The Editor and founder of The Conversation Africa is Rhodes Journalism & Media Studies alumna, Caroline Southey. Her team works with academics and researchers to present their work online in an accessible, journalistic style.
The Conversation Africa launched on 7 May 2015 in Joburg as a new independent source of information and analysis from the African academic and research community, delivered online at no cost to citizens worldwide.
Contributions are predominantly from South Africa at present, but they are increasingly being sourced from across the continent. An office in Kenya has recently been established and one in Nigeria will soon follow.
“What is compelling about the content is that it contributes to an informative African narrative that isn’t uniformly bad or good,” says Southey. “This nuance gives people a much broader understanding of our enormous continent with 54 countries.”
“Our aim is to promote a better understanding of current affairs and complex issues by sharing the work of respected academics and researchers. We believe this contributes to a better quality of public discourse and conversation, and that access to independent, high quality, journalism underpins a functioning democracy.”
Academics and researchers are not paid for their contributions, which cover a wide subject matter. In one sitting I read about:
How South Africa is tackling the multi-billion rand international sea fisheries crime that includes human and drug trafficking;
The development of a modern African heritage from the continent’s 3-million-year-old Lucy;
Cultural imperialism in a globalised society; and
The implications of anti-rape protests in South Africa’s fight against rape culture and patriarchal gender norms.
The Conversation Africa is part of a global knowledge project, with editions in Australia, the United Kingdom, United States and France. Globally, The Conversation has 90 staff members working with more than 37 000 specialist scholars and researchers worldwide.
Australia was the first to launch in 2011, followed by the UK and the US. When Southey saw what they were doing, she thought it would be a good idea to launch The Conversation Africa. It took a lot of hard work and fund-sourcing to get it going,
The Conversation Africa relies on the support of major foundations and corporates, including the Gates Foundation and Barclays Africa, as well as the National Research Foundation.
The day the site went live is one that Southey won’t forget. As a journalist and South African, Southey is committed to increasing the free flow of information by Africans, about Africa, and to playing her part in advancing democracy on the continent.
“Myself and my late husband, Brian Scheepers, lived in exile from 1981 to 1997. In addition to our anti-apartheid activities, we were at risk of being prosecuted under the Immorality Act for having a relationship across the so-called colour bar. We wouldn’t have been able to get married in South Africa either because of the Mixed Marriages Act. And by living together we contravened the Group Areas Act.
“We were in London for 15 years and in Brussels for two years. I worked for the Financial Times correspondent; Brian did his undergrad and Master’s degrees at London South Bank University and worked for an NGO in Tottenham, North London.
“We returned to South Africa in 1997 with our two daughters, Rosa and Ella. I’m unreservedly happy that we came home. I believe that for anyone who was forced to leave, it’s important to close the circle and come home. Brian and I dedicated our lives to South Africa and that hasn’t changed. It is an extraordinary country with massive challenges that we all need to work at solving.”
Rosa and Ella are both Rhodes alumni. Ella has an Honours degree in Law and Politics from Rhodes, a Master’s in Human Rights Law from the University of Pretoria and an MBA in Social Innovation from the Graduate School of Business, UCT. Rosa has a BA from Rhodes, Honours in Social Development from UCT and a Master’s from the London School of Economics in Development Policy.
Ella is working for the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, based at the UCT Graduate School of Business, lecturing. She is helping to develop the curriculum for social innovation and the Centre’s scholarship programme. Rosa is working in New York as a project manager for an NGO called First Inspires. It engages children from nursery school age through to high school in exciting, mentor-based, research and robotics programmes that help them become science and technology leaders, and well-rounded contributors to society.
Southey now lives in Parktown North in Joburg and The Conversation Africa’s offices are in Braamfontein at Wits University. “Wits gave us offices as part of their contribution,” she explains.
“We operate exactly like a newsroom and the site is set up exactly like a news site, covering all the sections – from science and technology to energy, the arts, the environment, medicine, politics … with editors for every section. We currently have a team of nine editors in our Joburg office, several of whom are Rhodes alumni, and two in our Nairobi office. Our job is to help academics and researchers make their research as informative and accessible as possible.”
The Conversation shares content at no charge through the Creative Commons. More than 22 000 sites worldwide use its material. Globally, the Conversation has a monthly audience of 3.3million users, and through republication it reaches a monthly audience of 35 million.
The Conversation Africa on its own currently has an audience of 80 000 to 130 000 on the site per month. Through republication it has attracted 12.5 million reads.
“We are being picked up organically by many different news and information sources, including major media houses and publishers,” Southey continues. “We have metrics built into the site that inform us who has published us and the geographical breakdown of our audience.”
Currently, The Conversation Africa’s audience percentage is 31% in South Africa, 12% in the US, 9% in the UK, with a range of other countries making up the other 48%. They also drive a strong social media campaign. Three large sites that regularly republish The Conversation Africa’s content are Quartz (qz.com), iflscience.com and scroll.in.
“We are constantly looking for academics who are either from the continent or have done research here. We have had more than 1 000 academics and researchers write for us to date and we’re growing the network every day.”
The Conversation Africa Team includes several Rhodes alumni
Editor: Caroline Southey (Rhodes)
General manager: Portia Maurice (Rhodes)
Natasha Joseph (Rhodes)
Shirley de Villiers (Rhodes)
Sibonelo Radebe (Rhodes)
Thuletho Zwane (Rhodes)
Intern: Lindiwe Malindi
Strategic partnerships: Pfungwa Nyamukachi