Resources (sharing) – men, materials, machines and marketing

The advantage in having local language newspapers published by foreign-dominant language newspapers is sharing of resources. Specifically, local language newspapers published as subsidiary products benefit by sharing resources with the other newspapers. For instance, organisations having such products will only have a central administrative section, commercial (circulation and advert) section and printing section. The personnel who work in these sections serve all the products (either main or subsidiary) in the organisation. This is economical for the company. Materials and machines (e.g. printing) can also be jointly used for the various products. Similarly, the same circulation trucks or vans can be used for the circulation of the newspapers. Local language newspapers published as mainstream products do not have these advantages. They are published in smaller organisation and with smaller resources. However, for local language newspapers published as subsidiary products, while resource sharing may be an advantage, they do not usually benefit as much as they could from these opportunities, as they are regarded as mere appendages of the organisation.

However, other than the model of management in which a local language newspaper finds itself, three factors stand out in determining the success of such a newspaper. These are the number of people who speak the newspaper’s local language, the power equation and resource allocation, and the ability of the newspaper to cater to the tastes of youths and urban elites in terms of language use and content. We shall look at the three points in turn.

Number of local language speakers and cultural assertiveness

Writing about the success of Zulu language newspapers in South Africa, Ndlovu (2011) asserts that ‘the pride which the amaZulu have in their language and the sheer size of the Zulu-speaking market are phenomena that have led to ... an increase in privately-owned Zulu media platforms’ (278). The 2011 census in the country indicates isiZulu is the mother-tongue of 22.7% of South Africa’s population, followed by isiXhosa (16.0%), Afrikaans (13.5%), English (9.6%), Sepcdi (9.1 %), Setswana (8.0%), Sesotho (7.6%), Xitsonga (4.5%), SiSwati (2.5%), Tshivenda (2.4%) and IsiNdebele (2.1 %; Statistics South Africa 2012). Apart from this, ‘Zulu is the most widely spoken language after English ... about 50% of the country understands it’ (see ‘Praise for New Zulu Paper’ 2011, 1 ; as cited in Ndlovu 2011, 279). In Kwa-Zulu Natal province, 80% of the population is Zulu-speaking, and 21.5% of residents of Gaunteng province speak Zulu at home. In Mpumalanga, Zulu is the second-most-common language (26.4%) after Swati

(30.8%). However, it is not just the number of speakers of a language that matters; the cultural assertiveness of its speakers also goes a long way in determining it as a language in the public domain. Ndlovu (2011) moves this thesis further:

Zulu media outlets, in political and cultural terms, are currently relatively dominant because of the historical pride of the amaZulu (Zulu people) towards Zulu (the language). ... In cultural-economic terms, Zulu media outlets are rising because of the comparatively larger numbers of Zulu-speaking people in the South African linguistic market.


In earlier work (Salawu 2012) I reiterated this point about the popularity of a local language and the success of media outlets that operate in such languages. Specifically, print media exist in the Hausa and Yoruba languages, two of the major languages in Nigeria (some of which do well in the market) because of their relatively large sizes compared to the minority languages in the country. This point would explain the success of the Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo (Hausa) and Alaroye publications (Yoruba), for example. There is also the contention that the print media landscape in the Igbo language (the third largest language in Nigeria) is not that exciting, simply because the speakers of the language do not have as much cultural assertiveness as those who speak Hausa and Yoruba (see the interview granted by Professor Samuel Uzochukwu to The Guardian newspaper, 27 August 2004, 32-33, as cited in Salawu 2006, 10; see also Nnabuihe and Ikwubuzo 2006, 54).

Talking about political economy, it is the size of the Zulu-speaking population that media corporations latch on to for profit. Citing Comaroff and Comaroff (2009) and Wasserman (2009), Ndlovu (2011) refers to this as the ‘commercialisation of identity and language’ (269). He notes that private media corporations in South Africa have, in the past 20 years, effectively and selectively promoted languages that belong to language groups with certain inherent historical demographic characteristics that are easily utilisable for profit. The media corporations (either local or international) have systematically opted to strongly support those indigenous language groups that individually and comparatively offer larger audiences and/or higher and growing income levels. In specific terms, Ndlovu (2011) asserts:

Media corporations targeting Zulu media consumers ... support Zulu because of the bigger numbers of Zulu speakers/media consumers, compared to other individual black ethnic groups. The Zulu group is also supported because of the size of its youth audiences, its growing middle class and the urbanization taking place in KZN.


