In South Africa’s highly competitive economic environment, experiential learning offers graduates a chance to bridge the gap between academic and professional lives – and get ahead of their peers.

Entering the working world after acquiring their qualifications presents many graduates with unique challenges. Some of them dream of heading up multinationals, while others are passionate about keeping those companies looking good and out of trouble.

For University of Johannesburg (UJ) third-year students Fiona Machika (22) and Gugulethu Mtambo (21), managing organisations’ reputations is right up their alley.

Through an academic partnership between UJ and South Africa’s leading public relations (PR) agency Meropa Communications, Fiona and Gugulethu’s stellar academic performance has earned them a coveted internship at Meropa.

The agency has enriched its comprehensive communication internship programme with a multimedia project that follows Meropa interns’ compulsory 600-hour journey.

The project is predominantly carried in audio-visual format, and within their first hour at Meropa, the two interns had shared their goals and expectations in a debut on-camera diary entry.

Gugulethu will be the first person from his family to go to university. Graduating will open doors and empower him to stand alongside his mother who single-handedly supports him and his siblings.

“The first person that I want to make proud is my mother who is a domestic worker. She has sacrificed a lot for me,” said Gugulethu.

As a little girl growing up in Lebowakgomo in Polokwane, Fiona had no idea that she was a budding PR professional as she spent her meagre pocket money on magazines.

“I enjoy writing and knowing what is happening around me … I like the fact that it could be my responsibility to enhance the reputation of a company.”

During their experience of Meropa, the interns will be exposed to the agency’s diverse range of clients. Working alongside Meropa’s seasoned team, Fiona and Gugu have so far tackled monitoring and media analysis, compiling media lists, hosting media at events and preparing draft copy for traditional and digital PR. They have also tasted the PR world’s relentless throng of deadlines and competing priorities.

Dubbed The Interns, the multimedia series will make Gugulethu and Fiona’s transition from the UJ lecture rooms to Meropa’s boardrooms smoother and give other students and potential interns a “sneak peek” into the world of PR. In addition to fortnightly video diaries, the interns use blog entries and social media posts to give people insight into their journey.

“Our internship programme enables us to achieve several crucial objectives in one holistic way,” explains Meropa MD, Patrick Gearing. “It allows us to harness our own skills in order to make a

lasting contribution to the communications industry. Developing PR professionals is more important than ever in a quickly evolving communications landscape that is playing an increasingly vital role around the world. But above all, our programme makes classroom theory come alive in the most impactful way under the mentorship of some of the best minds in the PR business.”

The progress of the project can be followed on the Meropa website (


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