Posted in Uncategorized

Lion vs Lizard: Happy Birthday to my Twins

My babies turned 5 today 😭😭😭. I am so blessed to be THEIR mom. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most fulfilling and enriching. Every part of my life is enhanced by having them in it and even in the very difficult moments of parenting, I can’t help but thank God for them.

For their birthday, I asked them what they wanted on their cake, expecting a nice compromise like PJ Masks, Paw Patrol or Mickey Mouse Alas, it was not to be. One wanted picture of the Lion Guard. The other wanted a picture of a Lizard (I’ll leave you to guess who wanted what!) In the end, we ended up with the theme Lion vs Lizard and they both loved it!

Lion vs Lizard

This incident is so typical of my experience of parenting them. They are as different as different can be, but they are each other’s world. Zhaki is super smart that even though I claim to be homeschooling him, most of what he knows, is self-taught. Zhani has an imagination that leaves me flawed as I watch him act out scenes from who knows where. Both of them have hearts of gold and the will of a bull. One of them sleeps through the night (mostly) while another sleep walks into my room every single night. One is a vegetarian and the other a would-be carnivore. They drive each other crazy but can’t bear to be apart.

Happy 5th Birthday

It has only been five years, but I have been changed by having them in my life. May God grant us all a happy, fulfilling life as a family, so that we can witness who they will grow up to be one day. Happy birthday to my favourite 5 year olds.

(c) 2021 Sisanda Nkoala

Posted in academia, PhD Journey

To transcribe or not to transcribe…that is the question

I’m back at it, transcribing video footage for my PhD study. Last month I made pretty good progress by attending to issues my supervisor had flagged in my previous chapter submissions. All in all, I had to revise 3 chapters and also work on my literature review, which I had not started. By the end of the month I managed to hand in four chapters which was my goal.This month the goal is to work through my transcriptions. I have 90 hours of video footage to analyse. Half of that was done in 2020. I am now starting the work on the other 45 hours.

Depending on the kind of study, I sometimes outsource the transcriptions because I listen very attentively during the actual interview and make notes so I know what themes are emerging. For my struggle songs study, I chose to outsource those transcripts. For my PhD though, I have decided to do the transcriptions myself because they involve video footage which is crucial to capture correctly and comprehensively in the analysis. The transcription process is very helpful if you want to immerse yourself in the data, especially when doing a rhetorical analysis. But there are tips to getting the most out of the process.

  1. When you start, don’t stop until you’re done. I’ve set myself a target of working for four hours a day on these so that I can finish in one go. This will keep the data fresh in my mind and help me to notice patterns in terms of what is said and shown in the videos I’m analysing.
  2. Analyse while you transcribe. In the case of this study, I think the transcription and data processing is already a way of engaging in data analysis because as I notice things, I am making notes around what they are and why they might be important in my discussion chapter later. There is something to be said about taking in the data in its original form that adds depth in a way that reading a transcript prepared by someone else would not. That is not always important in a study, but in the case of my PhD, where the focus is on the rhetoric of news reports, it is an essential step.
  3. Use software that is easy to work with. I love transcribe wreally. The interface makes it easy to navigate quickly and the features, such as including a timestamp, speeding up or slowing down the playback speed and using a footpedal, helps me work more efficiently. Added to that there is the dictation feature which I use when I’m too tired to type. This feature lets you speak while the programme writes for you. Transcribe wreally does have an automatic transcription option which you pay a little extra for, but I have not found this feature useful in the context of my work.

In qualitative research, the decision to transcribe your work or to outsource that part of your data processing to someone else, really depends on what you want to do with the data and how you plan to analyse it. If the manner in which things are said is not that important, then outsourcing the transcription work could be beneficial and save you time. If, however, an important aspect of the analysis is understanding how things are said, then your only option, like me, is to do it yourself.

(c) 2021 Sisanda Nkoala

Posted in academia, PhD Journey

My productive procrastination paper is finally complete… But not what I had in mind

My chapter on struggle songs is finally done! I am surprised at the direction it took because it is not at all what I had in mind when I started. Initially I set out to do a study based on interviews. But as happens with research that involves human participants, my schedule was thrown off when I couldn’t pin down a day and time with one of my key informants. I also feel like I need to hear from more people than I initially had in mind, so I must still find them.