The point that the size of a language alone is not enough for its economic viability is reiterated by Ndlovu (201 l)when he writes:

In addition, generally speaking media corporations support those language groups that ... also have a long-standing history of (and still strongly commercially viable) publishing and media consumption specifically in their own languages. As such, and with carefully calculated commercial risk, they have strategically set up new ‘traditional’ (radio and newspapers) and new ‘digital’ (online) media platforms among those groups that, despite globalisation and the persistent hegemony of English, still take strong historical, futuristic, political and cultural pride in their languages.

(270, emphasis added)

The issue of cultural pride (I prefer ‘assertiveness’) may partly explain why the Xhosa language is no longer doing so well in newspaper publishing, in contrast to Zulu. For example, Imvo Zabantsundu, the isiXhosa newspaper that existed between 1884 and 1997 was remarkable. Since its collapse, there has been no serious attempt to revamp it and no other mainstream isiXhosa newspaper has been established since then. I hinted at this (Salawu 2013) when I said that, until after the collapse of apartheid, the difference among the various Xhosa-speaking peoples was well pronounced. The Xhosa nation was not united, but divided into Rarabe Xhosa (later known as Ciskei) and Gcaleka Xhosa (known as Transkei). Ciskei and Transkei were among the homelands created by the apartheid government across South Africa. Even within these two divisions there are sub-divisions. These divisions also speak different dialects of the same language, and each claims superiority and higher purity over the other. The Igbo language in Nigeria also suffers this, as it is still embroiled in the conflict of finding a generally acceptable standard orthography (Emenyonu 2002). But by far the greatest problem that prevents the flourishing of African languages is not that of the politics of evolving a standard form, but of the attitude of most native speakers to their languages. This attitude is perhaps what is going well for the Zulu language; as Ndlovu (2011, 280) remarks, of the nine provinces that make up South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal (the home of the Zulu) is, arguably, by far the most culturally (emphasis added), historically and politically conscious.

Perhaps because of this Zulu cultural assertiveness, there has been a tendency for Zulu to be taken as representing all Nguni languages. Ndlovu (2011,280) seemingly alludes to this when he says that Zulu belongs to the broader Nguni language group that incorporates Xhosa, Ndebele and Swati. The people who speak these Nguni variations mostly understand Zulu. While trying to answer why there are no mainstream newspapers in isiXhosa, for instance, and why media corporations have not been interested in investing in it (being the second largest South African home language), my previous conjecture (Salawu 2013) was that the investors probably do not see any need for an isiXhosa language newspaper, assuming that since both are Nguni languages, the isiZulu newspapers are enough to cater for all such languages and peoples.

It is this vastness of speakers and ‘associated’ speakers of the Zulu language that media corporations have been exploiting to sustain old, and launch new, traditional media platforms. It is for this reason that the Zico Investment-Witness

Group-Media24 consortium bought in to the struggling UmAfrika in 2002. International media conglomerates are also taking a cue from the local media operators. In 2002, the Irish-owned Independent News and Media Group launched the highly successful Isolezwe, the only local language daily newspaper in South Africa and the only true daily newspaper in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN; see AMPS 2010, as cited in ADS24 2011). The newspaper has become a household name among its readers, while its popularity is attested to by the fact that it sells, on average, over 100,000 copies per day (Salawu 2013). The Avusa Media Group was so impressed by the success of Isolezwe that, in November 2010, it launched the isiZulu version of its flagship and highly successful newspaper, Sunday Times. Meanwhile, Media24 group is also said to be interested in buying the 109-year-old Ilanga from Mandla-Matla, an investment arm of the Inkatha Freedom Party’ (IFP). Already, the newspaper’s subscription, circulation, advertising and marketing aspects are being handled by the conglomerate (Ndlovu 2011, 284).

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