Professor Jane Duncan

  • Professor of Digital Society (Sociology)

telephone: 01413300565
pronouns: She/her/hers

Import to contacts


I am a Professor of Digital Society and hold a British Academy Global Professorship, focussing on strengthening public oversight of intelligence-driven surveillance. Before that, I was a 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. I 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.

In March 2016, I gave an oral presentation to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which was informed by the MPDP research. I represented R2K, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and Privacy International. The presentation was based on two written submissions on the extent to which the communications surveillance policies and practices of the South African government were human rights compliant. The MPDP research was also integrated into a Universal Periodic Review submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The research has also cited in a High Court judgement declaring South Africa's main surveillance law, Rica, unconstitutional, and was also provided to the office of the Inspector General of Intelligence, Prof. Setlhomamaru Isaac Dintwe.

The MPDP has also funded the investigative journalism of Heidi Swart, who has rapidly become the most authoritative journalist on communication surveillance in South Africa. Her investigative pieces have featured in the Mail & Guardian and Daily Maverick.

I have also raised funds to establish a network of researchers and journalists in southern Africa, focusing on mapping surveillance policies and practices. I am principal investigator on this project, which is managed by senior lecturer at the University of Botswana, Dr. Allen Munoriyarwa. 

In 2022, the South African-based National Research Foundation awarded me a B2 rating (valid for 8 years). This rating is awarded to researchers who enjoy considerable international recognition.



Research interests

The British Academy Global Professorship that I hold focusses on strengthening public oversight of intelligence-driven surveillance: a comparative case study analysis of eight southern african countries. Digitisation has provided intelligence agencies with the capabilities to conduct surveillance at an unprecedented scale, which requires effective oversight to limit the potential for abuse. In many countries, oversight is usually carried out by official institutions such as parliament, courts, independent statutory offices, or an ombudsman, whose role is to monitor and review surveillance capabilities to ensure that intelligence agencies use them effectively and lawfully. however, across southern africa – where digital surveillance is expanding - these official oversight institutions lack the power and resources to perform these functions. Consequently, oversight in these countries typically is conducted by the public, through, for instance, challenging unjustifiable secrecy, publicising abuses and organising campaigns to rein these agencies in. through comparative case study research exploring lessons from key moments when public oversight has been attempted in the region, my research will develop a model for successful public oversight of digital surveillance.

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, 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 South African civilian intelligence agency, the State Security Sgency (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).

Since 2014, I have also written four books: National Security Surveillance in southern Africa: An Anti-capitalist Critique, London: Zed Books, 2022; Stopping the spies: constructing and resisting the surveillance state in South Africa, Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2018; Protest Nation: The Right to Protest in South Africa, University of KwaZulu/ Natal, 2016; The rise of the securocrats: the case of South Africa, Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2014.


I have fundraised for research and activist projects and organisations since 2001, including fundraising for the Freedom of Expression Institute while I was Executive Director. Some of my more recent fundraising efforts include the following:

2019 to date – Surveillance and Southern Africa. Project coordinator and fundraiser for the Media Policy and Democracy Project on a two-year research project on the state of surveillance in Southern Africa. Funded by Luminate ($174,000) and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa ($25,000).

2016 – State of Privacy in South Africa. Project coordinator for the Media Policy and Democracy Project on a two-year research project on the State of Privacy Globally. Funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) by Privacy International. Representative of the Project in a global network of privacy advocates and researchers.

2014 to date – State of communication surveillance in South Africa. An academic research project combined with investigative journalism, in communication surveillance policies and practices in South Africa. Funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa (R400,000 in 2014, R400,000 in 2016 and R700,000 in 2018). Conceptualised, fundraised for and managed the project on behalf of the Media Policy and Democracy Project.

2013-2014 – Freedom of assembly documentation project (a data journalism project). A research project documenting the application of the Regulation of Gatherings Act by twelve South African Municipalities, examining the extent to which the right to protest is respected by Municipalities and the police, and documenting cases of state harassment of, and police violence against, political activists. Conceptualised and fundraised R400,000 for project from the Open Society Foundation for South Africa. This project was turned into a data journalism project, in collaboration with the Mail and Guardian and Institute for the Advancement of Journalism.

2011-2012. A baseline study of youth identity, the media and the public sphere in South Africa and Holland. Joint research project with Prof Jane Duncan (project leader), Prof Larry Strelitz, Prof Lynette Steenveld, Mr Admire Mare (all from Rhodes), Mr Wadim Schreiner (Media Tenor), Dr Tanja Bosch, Prof Adam Haupt and Dr Musa Ndlovu (of UCT), Prof Irene Costera Meijer and Nico Drok (Free University of Amsterdam). The research team fundraised R660,000 for the project from the SA-Netherlands Research Programme on Alternatives in Development (Sanpad).

 2012 – Media Policy and Democracy Project. Joint research project between the School of Journalism and Media Studies, Rhodes University, and the Department of Communication Science, Unisa. Project co-ordinators: Prof. Jane Duncan: media diversity and transformation, Dr. Julie Reid: media accountability, Dr. Viola Milton: communications policy in the public interest. With other project leaders, conceptualised and fundraised R1,574,126 for the project, from the Open Society Foundation and the Women in Research Fund, Unisa.

2012 – Digital Citizens’ Indaba project on internet freedom in Africa. Conceptualised, managed, and fundraised R123,420 for the project, from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

2011 – Digital Citizens’ Indaba project on freedom of information for digital citizens. Conceptualised, managed and fundraised R76,550 for the project, from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.


  • Irandoost, Daniele-Hadi
    Public oversight of digital surveillance for intelligence purposes: a comparative case study analysis of oversight practices in southern Africa

I have experience of MA and PhD supervision and have hosted Postdoctoral Fellows in the broad areas of media and communication policy, investigative journalism, and mediations of protests. Some of the dissertations I have supervised and co-supervised to conclusion focus on youth, social media and political action; the political economy of journalism practice in Uganda, post-independence political violence and journalism in Zimbabwe; Radio Mthwakazi and the construction of Ndebele ethnic identity; media framing of the #feesmustfall protests at Wits and the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in 2015 and 2016; investigating the SABC’s public service mandate in the multiplatform and multi-device environment and commercial and non-profit investigative journalism as a means to achieve journalistic excellence: comparing the Sunday Times and amaBhungane Centre for Investigation Unit. 



I have designed and taught courses from first year to Master's levels, and my teaching areas have included global journalism, internet journalism, introduction to journalism, media policy and institutions; data and society and research methodology.