I am a Professor of Digital Society and hold a British Academy Global Professorship. I am based at the University of Glasgow for the duration of the Professorship, which focusses on strengthening public oversight of intelligence-driven surveillance. Before that, I was a full Professor in the Department of Communication and Media at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Between 2018 and 2020, I was Head of Department of Journalism, Film and Television at UJ. I hold a PhD from the Wits School of the Arts, University of the Witwatersrand, as well as a MA, Honours and BA in Fine Arts from the same university. Before joining UJ, I held the Chair in Media and Information Society in the School of Journalism and Media Studies at the University Currently Known as Rhodes. I was also co-Director of the Highway Africa Centre, devoted to promoting digital media in Africa.
I come from a civil society background, having worked for the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) for 15 years and served as its Executive Director for eight of those years. The FXI dealt with some of the earliest post-apartheid cases of freedom of expression violations, including violations of the right to protest and state harassment of activists, and I oversaw its successful application for law clinic status.
Before joining the FXI, I worked in the community art centre movement, firstly at the African Institute for Art at the Funda Centre in Soweto, and then at the Afrika Cultural Centre in Newtown.
I was a member of the Right 2 Know Campaign (R2K), and involved in its work on secrecy and securitisation, the right to protest and media freedom. I represented Universities South Africa at public hearings held by Parliament’s National Council of Provinces, on the implications of the Protection of State Information Bill (or the ‘Secrecy Bill’) for academic freedom. Together with Profs Julie Reid and Viola Milton, I was a co-founder of the Media Policy and Democracy Project (MPDP), a joint initiative of UJ and the Department of Communication Science at the University of South Africa. The MPDP was established in 2012 to encourage participatory media and communications policy. In its eleven years of existence, it conducted research that has impacted on policy discussions around press transformation and accountability; media diversity; ICT policy and communications surveillance and privacy.
My research interests have been shaped by my work in civil society, and my research work is both informed by and informs activist work. My interest is in possibly the most neglected form of intelligence oversight of all, namely public oversight and how the public can contribute to holding these most secretive areas of the state to account. Through my research, writings and civil society activism, I have examined how national security practices are changing state/ society relations and impacting on spaces for political expression, especially dissent and the right to protest. I have produced four single authored books on these themes. I am a contributor to publications such as the Daily Maverick, The Conversation, OpenDemocracy, the Mail & Guardian and About.Intel, a blog on intelligence oversight, set up by the German think-tank Stiftung Neue Verantwortung.
Since 2014, I fundraised for, managed and undertaken research on a project on communication surveillance in South Africa. Based on this work, I was appointed to a Presidential Review Panel on the State Security Agency (SSA), established to investigate the mandate, functioning and organisational integrity of the SSA. The panel’s work is widely recognised as having provided a roadmap for intelligence transformation in South Africa and has been used as a basis for hearings held by a Commission of Enquiry into State Capture (the Zondo Commission, named after its chair).