture. Their party, ANC, Nelson Mandela’s party, a few weeks ago overthrew Zuma as president of the party, and elected his vice president Cyril Ramaphosa to lead the party. The obvious result would be for the president of the country to step down, as he officially lost his political legitimacy. This, however, did not happen. Last week the president of the country’s ruling party was set to deliver “the state of the union” but it was cancelled. Who should deliver the speech? The president of the party or the president of the country who was elected as ANC’s leader? Negotiations have been going on within ANC to organize Zuma’s exit, but they seem gridlocked, At the charity shop yesterday me and the ladies complained that there are no credible parties left to vote for in this country. We hold our breath, waiting for the next disaster. Is South African politics headed towards a Day Zero as well?
Yesterday was eerie like that, everything seemed to hold its breath. Early in the evening the thunder started rumbling over the mountains, with white flashes dancing across the skies. Dennis and I had clothes hanging on the line outside. For them not to get wet, we rushed out to collect them in woven baskets. Then the downpour came. Heavy drops soon became a blanket of warm water. We made tea. Listened to the sound of the downpour on the roof of the old house. A sudden realization made us jump up and grab all buckets, containers and bowls: The water from the roof would be gathering in the drainpipes, flowing into the ground in the yard. The drain under the kitchen window had its last part amputated to make space for a large storage box underneath it. Laboring with great urgency our buckets and basins found new places under pipes and leaks. Drenched and happy we sat back at the kitchen table with our tea, and Dennis asked me to turn on the 6 o’clock news. “I think they recalled Zuma,” he said. ANC recalled Zuma’ appointment as president of South Africa. The grounds for the recall remain murky, and many other questions are left unanswered within and without the party. This morning Dennis says that Facebook says that the Guptas, the rich family involved in Zuma’s state capture case, were raided this morning and that several arrests have been made.
Among Capetonians the rain and the recall were linked specks of hope. On Facebook a photo of a man praying in the rain, surrounded by cars, circulated. Apparently, he had stopped his car in the middle of the hectic Cape Town evening traffic to pray and thank God for the rain.
Guest post by Shari Thanjan
I have attended my first international conference as a researcher. The International Population Conference took place in Cape Town this year. The conference is hosted by the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) and happens every four years. The conference provides social scientists from all over the world the opportunity to come together and share their research on population trends and issues. One would think that this is every researcher’s dream - an international platform to share all the hard work, sweat and tears that often goes into research process. Sharing, learning and discussing brings up new networks and ideas. But it also left me doubtful about the point of doing research in the first place.
After doing six months of field work about maternal and child health and its relationship with new media, I decided to attend all the talks that I could find about the use of new media technologies in this field. There were some papers on social media and maternal and child health, mostly in local contexts from “the developed world”. There were no presentations about media and population issues or maternal health in the South Africa. Here papers focused on maternal and child mortality. This was weird to me, after having been so focused on our own little research project for many months. The National Department of Health runs the first national mHealth program in Africa focused on maternal and child health, and fieldwork showed that media plays role in shaping the process of making new lives in South Africa. What seemed to me to be an obvious and important aspect of population issues was missing here.
A study done by Nzimande looked at family formations of the black South African population in the era of change. It found that “modernization” has led to growing acceptance of non-marital child-bearing. It also found that teenage mothers are unable to progress in South Africa. South Africa’s legislation is very protective over single mothers, but there is a need for more policies that protect marriages, it was argued. In thinking about our own fieldwork among black pregnant women and new mothers in Cape Town, I wondered about what our interlocutors would say, if they where here. I thought of the grandmother whose only wish for her daughter was never to get married, to keep her financial and personal freedom. I thought of the teenage parents who stopped going to church or moved to a different neighbourhood when they started showing to avoid the moral judgement of their community. Sitting in a grand conference room in the centre of Cape Town, I felt a chasm between their world and the world of research, even though the people I studied lived only a few kilometers away.
Stats, stats and more stats. By the end of the week I couldn’t learn or know anymore. Looking around at my fellow conference attendees, it would seem they felt the same way. Verran (2012) argues that “In an era of evidence-based policy and governance through market mechanisms, measures and values speak to policy through designs that can be bought and sold.” This theory came to life where stats were the basis of each research problem. One really needs to walk away from these things and honestly think about how these papers effectively can affect policy change and improve lives. The research was all great with very interesting topics. But do the findings actually translate into action? The relationship between policy practise and knowledge practise is not a strong one at the moment. Belief in the bond between the two seems to have withered and reserachers are almost cynical about what their work “can do” in the world. Almost all papers revealed there is a gap in service delivery and somewhere, something is going wrong.
So then what?!
I left the conference feeling dazed and confused with too many numbers circulating in my head and can't even remember half of the findings. The take home message for me is to always follow up on our findings and papers, try to get it into the right hands, so that all our sweat blood and tears move beyond conferences rooms and back into the lives of our participants. This should be a promise we make to ourselves, and be more than just researchers, but rather agents of change in pretty trying times.
Verran,H. 2012. The changing lives of measures and values: From centre stage in the fading disciplinary society to pervasive background instrument in the emergent ‘control’ society. In The Sociological Review Monographs (eds) L. Adkins & C. Lury, 60-72. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.