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Reframing the Africa-China conversation: Journalists speak

- Deborah Minors

The Africa China Reporting Project hosted a forum on November 10 for African and Chinese media to share perspectives on Africa-China reporting.

In his opening remarks Dr Bob Wekesa, postdoctoral fellow in Wits Journalism said that the Wits Africa China Reporting Project (the project) began in 2009 – the same year China surpassed USA as South Africa’s top trading partner.

“But the journalism wasn’t measuring up politically, socially or economically. There were challenges originally reaching out to China and bringing journalists to South Africa. We were worlds apart with such different journalistic backgrounds we couldn’t work on one piece together,” says Wekesa.

The Wits Africa China Reporting Project

Fast-forward to 2015 and the project has successfully annually hosted Chinese media at the African Investigative Journalism Conference and taken African journalists to Beijing. The project now runs honours, Master’s and PhD programmes. The project’s new branding, launched at the forum, now leads with Africa and reflects African ubuntu rather than “the perception of China as a dragon coming to eat Africa for lunch,” says Wekesa.  

In 2016 the project hosted the inaugural Africa-China Journalists Forum, the first of its kind in Africa.

“Africa-China is a global story that can’t be ignored. It’s critical,” says Wekesa.


The Africa- China Journalists Forum

The forum’s programme comprised four presentations each within four panels:

  • Panel 1: Framing the debate on African reporting perspectives
  • Panel 2: Africa-China reporting and investigations on ground level
  • Panel 3: Perspectives on Africa-China as reported in the media
  • Panel 4: New opportunities and challenges in Africa-China reporting

Dr Cobus van Staden, a senior lecturer in Wits Media Studies and co-host of the weekly China in Africa podcast presented on: The Africa-shaped gap in Africa-China reporting: How can journalists increase African voices?

Phillip De Wet, Associate Editor of the Mail & Guardian pointed out that Busisiwe Mkhwebane, South Africa’s new Public Protector was formerly an immigration officer at the South African embassy in China.

Perspectives that emerged from some of the presentations include:

  1. The western perspective has always defined the African position. The narrative persistently frames China as ‘bad colonialist’ and Africa as ‘needy and impoverished’
  2. The reporting project is in crisis and it is incumbent on journalists to take the conversation forward. The crisis, however, presents opportunities for Africa to tell its own story and less reflect the west
  3. Africa is homogenized to one voice, ‘the African voice’. This underestimates Africa and African societies and the conflicts between those societies
  4. China has a much more nuanced understanding of Africa than the USA has
  5. To understand the micro-dynamics of Chinese migrants to Africa, the macro-dynamics must be understood. The ‘human interest’ motivation must be interrogated
  6. Africa is suspicious of China due to prejudice and ignorance. Some allegations are valid; others are perception bias. Knowledge is power.