The Struggle Narrative: censorship of the media in post-democracy South Africa and the ANC’s quest for liberation hegemony

Bernadine Jones

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


During the pre-democracy period, South Africa’s “liberation party”, the African National Congress (ANC), enjoyed unrivalled support from the English Liberal Press (ELP) and international media. Post-1994, the new government had to very quickly deal with being on the wrong side of the press – a press that demanded the party be held to account on promises, particularly in the run up to the general elections. In 1999, an ANC MP accused the ELP of being “racist and unpatriotic” and “suppressed and distorted the truth, encouraged a negative mood in the country”. Later, the ANC said that the media “opposes the government at every turn”. ANC politicians often felt “attacked and betrayed” by their once-comrades from the liberation election of 1994, and commented on the language used in the treatment of political issues. In the 1950s, the newly elected National Party experienced the same about-turn from the press, and post-1994, the new ANC government learnt the hard way just how fickle the mob and the media could be. The ANC’s history of criticism of the media directly influences the “paranoid selfawareness” of South Africa’s journalists as the party attempts to control the media. The ANC’s quest for a struggle/liberation narrative hegemony drives its need to quash any opposition in the press. The impact of this control and would-be censorship on the role of the media, particularly during the elections from 1994 through 2014, is the topic of this position paper.

The paper uses a wide-ranging literature review of media policy documents and previous research on media election coverage, to assess how this increased involvement and perceived influence of government has led to a chilling effect amongst press journalists and editors. In 2003, SABC board member Thami Mazwai commented that “old clichés such as objectivity or right of the editor” had little place in the Africanist aspirations of the national broadcaster. Wasserman (2003: 219) agrees that rethinking normative journalistic ethics, media ownership, freedom of speech, and transformation of the media is important, especially in post-apartheid South Africa, but argues that Mazwai “seems to be confusing issues” (2003: 222) because objectivity is a cornerstone of democracy, rather than an attack on media freedom. The drive to maintain the liberation identity of the ANC, thus quashing all opposing critiques, is at the centre of this impasse.

This paper considers the impact of pluralism in the media’s role in elections, and outlines 4 how a free and critical media is paramount to a functioning democracy. South Africa’s 20-year old democracy relies on the media acting as a free and critical Fourth Estate, but the extent to which government is involved in mainstream news media affects the public’s access to democratic choices. By way of conclusion, this paper assesses South Africa’s media landscape and makes recommendations for using alternative media to promote democratic processes during elections.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventMeCCSA - Leeds University, Leeds, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Jan 201713 Jan 2017


Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • media censorship
  • national broadcaster
  • broadcast media
  • Post-apartheid era
  • south african democracy
  • south african media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Communication


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