The approach of interview-based research is new for me because as a rhetoric scholar, my practice has been to focus on texts. I’m very comfortable doing this, but am mindful that for some topics, it is best to hear from people themselves, rather than put words in their mouths. That is certainly the case with struggle music. There is a lot of research on it, but most of the studies are by scholars like me, who come to the topic with a particular perspective. There is not much work that brings out the perspectives of people who actually sang struggle songs. That is what I had wanted to do in my study. It is something I still intend to do, and that is why my data collection is continuing, even though this first paper is done.


I like to think of the research process as one where the question you really need to ask unfolds as you do the study. Often I go into a project with an idea of what to focus on, and some idea of what I want to find out. But as I read, new elements emerge and they take me in a different direction to the one I’d initially set out on. It reminds me of my father, who was a novelist, who always used to say the characters in his stories tell him what story he needs to write, rather than him writing a story he has in mind. That is why at the end of most of my studies, I read my full paper and am amazed and pleased at how it has taken shape because the end product is not one I could have mapped out going into the journey. I feel like as I read it and write it, I too am leaning something new, and this encourages me that perhaps the readers too, will find it worthwhile.

(c) 2021 Sisanda Nkoala

Posted in academia

“Standing on the shoulders of giants,” but which giants?

in academia we place so much on the published and documented, to the detriment of knowledge that exists in other forms. We talk about literature reviews as a means of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ but which giants?

Yesterday I had the awesome privilege of interviewing the first key informant of my study. He is a man very knowledgeable on struggle songs and more than that, he is tells riviting stories and has a very unique way of communicating ideas. As I was talking to him I was struck by his generosity and how he kept saying that he sees the knowledge and experience he has gained as something to be shared so that future generations can get a different version of South African history to the ones they have been taught since 1652.

This struck me because in academia we place so much on the published and documented, to the detriment of knowledge that exists in other forms. We talk about literature reviews as a means of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ but which giants?

I have been busy with the literature review of my study and I’m quite relieved to see that since I first wrote on struggle songs in 2012, when there was very little from South Africa, the scholarship has grown. This is in part due to the 2015/2016 university student protests where struggle songs became expressions of interest because of the ways the students employed them as a political tool. But even with these studies, for a country where this type of music is so prevalent, the research is extremely limited. This limitation in research though, doesn’t mean that the knowledge on struggle songs is limited. As the conversation with my interviewee showed me, there is a wealth of knowledge and even if it is not published in journals, it is being shared.

It is time for academia to rethink who the so-called giants in respective fields are. This call is not new, but given the slow pace of change, is one worth amplifying again.

(c) 2021 Sisanda Nkoala

Posted in academia, PhD Journey

Writing a research paper while doing a PhD: Why I believe in productive procrastination projects

Hey! I am back to blogging, and in this series I’ll be sharing my journey on writing a research paper while doing my PhD. The paper is completely unrelated to my study, and I like to call these ‘side projects’ my productive procrastination projects: they are what I turn to when I don’t want to do the PhD work I’m supposed to be doing. But because they are research projects, they make me feel like I’m being productive. I doubt my supervisor would agree 🙂

Firstly, let me start by explaining why I am prone to engage in these productive procrastination projects. The PhD journey is LONG. Three years of thinking about the same issue. Three years of reading the same kinds of papers. Three years of talking about the same thing with your supervisor. These side projects are a nice break from that because they make me think about something else while engaging in meaningful research. They have also actually expanded my thinking on my PhD because they expose me to different kinds of literature. Last year I did a productive procrastination project on satire and rhetoric, and out of that project came an idea of how to improve an aspect of the analysis for my PhD study. I am a firm believer that when doing a PhD, the PhD is not the only thing you should do. This is primarily for the sake of your sanity, but also for the sake of your scholarly engagement.

Secondly, let me explain how I choose these productive procratination projects. Since I started my PhD in 2019 I have published 4 journal articles, I have 5 book chapters in press and have presented at at least six conferences. I chose each of these based on whether they align to my overall research area which is the rhetoric and langauge of South African journalism and journalism education. While I am looking for something different from my study, I don’t want something so different that doing it doesn’t eventually help move me forward in the direction of what I am most interested in. The productive procrastination project needs to align with you PhD project in some way.

