Power equation and resource allocation

Writing about the political economy of indigenous language media in Nigeria, Oso (2006) notes,

the use of any language within a multilingual society like Nigeria depends to a good extent on the power relations between the language groups within the country'. In the case of the use of any language by the mass media, the economic potential of the speakers of such a language is also of crucial importance. Again, we cannot divorce this from the issue of power in the sense that resource allocation within a polity is a function of power and class relations.


The point here cannot be treated in isolation of the issue of the size of a language. There is a contention that the people of the major ethnic group always have better access to power and economic resources in the polity (Nnoli 1980). The political economy literature tells us there is a link between power and resource allocation (Murdock and Golding 1995). Ndlovu (2011, 270) makes it clear that media corporations are not only interested in the size of the audience of a language, but also in the audience’s comparative higher (and growing) income levels. He specifically mentions that ‘the Zulu group is also supported because of the ... growing middle class and the urbanisation taking place in KZN. While Afrikaans consumers are exploited in terms of their buying power, the Zulu audience is seen as “aspirational”’ (Ndlovu 2011, 270).

Repackaging of content and format

The increasing success of Ilanga (and its two extensions, Ilanga le Theku and Ilanga LangeSontd) is not due to any intervention by any media corporations. As stated above, Media24 indicated their interest in buying the newspaper, even though it is already involved in the advertisement, marketing and circulation of it. The newspaper is still in the hands of the investment arm of the IFP, that is, Mandla-Matla. Ilanga titles are said to be commanding the highest readership in KZN (AMPS 2010, as cited in ADS24 2011). Its rising success is due to the repackaging of its content and format ‘to reflect the new content and format interests of Zulu newspaper consumers’ (Ndlovu 2011). The 109-year-old newspaper, on 12 November 2009, changed from broadsheet to a tabloid feel. This tabloidisation (see Wasserman 2010, 2006; Franklin et al. 2005) of Ilanga appeals to the taste of the Zulu urban youths and the middle-class who are the targets of the merchandising capitalism. Thus, Ilanga is able to sell the crucial audience to corporate advertisers (see Croteau and Hoynes 2000). Ndlovu (2011) remarks that the tabloidisation of Ilanga and the launch of le Theku and LangeSonto speak not only to a change in Zulu audiences’ ‘tastes’, but also to a corporate mentality that is more interested in making money than it is in politics (284). In this quest for money, it is not only politics that has been made a casualty; language purity has also been jettisoned. The Zulu language in the newspaper is adulterated with English and with postmodern slang that have crept into the language. This is the language form that appeals to the targets and is understandable to them. Regrettably, this seems to be the reality with African languages in this postmodern age. Ndlovu (2011) similarly remarks,

Zulu media are ‘caught up’ in this inconsistent and contradictory' relationship that urban and middle-class Zulu speakers have with Zulu and with English as a language. While Zulu is central to their collective ethno-linguistic identity, English is central to their individual social mobility. The futuristic popular appeal of Zulu media seems to be based not only on the hybridization of Zulu with English, but also on the increasing accommodation of other linguistic varieties such as tsotsitaal (urban township street lingo) and other urban vernaculars.


This situation is similar to what is found with most Yoruba newspapers of today, particularly the Alaroye titles. It is said to be the most successful Yoruba-language newspaper publishing venture today (Salawu 2004b). This fact cannot be divorced from their utter tabloidisation and hybridisation of the language. Interestingly, this is what appeals to the urban youths who have the ability both to purchase and read the newspapers. Salawu (2004b) notes:

The emergence of Alaroye newspaper in 1996 marked a milestone in the affairs of Yoruba and, indeed, mother-tongue newspapers in Nigeria. Within a short time, this newspaper became popular because of its arresting cover design and styles of headline-casting and story presentation.


Alaroye titles code-mix in their writings by using English words written in Yoruba orthography. One of the examples cited in Salawu (2004b, 668) is from a story,

‘Yee Siifu fee se mi lese, agbalagba omoota’. The excerpt from the story is the following:

Nnkan to je ki n hapi nip e ta a ba maa se mareeji wa, awon aafa la ma ape, a o ni lo si soosi. Ati pe mo tun biliifu pe.

(Salawu 2004b, 668)

The headline itself contains an English word ‘Chief’ written as ‘Siifu’. The little excerpt has four English words: hapi (happy), mareeji (marriage), soosi (church) and biliifu (believe). The point in all this is that these newspapers have to resort to this hybridisation of language to appeal to a mass audience and thereby engage in large-scale production. This is in line with Bourdieu’s (1993) classification of the field of cultural production. What happens here is the sacrifice of cultural rejuvenation on the altar of profit.

