A 15-year-old boy has achieved what many teenagers in South Africa cannot and that is to qualify for medical school at a tender age. This is the story of Decent Mkhombo from Thulamahashe, Mpumalanga published in an article by the Sowetan titled, “Young student (15) rocks up at new medical school” (01/02/2016 p.6). The journalist, Zoe Mahopo, should be congratulated for writing an upbeat and well-balanced story of this young man’s achievement.
Children achieve many things in society and it is a rare sight in the media to see their achievements given coverage and due recognition. Oftentimes, when they finally do get coverage, the media often miss the opportunity to access their voices. From time to time, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) has raised concerns with various publications with regards to the level of participation of children when newspapers publish stories about their achievements.
In many cases the media has focused on getting the opinions of adults, especially parents and teachers, and in so doing excluding the voices of the young achievers. Children, especially those involved in positive stories, are usually the best sources of information about their experiences. They are able to give truthful accounts of what happened and also supply strong comments.
The Sowetan in this case have done well to allow the child to speak for himself. Although credit should be given to the child for having such fantastic insight and understanding of his own environment, what motivates him and what he dreams to become, the journalist should also be commended for drawing out this insight through the quality of questions they asked and the choice of quotes used in the article.
The child was even hailed as a “Beacon of light” (02/02/2015, p.12) in Sowetan’s editorial. This editorial further recognised that “in this age of gloom we need more Mkhombos” who can show “many young people that age is not a limit to academic excellence.”
Similarly, Sowetan’s sister publication, the Sunday World, published a story “Nathi makes her heart sing” (Sunday World, 07/02/2016 p.6) about Lusanda Mkhawanazi an 11-year-old talented guitarist and singer who got a surprise visit and a guitar from Nkosinathi Mankayi, an Afro-pop musician. Both stories portray both children in a positive light but the Sunday World only included one quote from the girl in the last paragraph of the story, almost like an after-thought. The Sunday World did not take the opportunity to let the girl express her experience the same way theSowetan did for the young medical student.
Both articles are accompanied by good photographs where the boy and the girl dominate the frames of their respective pictures showing that they are the central subjects of each story. The only difference is that in the Sunday World, the girl-guitarist is seen and barely heard whereas in the Sowetan the boy-medical student is both seen and rightfully heard.
The Sowetan story should be the norm of how media represents children, where children tell their own stories and express their opinions on matters affecting them.
By George Kalu