The Commute Podcast

The Commute is a podcast for South Africans, at home and across the world, who are interested in ideas and questions and what they might mean for South Africa. Hosted by me, Jessica van Onselen, it’s a great way to keep your ears company during your taxi/ car/ aeroplane/ bicycle/ train commute. And if your commute is longer – listen to several in a row! Designed to provide a high value explainer from experts, The Commute gives you, the smart South African, the big ideas in small bites. Series 1 (2018)  is available right here, or subscribe on iTunes. Series 2 (2019) is currently underway.


The idea of South Africa billions of years ago (S2 Ep 2)

You know South Africa is basically the global hotspot for ancient rocks and fossils, but you didn’t know how COOL they are. Jessica interviews paleontologist (amongst other things) Dr Robyn Pickering, who is back in South Africa after a decade abroad, about the pre-historic origins of SA’s gold, #FeesMustFall, being a woman in science, and that time there were cockroaches the size of Citi Golfs roaming around. The books Dr Pickering mentions are: ‘Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins’ by Christa Kuljian and ‘Lab Girl’ by Hope Jahren.

The idea of Brexit as FUBAR (S2 Ep 1)

Has Britain gone mad? The slow motion trainwreck that is Brexit reached new lows when Theresa May’s proposed deal was defeated by the Commons. Parliament has said it will block No Deal. And the Brexiteers have yet to produce a realistic plan they would be willing to accept. But could this mean opportunity for South Africa, in terms of trade, tourism and immigration? Lukanyo Mnyanda, editor of Business Day and ardent Brexit-watcher, tells Jessica he isn’t so sure.

Episode 11: The idea of the Ramaphoria hangover

It’s the last episode of Season 1, folks. But don’t be sad, because it’s a great one. Are you confused about whether the goodies or the baddies are winning in Ramaphosa’s presidency so far? Me too. The President seems constrained and the ANC resistant to economic reform. And the Deputy President scares the bejesus out of everyone except the ANC exec. Jessica speaks to political writer Carol Paton, who takes us through the Ramaphoria hangover in her characteristically sober and understated way. If you miss The Commute in the coming months, visit to re-listen to Season 1.

Episode 10: The idea of playfulness as a radical act

Art time! We’re delving into some culture this week, and taking a break from geopolitics. Jessica speaks to the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year Jemma Kahn about her latest work, the Borrow Pit, her Japanese influences, and why you’re never going to make good art by just having beers with your friends and going to bed early. Visit for more info.

Episode 9: The idea of making America great again

Donald Trump considers South Africa a sh*thole country – although to be fair he thinks America is a total sh*thole too. But he’s gonna make it great again. What does having an American reality tv host in the White House mean for South Africa? Jessica speaks to Phillip van Niekerk, who is living and working in the Swamp itself, Washington DC.

The statement about UN voting loyalty to America mentioned in this show can be accessed here.

Episode 8: The idea of Finland’s lekker schooling system

We suck at reading. South Africa came bottom out of 50 countries in a recent international assessment of reading and literacy. Other than calling for a revolution (as Tracy Chapman has been urging Jessica to do), what can we do? Well, some South Africa schools have decided they’re going to switch to the Finnish education system. But what IS the Finnish schooling system? Jessica speaks to Professor Hillary Janks to find out. The book mentioned in this show is Finnish Lessons 2.0: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?

Episode 7: The idea of the North Korean embassy in Pretoria

Counterfeit money, shipments of crack, ivory smuggling… no, this isn’t a new Netflix series, it’s just an average day in North Korea’s underground world. And it’s all happening just up the road. Jessica speaks to veteran investigative journalist Julian Rademeyer about South Africa, the DPRK, and why that North Korean restaurant in Pretoria wasn’t very good. The report we are discussing is Diplomats and Deceit: North Korea’s criminal activities in Africa.

Episode 6: The idea of Expropriation Without Compensation

#GiveBackTheLand! Yeah! But which land? And how? And to whom? And through which process? The EFF and the ANC want the South African Constitution changed to enable expropriation without compensation. Jessica talks to Professor Ruth Hall about how we can put actual human beings and their needs at the centre of the land debate. The books mentioned in this episode are The Land Is Ours; Untitled; and Land Divided, Land Restored.

Episode 5: The idea of China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ push

Xi Jinping, President of China, just got the go ahead to become president for life when his party abolished term limits. Who is Xi? Should South Africa worry about all those lovely loans it took from China? And what is the not-exactly-well-named “One Belt One Road” initiative announced in 2017? Jessica talks to Cobus van Staden, co-host of the awesome China-Africa Podcast. who explains it all. The links Cobus mentions in this show are: the South African Institute of International Affairs China reporting and the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University. You can listen to the China Africa podcast here:

Episode 4: The idea of a (functional?) Arts Ministry

Sometimes it feels like South Africa’s Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) is a big nothing-burger. But given South Africa’s extraordinary artistic talent pool (Trevor Noah, Black Coffee, Dada Masilo, Andile Ndlovu, Zanele Muholi etc etc etc), why do they seem to suck? Jessica talks to acclaimed playwright Mike van Graan to see if this is a fair assessment, and what the problems might be.

Episode 3: The idea of Bitcoin

South Africa topped the charts in 2017 for Google searches for the word ‘Bitcoin’. What is Bitcoin? Why is everyone so excited about cryptocurrencies? Will I be able to buy my groceries at Woolies using Bitcoin soon? Jessica speaks to Claire Ingram Bogusz to learn more about this amazing new world. You can visit Claire’s website at The links Claire mentions in the interview are: and  And Claire recommends this great online course on how Bitcoin and Cryptos work.

Episode 2: The idea of Vladimir Putin

We know Vladimir Putin likes to pose shirtless while hunting bears, and that he and Donald Trump have something special going on, but how much we do know about the man himself? Jessica van Onselen continues her conversation with Professor Irina Filatova about Putin and South Africa. The books mentioned in this show are: – ANC: The view from Moscow (1999) by Vladimir Shubin and – The Hidden Thread: Russia and South Africa in the Soviet Era (2013) by Irina Filatova and Apollon Davidson.

Episode 1: The idea of the USSR & the ANC

It’s Episode 1 of this brand new South African podcast, the Commute! We all know vaguely that the Soviet Union supported the ANC under Apartheid, and many of the USSR’s ideas from the 60s and 70s still permeate ANC’s big policy ideas. Jessica van Onselen talks to Professor Irina Filatova about Russian South African relations under Apartheid, and the traces we can see of it today. The books mentioned in this show are: – ANC: The view from Moscow (1999) by Vladimir Shubin – The Hidden Thread: Russia and South Africa in the Soviet Era (2013) by Irina Filatova and Apollon Davidson.