Unfortunately, this is the reality for African media and cultural production in the flux of globalisation. The postmodern culture of globalisation has made African languages, and all other languages on the fringe, vulnerable to the ‘bastardisation’ of their original configuration. They seem helpless in protecting themselves from being untainted by the pastiches of the languages of power. For the sake of pragmatism, African languages have succumbed to their plunder by the global language. The consolation would be that languages are supposed to be dynamic. Therefore, the inflections from English, for instance, is an indication of growth in African languages. Ndlovu (2011) makes a rather euphemistic remark of this:

Though Zulu media are set to live long, Zulu itself as a language might be in for some linguistic transformation. The youth that most of the KZN media target, seem to show an orientation towards an impure form of Zulu, hence further reshaping Zuluness into popular culture.


Interestingly, UmAfrika, which folded in 2019 after operating for 90 years, held out as long as possible against the perversion of its ideals as a religious publication which, of course, meant its adherence to the pure form of Zulu, untainted by ‘worldliness’. The paper, established by a Catholic mission, Marianhill Monastery, started as a mission press. Even though UmAfrika, in the hands of the Zico-Witness Group partnership, was under secular corporate management in its later days, it refused to go the way of popular culture. Ndlovu (2011) remarks rather sarcastically:

the paper’s continued association with a religious institution and its search for a serious and mature audience has limited its appeal in a depoliticizing South Africa, where the celebration of materialism and consumerism is becoming the norm.


This adherence to ideals may explain why UmAfrika was, while it lasted, the least successful of all local language newspapers in K.ZN. My earlier prediction (2015) seems to hold: ‘Time will however tell how long the newspaper can continue to rebuff the claws of capital demagoguery’ (310).

The factor of government ownership is also critical to the growth and sustainability' of indigenous African language media. Bukedde and Addis Zemm have proved the importance of this. Essentially, governments and non-governmental organisations have a role to play in the development and sustainability of indigenous language media in Africa. The following chapters look at these issues in varying dimensions.

The book is divided into six parts. Part I, ‘Political economy of African language media’, has two chapters. In Chapter 1 (‘The political economy of indigenous language media in Nigeria and the challenge of survival in the Digital Age’), Toyosi Olugbenga Samson Owolabi examines the interface of political, economic and digital elements and their effects on indigenous language media performance and sustainability. The chapter also seeks to understand the relationships of the state, the open market and the digital revolution, and how the collaboration, in a way, has affected the indigenous language press. In Chapter 2, ‘The politics of language and the underdevelopment of African language press in Zimbabwe’, Phillip Mpofu examines the influence of colonial and post-independence language policies and politics, media economics and political economy on the structure, development and sustainability of the indigenous language press in Zimbabwe. The chapter concludes by exploring the prospects of African language press expansion and sustainability in the context of the aforesaid factors.

Part II, ‘Mixed bag: failures and successes of African language newspapers’, contains five chapters. Chapter 3 seeks to ascertain why, despite remarkable resilience in the early' eighties and late nineties, indigenous language newspapers have generally shut down, and those that remain now maintain a skeletal presence on the Zimbabwe media landscape. The chapter is titled, ‘In the dead end: the decline of the indigenous language press in post-colonial Zimbabwe’, and its author, Allen Munoriyarwa, proposes measures that can be taken to resurrect the indigenous language press in Zimbabwe from its current doldrums. Chapter 4 interrogates the transformation of the Mmega Dikgang community newspaper from being a Setswana newspaper, to a Setswana-English newspaper, and eventually to an English language newspaper. Bright T. Molale and Phillip Mpofu say the focus of the chapter, ‘Making sense of South African Mmega Dikgang's transition from Setswana to English’, is three-fold. First, the study examines the factors that led to the failure and demise of the indigenous language publishing agenda by Mmega Dikgang throughout its transition. Secondly, since scholarship on bilingual newspapers involving African languages is scant, this study analyses the reasons for the flop of the bilingual publishing in Mmega Dikgang, with Setswana being the victim. Thirdly, the study explores the prospects of Mmega Dikgang reverting back to publishing in Setswana.

In Chapter 5, Maxwell Mthembu and Carolyne M. Lunga compare an isiZulu newspaper’s success with a siSwati newspaper’s failure. In the chapter, titled ‘The extinction of siSwati-language newspapers in the Kingdom of Eswatini’, the authors explain the challenges faced by the siSwati language press that resulted in their failure and subsequent closure. They do this by comparing the failure of the siSwati press with the success of an isiZulu newspaper, Isolezwe. Next, ‘Indigenous language newspapers in Zimbabwe: Kwayedza and Umthunywa and the struggle for survival’ is the title of Chapter 6. In it, Albert Chibuwe, using decolonial theory, seeks to render visible, through ethnographic interviews with journalists in mainstream media newsrooms across Zimbabwe, that which the colonial and/ or Western history had rendered invisible. Based on the views of journalists, he specifically seeks to interrogate why indigenous language media perform badly. Obasanjo Joseph Oyedele and Jendele Hungbo conclude the section with Chapter 7, ‘Indigenous language media and the survival game: the Alaroye newspaper example from Nigeria’. Using an ethnographic methodological approach, the chapter explains the endangered survival of Alaroye as an indigenous language newspaper and what lessons can be garnered by investors and publishers, media professionals, readers and the Nigerian nation at large.

