This study employs the political economy and linguistic hegemony perspectives to understand Mmega Dikgang’s transition from Setswana to English. This is inkeeping with the issues raised in the previous section, which demonstrated that language competition in colonial and post-independence South Africa, as well as the market approach of the media, are the major forces influencing African language press development.
According to Wittel (2012), the theoretical roots of the political economy of media are usually located in Marxism. Political economy observes that, though media institutions are supposed to produce a public good, they have increasingly become privatised and turned into businesses that produce commodities that are used to accumulate profits. This means that there is an antagonistic and dual desire by media institutions to perform a social, cultural and political function, which compete with economic interests. The political economy of media focuses on the development of mass media as commodities that are produced and distributed by profit-seeking organisations in capitalist industries; in other words, media outlets are businesses (Wasko 2014). The analysis of media as a business involves the concepts of commodification or commercialisation. That is, media and communication resources have become commodities; they are now products and services that are traded by profit-seeking companies to advertisers and audiences. This also means that competition in various markets is inherent in the media business. Therefore, the political economy perspective also focuses on the consequences of such competition on the nature and quality of media content. It results in the homogenisation of the content of the media, a perspective that leads to debates about linguistic media imperialism. Thus, using this perspective, this study grapples with the broader political and economic conditions in which Mmega Dikgang operates, and the implications of its ownership and financing structures on the newspaper’s language choices, that is, how it generates income and profits for its survival.
The concept of linguistic hegemony explains the language preferences of Mmega Dikgangs stakeholders, who include personnel, readers and advertisers. This view is anchored on Gramsci’s writings on hegemony, particularly when looking at unequal power relations in society and how the widespread use of the English language prevents subaltern society groups from countering the hegemonic influence, and the status it enjoys (see Ives 2009, 663). Informed by Gramsci’s perception of hegemony, linguistic hegemony is a situation where linguistic minorities believe in and participate in the subjugation of the minority language to the dominant (Suarez 2002). According to Suarez (2002), the results of successful linguistic hegemony are often a language shift from the minority language to the majority language and, ultimately, loss. Using this concept, this study shows how the Setswana speakers, as readers, participate in their self-subjugation by believing in the perceived superiority of English to African languages.
This study is qualitative and interpretive since it makes use of methods that delve deep into the natural environment in which people use language as a way of engaging with and interpreting reality (see Lindlof and Taylor 2019). Thus, for this study, we employed the interview method to collect data. An in-depth interview
Mmega Dikgang’s transition to English 81 was conducted with the Mmega Dikgang founder and editor. Another interview was conducted with the ex-communication manager of the Ratlou local municipality, who used to work closely with the Mmega Dikgang newspaper, especially when they needed to issue media statements and all public communications for the community in Setlagole Village. Seven community members in the village, who are readers of Mmega Dikgang, were purposively selected to participate in a focus group discussion. Given that all interviews were conducted in Setswana (and included some instances where there was code-switching) to accommodate the language needs of the discussants, the transcripts have been translated into English. In the findings section, English translations for each Setswana version of the interviews are included to allow the reader to easily follow what was being said. Data were analysed using thematic analysis, which entails the identification of themes in the data that capture meanings that are relevant to the research question (Flick 2014). The study was broadly conceptualised within the framework discussed in the previous section.