THABISO Thakali has won this year’s Sol Plaatje scholarship to study his MBA at Henley Africa Business School. The Sowetan executive editor was one of the two inaugural winners of the scholarship, along with investigative journalist Pauli van Wyk, when they were selected at the start of 2020.
Thakali graduated last year with his PG Dip in Management Practice, the traditional pipeline for the executive MBA. He becomes the first double winner of the scholarship and the first to progress through Henley Africa’s unique ladder of learning. Van Wyk is in the process of completing her MBA.
This year’s other Plaatje scholar is seasoned journalist and writer Adam Oxford, who is currently head of digital at the Mail & Guardian. Last year the scholarship was awarded to broadcast journalist Macfarlane Moleli, who is best known to the South African public through his work on Carte Blanche. Moleli is on track to complete his PG Dip in Management Practice later this year.
The Sol Plaatje scholarship was launched by the business school to address the crisis in the South African media industry, where legacy media houses, both print and broadcast, have been devastated by the digital disruption.
“Media have never been more important than they are now. We are awash in a sea of fake news, fake science and conspiracy theories; we need proper news – and more of it – from sustainable platforms. The demand is greater than ever, but the supply has never been more precarious,” says Henley Africa dean and director Jon Foster-Pedley.
“Here in South Africa, we owe an incalculable debt to the courage of a handful of journalists who took their lives into their own hands to expose the rot that was state capture and effectively change the narrative, setting in progress a chain of events that led to the peaceful resignation of the head of that administration – a sitting president.
“The problem is that legacy media, which was already facing incredible disruption from new media, especially in the digital space, suffered a hammer blow from COVID 19, with the lockdown that stifled circulations and throttled the lifeblood of advertising.”
The scholarships that have been awarded so far are a small step towards finding solutions to this crisis and creating models for sustainable, independent and courageous media, says Foster-Pedley.
For Thakali there aren’t words to express how he’s feeling: “I’m thankful for the support Henley Africa has given me and for the trust they are placing in me as the first student to receive the Sol Plaatje scholarship for the PG Dip and now for the MBA itself.
“This scholarship will contribute to my growth as a journalist tasked with a huge responsibility of running the newsroom of one of the biggest daily newspapers in the country at the moment during a particularly bad – and daunting time – for the media. Innovation will be the only way we will find our way out of the crisis that the media finds itself in currently,” he says.
“But this scholarship will also help me continue to develop as a person and that excites me hugely too. I’m truly grateful. I’m anxious, but I’m excited beyond measure to be able to learn through Henley again.”
Oxford, who has been a journalist for 23 years working across a range of media organisations in the United Kingdom and now South Africa, chose Henley Africa because of his experience interacting with the faculty – and especially Foster-Pedley.
“I’ve always been incredibly impressed with their focus on innovation and creativity as integral to business processes. It’s also one of the institutions that I’ve always felt does more than just talk about a commitment to business as a force for good, combining purpose with profit – it is genuinely building the structure that can effect positive change.”
“The MBA and the scholarship could not have come at a better time: I’ve been working in the media industry since the early days of the World Wide Web, and what I’ve seen is that the problems that emerged back then haven’t gone away. The old business model that supported the free press is broken, and as a journalist, an entrepreneur and a digital strategist I know all too well that there is no easy answer to the fundamental question of ‘How do we create sustainable business models that support high quality independent journalism?’
“Every organisation needs to find its own way towards that goal, while protecting the independence of its journalists. In my current role, at one of South Africa’s most important media institutions, we’re making progress, but we know we can always do better, and work to get there faster. I’ve been fortunate to work with outstanding journalists and meet people who are solving the problems of the sector internationally. But there are still many questions – for all media houses in South Africa from community news to national broadcaster – which I believe the Henley MBA can provide essential tools to help answer.”
The two recipients join 17 other scholarship recipients who will all be studying at Henley Africa this year, not just the MBA but at other levels of the school’s unique ladder of learning bouquet of accredited courses that allow students to progress, earning while they learn, through the various SAQA levels until they qualify for the gate-keeping PG Diploma in Management Practice and then – after they have successfully completed this – the flagship executive MBA programme.
“Henley Africa has the widest and largest self-funded scholarship programme of any business school on the continent,” explains Foster-Pedley. “We did this on purpose to infuse our classrooms and our learning with a disruption and a diversity that cannot be found anywhere else.
“That was one reason, the other was to recognise our heroes in every shape and form; in communities, on sports fields, on the stage and now in the newsroom and let us give them something in return – a set of tools to go back and make a real and sustainable impact.
“It gives all of us great pleasure to see Thabiso progress from the PG Dip to the executive MBA. I am looking forward to watching his and Adam’s journey on this programme – and seeing the insights they are going to develop to give back to their newsrooms.”