The Opening day of the 21st Winter School

There were a number of highlights at the 21st edition of the Winter School held at Khanya College. The school officially opened early on Monday with messages of welcome from Father Mokesh Morar, a board member;  Maria van Driel, coordinators of the Winter School and Oupa Lehulere, Khanya College Coordinator. Other Khanya staff made inputs on the house rules and Khanya sexual harassment policies. Maria van Driel said that the participants at the School need to be in solidarity and treat each other with respect, the Winter School is a safe space for all the participants regardless of their gender. Oupa issued a call for participants and the broader working class to look at what media is, noting that such platforms as Facebook are controlled spaces. 

In recognition of the ‘oldest hand stencil’ known to humans, participants imprinted their hands on to a paper attached to the wall. Following this, participants wrote the names of loved ones, fallen heroes and friends at the ‘Wall of remembrance’. Later, others such as Zeleza Banda, a participant from Malawi, commemorated victims of political violence in his homeland whom he told the school fell victim to violence following elections in August last year. In a classy message, he send a message to those who are affected and whose lives were lost when Cyclone Idai hit, a message echoed by Jotham Mutemeri a participant from Zimbabwe who said that their government  understate the actual numbers of people who died due to the cyclone. 

Following speeches by the Maria van Driel of Khanya College and Mokesh, 62 participants did a simulation of a court. The key thing about the simulated court hearing is the way in which different media houses (also simulated) all made mistakes in the way they reported the story or showed bias. None of them could address all the concerns of interests groups. This situation is a reflection of real society and real mainstream media.

The hearing involves a woman sex worker who has been charged for the murder of her own baby and the state as a complainant, with a police officer as a witness. During the discussion about the story, the participants were divided in the way the case concluded and the denial of bail to the woman. 

Some activists complained about the court proceedings, saying that the woman was treated unfairly. One group acting as traditional leaders mentioned how they thought that the woman’s line of work made it hard to sympathise with her. Others echoed the infamous Daily Sun headlines saying ‘She killed her baby for muthi purposes’, quite a commonplace headline. 

The simulation in many ways reflected the way that the mainstream media treats working class issues, some taking a ‘neutral’ stand by only retelling what happened without going into the reasons or the context of the story. Other media houses use sensationalism in reporting news, often drawing from the superstitions of the societies where the media is distributed. Participants found this kind of news conveyance a problem, as well as the tendency of mainstream media to interview one or a few individuals and then claim the view is that of the community. 

Importantly, the session on simulation showed the attitudes of society to sex work and the people whose livelihood is sex work. The need for a working class media was shown as ever important and perhaps even urgent.

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