30 September 2022

In recognition and celebration of the cultural wealth of South Africa, we celebrate Heritage Month every year in September. Within the context of languages and media in South Africa, the community media industry prides itself on having a diverse offering of community media platforms covering different regions across the country.

The Media Development and Diversity Agency (a state-owned enterprise) was established with a mandate to “create an enabling environment for media development and diversity which reflects the needs and aspirations of all South Africans, promote media development and diversity by providing support primarily to community and small commercial media projects, and provides training and monetary support for most, if not all, community media structured across the country.

In this way, says Dr Molale, most of the South African population gets to celebrate the pride and richness of their indigenous languages, through indigenous language content in the form of news, information, education, traditional music, and interesting traditional and cultural content.

“However, a careful study of the status and use of indigenous languages in the media reveals that our cultural wealth is dissipating at an alarming rate due to the widespread use, encroachment, and hegemony of the colonial English language,” he notes.

In a recently published chapter in the book African Language Media: Development, Economics and Management, Dr Molale and Dr Phillip Mpofu explore how the English language still dominates the community media space. This is further confirmed by a case study of a local community newspaper in the North-West Province which demonstrated the instability and unsustainability of the use of Setswana, as a South African language, in Mmega Dikgang – the community newspaper in question.

Community Media Migrating  

The study, according to Dr Molale, shows why it is difficult to promote African languages in the press amid the postcolonial hangover and market model of the media.

“While the rise and demise of African language newspapers from colonial to post-independence Africa is documented, a good example is Mmega Dikgang started as an African language newspaper and later metamorphosed into an English language newspaper.”

“The newspaper’s transition is due to the understanding of the imperative of African language media, the language question, especially the English-African language debate in public domains, and the performance of African language press in colonial and post-independence South Africa. This shows that the English hegemony with colonial roots is the fulcrum for the struggle of African language newspapers,” he says.

English is established as the language of commerce, politics, education, and parliament, among other domains. It is the established language of journalism and news. Hence, all the justifications for the poor performance of African language newspapers are hinged on the dominance of the English language newspapers, which enjoy the lion’s share of the readership.

In the chapter in question, it is further argued that having African language publishing and distribution in English hegemony is antithetical to the goal of promoting previously marginalised African languages. Mmega Dikgang should take a leaf from other African language newspapers, such as Ilanga and Isolezwe, on how they survived the relentless competition of English language newspapers.

“In this way, celebrating Heritage Month would mean more if community media platforms will go out of their way to counter the hegemonic status quo of the English language that has assumed the position of lingua franca across community-based radio stations and newspapers,” concludes Dr Molale.

@ Pictures supplied.