Making a difference in Cape Town: All the news that’s fit to share

Monisha Merchant ’04 M.B.A. (center) with Taona Tsopo, program panager for Amandla Development, and his family.
Monisha Merchant ’04 M.B.A. (center) with Taona Tsopo, program manager for Amandla Development, and his family. (Photo courtesy of Monisha Merchant)

This summer, a group of 90 volunteers traveled to the Philippi Township of Cape Town, South Africa, on a Yale Alumni Service Corps trip, undertaking a broad range of service initiatives. In this first-person account, one of those volunteers, Monisha Merchant ’04 M.B.A., describes her work helping students launch a series of student newspapers.

Item 16 in the Bill of Rights in South Africa states: (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes — (a) freedom of the press and other media; (b) freedom to receive or impart information or ideas; (c) freedom of artistic creativity; and (d) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research. 

During the 2018 Yale Alumni Service Corps (YASC) trip to Cape Town, more than 45 students at three high schools in Philippi Township worked with nine YASC volunteers to exercise their rights to freedom of the press and to impart information. The results were remarkable.

During the five, half-day day sessions, the YASC volunteers provided formal instruction about fact vs. opinion, sections of the newspaper, the roles of the editors and reporters, and the structure of a news story. The students learned how to ask hard-hitting questions during five press conferences, including with AYA Executive Director Weili Cheng and a local politician. We also gave optional homework assignments.

The student reporters came back each day with news stories about people in their neighborhoods, student and faculty achievements, and school policies. The editors huddled together to lay out the stories and provide feedback individually to the reporters.

Within five days, Growling Tigers, The Soph’s Eye, and Zisu Bright Times were born. 

Front covers of a trio of student-run newspapers - The Sophs Eye, the Growling Tigers, and Zisu Bright Times.
Front page covers of the Growling Tigers, The Soph’s Eye, and Zisu Bright Times student newspapers. (Courtesy of Monisha Merchant)

With the encouragement and support of Amandla Development, a local nonprofit, and from the organization’s champion teachers, these high school student reporters committed to writing their stories and sharing them with their communities.

The Zisu Bright Times newspaper team members at Zisukhanyo Secondary School, mentored by their teacher, Madoda Gcwadi, recently published their September 2018 issue. The reporters wrote articles about science and poetry competitions, study habits, and an inter-school teachers workshop. In addition, the first female elected as student body president shared her vision via the paper. Inspired by the written word, the Zisu Bright Times team has advocated for school leaders to increase the focus on school-wide literacy and writing programs.

The students came to the YASC sessions to learn journalism fundamentals and launch a newspaper at their respective schools. They left with a greater understanding of the power of media to amplify their community’s stories using their own voices.

South African students journalism fundamentals and their student run newspaper in a classroom.
(Photo courtesy of Monisha Merchant)

Growling Tigers editors Yolisa and Siphokazi said: “We are equally humbled, grateful, and honored by the visit and incredible work we have done at Ntsebenziswano [High School] and the dedication that everyone showed. We would love to thank each and every one of our friends from Yale University that assisted us in giving birth to the Growling Tigers. We will always appreciate and remember you guys forever, in our hearts you will always hold very special places. Thank you.”

Zisu Bright Times champion teacher Madoda Gcwadi said: “We are thrilled to have the first publication of Zisu Bright News at Zisukhanyo High School. The principal and the heads of the institution are sincerely grateful to the Yale University and the team that brought inspiration and knowledge to the entire community of Zisukhanyo. We have invited the parents and some community leaders to join us as we embark on this journey of telling our stories, our news to the world. We are proud to announce that the level of confidence in these students has risen, and we will be sharing our second publication, the second issue, in September 2018. The students are working hard. These young editors are currently having interviews with various sources.”

Monisha Merchant lives in Concord, Calif., and is the managing director of Lotus Advisory Ltd., a government affairs and management consulting firm. Amandla Development is a Cape Town-based nonprofit founded by Scott Clarke ’02.

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Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale and Africa: Empowering through partnership

Media Contact

E.J. Crawford: ej.crawford@yale.edu, 203-436-3632