Centring the subaltern: interpreting mainstream media messages in a fractured country


  • Mvuzo Ponono University of the Free State, South Africa




Media messages, Unitary public, Multiplicity of publics, Ethnography, Representation, Subaltern


This article reports on a study that examined the interpretation of mainstream media messages by young people living in Joza, Grahamstown, South Africa. The investigation was prompted by the failure of mainstream media to predict the ANC retaining its electoral dominance in the 2014 national general elections. Instead of falling to the margins as anticipated, the ANC, in areas such as Joza, outstripped its previous share of the vote. The study asked why people living in the township had diverged so drastically from mainstream media predictions. As a theoretical departure point, the study considered that the variation of a black South African township voice is missed by mainstream media because of the sector’s subscription to the idea of a unitary public, which conceals the multiplicity of publics in a fractured country. Through a combination of interviews and participant observation, one of the major findings is that young people in the township of Joza demonstrated that they chose to ignore the messages about the corruption of the ANC. The data suggests that they did so not because of overt racial solidarity, but due to the fact that in a context of high inequality and continued limitations on economic emancipation, the party shone brightly as a vehicle for economic development.


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