Part III of the book focuses on ‘Management and sustainability of African language media’. The section contains three chapters and opens with Chapter 8 by Kehinde Oyesomi, Kevin Onyenankeya, and Oluwayemisi Mary Onyenankeya. In ‘Reimagining the future of indigenous language press in the Digital Era’, the authors argue that, unless there is a special-purpose fund to support indigenous language newspapers, the publications might not be able to survive in the face of ubiquitous digital technology and a dwindling readership. Olutola Osunnuga’s Chapter 9 is titled, A survey of the management, organisation, structure, content and columns of the contemporary Yoruba newspaper’. In it, he provides insight into the management and operations of the contemporary Yoruba newspaper. Clement Adeniyi Akangbe follows suit with Chapter 10, titled ‘The challenges of sustaining African language newspaper businesses: the Yoruba language example from Nigeria’. A series of factors - such as illiteracy in indigenous languages by so many people, particularly the youths and adolescents; orthographical problems; low readership; poor revenue; the high cost of papers due to importation; lean financial base; demographic changes; technological innovations in printing and consumers’ technological incapacities; digitisation; newspapers review programmes on radio; and ready dissemination of information on social media with ease - are advanced to explain the waning fortune of Yoruba newspapers. The chapter concludes by offering a number of suggestions on how to sustain African language newspaper business.

The (sub-) theme of Part IV is, ‘Towards quality: African language journalism development’. Chapter 11, by Wendpanga Eric Segueda and David Anderson Hooker, opens this section and is titled, ‘The significance of African storytelling in journalism’. The authors observe that most journalistic work - print, visual and audio - in African languages is conceived and produced following the Western model, which appears today as universal. They further note that the telling of stories in narrative structures that do not align with the cultures of the stories’ intended audience is subversively disruptive. Drawing on narrative theory, as well as Bourdieu’s and Vygotsky’s understanding of the power of language for knowledge creation and identity formation, the chapter highlights this fact as an aspect of the unsustainability of journalism in African languages. The Western mode of storytelling, which is simply transferred into African languages, does not match the African ears and feelings’; the unique cultural spirit is not there, and the resulting journalistic output feels artificial to the broader audience. As a solution, the authors propose that, today, journalism in African languages should first tap into the typical cultural ways of passing information, which should then be adapted according to the contemporary context. The contribution from Ufuoma Akpojivi and Modestus Fosu, African language journalism in Ghana and the quest for quality and sustainable broadcast journalism: an investigation of Peace FM, constitutes Chapter 12 of the book. The chapter examines and interrogates the issue of quality journalism in African language media using Peace FM as a case study. It avers that Peace FM has adopted the strategy of using indigenous linguistic and cultural knowledge to produce uniquely interactive news to engage with its audience as a way of achieving sustainability. Mbuyekezo Njeje and Albert Chibuwe round off this section with Chapter 13, ‘Editorial policies and the isiXhosa language newspapers at Caxton Media and Independent Media’. Their argument is that media companies that publish in isiXhosa do not develop the language, as they are Eurocentric in their outlook on running and managing a newspaper.

Part V is titled ‘Focus on the broadcast media’. There is only one chapter in this section (Chapter 14); it is written by Tendai Chari and is titled, ‘News syndication and local language broadcasting in South Africa: hegemonic infiltration or hybridity?’ The chapter examines the practice of news syndication on SABC indigenous language radio stations to broaden insights on the transformation of African language broadcasting in the context of globalization. In particular, the chapter investigates the rationale behind the practice of news syndication at Phalaphala FM, an SABC provincial radio station that broadcasts in the Tshivhenda language. The chapter interrogates why the radio station practices news syndication, how this affects the identity of the radio station, and its implications for indigenous language development and promotion.

The last section (Part VI), ‘Borrowing a leaf’, also contains only one chapter (15). It is a chapter that attempts a comparison between what obtains in Africa and Asia in relation to local language media sustainability. In African language newspaper sustainability: lessons to learn from Asia’, I note that Asian language newspapers are, compared to a majority of their African counterparts, by far thriving well and, in a good number of cases, performing better than English language press in terms of circulation. This chapter highlights lessons that Africa can learn from Asia in terms of the development and sustainability of local language newspapers.


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