Finally, let me tell you a bit about the current project because I’m really excited about it. It is on rhetoric and struggle songs, and is a follow up to the very first journal article I wrote in 2012 while I was an honours student. The paper was discovered by the person leading this project and they tracked me down to invite me to take part. This is not unusual in academia and we are usually warned that if we get such invitations, especially as emerging scholars, we should run away as fast as possible because the people involved are usually predatory publishers. A colleagues helped me sass out the situation and it turns out the scholars are highly acclaimed and credible, and the project has the potential to make a meaningful impact in this field. After hearing this, I didn’t think twice, and despite needing to hand in four chapters of my PhD at the end of March, I said yes to this productive procrastination project which is also due at the end of this month.

My experience with these productive procrastination projects is that having them does indeed make me more productive when it comes to my PhD because knowing I have these two deadlines looming, I manage to avoid wasting time online (writing blogs 🙂 ) and instead buckle down and become quite productive. Procrastination is not bad IF it is productive, right?

(c) 2021 Sisanda Nkoala

Posted in Uncategorized

Fight for a heart that is light. Fight for a heart that is right.

Fight for a heart that is a light. Fight for a heart that is right.

A heart that does not dwell on disappointment
A heart that does not habour hurt
A heart that does not obssess over offence
One that believes the best

Fight for a heart that is light. Fight for a heart that is right.

A heart that prioritises peace
A heart that is full of faith
A heart that holds onto hope
One that connects to courage

Fight for a heart that is light. Fight for a heart that is right.

It is easy for your heart to take on all the heaviness that comes with being alive
To be weighed down by cares it has not business carrying
And in the moment you feel justified for harbouring the negativity
Thinking that warped sense of justice is deserved
But unless your heart is light how can it truly feel all the good that life brings its way?
Unless it is right how can it live up to all it is meant to be?

Fight for a heart that is light. Fight for a heart that is right.

For that is how you fight for a meaningful life.

Posted in academia, Daily reflections, Inspirational, Journalism education, PhD Journey

A lesson on making mistakes: My Phd Journey

The point of studying for a doctral degree is to discover something new. Your goal is to look at an existing problem from a perspective that no one else has. That means in most cases, not only do you not know what you’re looking for, you’re also unsure how to look for it. It is for this reason that there are drafts and redrafts and re-redrafts, until the ideas crystalise and the answer begins to emerge. For that reason then, a PhD, among a host of other things, is a lesson in confronting ‘failure’ and learning how to recover from it so that you can keep moving forward. Most people who do a PhD are book smart. They are used to knowing the answer. So when they embark on this journey, where even the question itself is not clear, the detours and delays can feel like failure at times.

I am doing a PhD in rhetoric studies. But my topic is interdisciplinary in nature because it involves journalism studies, studies on culture and a bit of law. In a nutshell I am looking at how news reports cover the law in South Africa. I spend my days pouring over journal articles and really dense books on topics I’ve only ever dealt with in passing, but that I now need to be versed in at the level of a master. To say I feel clueless about what I am reading most of the time would not be an exaggeration. This hasn’t yet got to me, but I can see signs that it has the potential to. So when I read this quote by Neil Gaiman, it spoke courage to my heart. I hope it does to yours too:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

The first draft of my thesis will be full of mistakes. So will the second. And the third. And the fourth. But every mistake clarifies how I shouldn’t be approaching my research problem, and in so doing, moves me closer to how I should be doing it.

The only mistake I can make on this journey is to fear making any. The end goal is a degree, yes. But more than that it is the experience and transformation I will have gone through from Ms Nkoala to Dr Nkoala in character.

(c) 2020 Sisanda Nkoala

Posted in Daily reflections, Faith, Inspirational, Lockdown

Day 20 of 21 I am soft

I am not sure if this is a poem but these words came to me today.

I am soft. Not fragile. Soft.

This means that when life applies pressure on me, bending me whichever way, I don’t break; I bend.
I bend to reveal new contours of who I am because my identity is not in the shape of my exterior,
but in the essence of who I in the very fabric of my being.

I am soft. Not fragile. Soft.

This means when words are directed at me, with the intention of shattering me, I don’t burst;
I bend.
I bend to momentarily process what was spoken, but in only a matter of time, I bounce back because the stuff that I am made off cannot be changed by words that are not Truth.

I am soft. Not fragile. Soft.

This means I am like clay in the hands of my Maker. He shapes me and bendss me and I take on His form.
I don’t resist the work He is doing in my life because I know that when it is done, I will be just like Him because

He is soft. Not fragile. Soft

(c) 2020 Sisanda Nkoala