By Kemiso Wessie
Sisanda Nkoala, senior lecturer in the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Media Department, believes in a purpose-driven life.
Nkoala’s journey began in Queenstown, Eastern Cape where she grew up. From there she completed her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Cape Town where she also received her PhD in the Department of Private Law’s Centre for Rhetoric Studies. Her educational path even included a brief stint in the Chemical Engineering Department before finding her true calling in media and communication studies.
Before becoming an educator and researcher, Nkoala worked in the South African media sector for ten years, starting off at a community station called Cape Community FM before joining the South African Broadcasting Corporation. However, a significant turning point came in 2016 when she became a mother of twin sons “and because I wanted a more stable and structured lifestyle as a mother [I] decided to change from being in the field to teaching others,” says Nkoala.
For the past seven years, Sisanda has been a faculty member of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, where she has played a pivotal role in shaping the future of aspiring journalists. Nkoala says that she loves teaching and learning with her students adding that she is passionate about research and also deeply invested in serving in different media entities as part of community engagement.
She says, “I believe that what I do is a calling and see it as a great privilege and joy to be doing it.” Her roles as a senior lecturer and the Faculty’s Language and Transformation Coordinator reflect her commitment to both teaching and fostering positive change within her academic community.
Nkoala’s passion for journalism and communication is evident in her diverse research interests, which include rhetoric studies, media studies, multilingual education, journalism education, and media law. Her research primarily explores how rhetoric and language shape representation in South African media ecologies, shedding light on the persuasive power of media in society.
In the ever-evolving landscape of journalism and academia, the educator remains committed to staying updated with the latest trends and developments. Her involvement in organizations like the South African National Editors Forum Education and Training Committee and the South African Press Council ensures that she is consistently engaged with the dynamic news media landscape.
When asked about the essential qualities of a good journalist, Nkoala emphasises the importance of genuine interest in society and care for its people. These qualities, she believes, are foundational for conducting in-depth research and interviews, engaging critically and compassionately with individuals to produce high-quality stories that make a difference.
Throughout her career, Nkoala has found fulfilment in multiple aspects of her work. She takes pride in her impact on her students’ careers with former students crediting her for their growth and success in leading media houses. Additionally, her accolades and awards, including recognition from the National Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences and The Conversation Africa, reflect her contributions to academia and journalism.
As a woman of colour in academia, Sisanda has faced challenges rooted in systemic biases that continue to affect her field. Nevertheless, her dedication and determination has propelled her forward, making her a role model for aspiring journalists and educators facing similar obstacles.
The educator’s experiences in journalism have not been without their share of challenges. One of the experiences that stood out for her was covering the Anene Booysen case, a high-profile murder that took place in the small town of Bredasdorp in 2013 and initially sparked promises of change regarding gender-based violence and femicide in South Africa.
However, it ultimately resulted in heartbreak and disillusionment as the weeks passed and the media frenzy died down. “The tragic demise of Anene Booysen’s own family was [a] testament to how after all that hype the people impacted were thrown aside and forgotten,” says Nkoala. This experience left her sceptical about the media’s ability to drive meaningful change she adds, “If this huge international case could end in such tragedy, what was the point? That is something I ask myself.”
Looking to the future of media education, especially in the South African context, Nkoala hopes to see a greater presence of African languages at the core of the journalism curriculum. “I also hope the future of journalism is one that allows us to reimagine this field so that it is relevant for our context,” says Nkoala.
As for her upcoming projects, Nkola has two edited books with Prof Gilbert Motsaathebe celebrating 100 years of radio in South Africa and feature contributions from academics and media practitioners, “I am very excited about their launch,” says Nkola. She is also co-editing a special issue on journalism education for the African Journalism Studies journal with Associate Professor Carol Lesame which will hopefully be published in 2024.
Additionally, she is collaborating with different scholars on journal articles on topics such as struggle songs, journalism and emotions and the intersection of journalism and academia. On this Nkola adds, “These are exciting collaborations for me because they are with scholars I have not worked with before, but whose work I admire.”
Nkoala was also recently elected as Vice Chair of the IAMCR’s Media Education Research section and are currently planning several exciting initiatives that seek to prioritise scholarship from the global South.
When asked about her hobbies outside of her professional life, Nkoala jokingly says “I am a mother of three boys seven years and under. I have no hobbies.” She adds that she is in a season where the hobbies she previously enjoyed have taken a back seat to involve her children, “Together we like to go for walks, visit playparks where I get to have coffee and cake in peace, and read,” says Nkoala.
As Nkoala embarks on the next phase of her career, she does so with excitement and a commitment to continue making a meaningful impact in journalism education and media studies.