Findings

The section below presents and discusses the findings. The objectives of the investigation were to interrogate the survival strategies used by indigenous language media with a view to debunking the idea that they perform poorly economically and in development communication because of their use of indigenous languages and sensationalism. Furthermore, the intention was to understand how indigenous languages have been used to gain competitive advantage in an English language media environment.

Profitability and distribution of Kwayedza and Umthunywa in schools

Umthunywa in schools

The findings demonstrate that Kwayedza is breaking even, thanks to both sales and advertising revenue. The Kwayedza editor stated that ‘Kwayedza is breaking even. Advertisements are beginning to come, even from universities such as Midlands State University, and other big companies that include tobacco companies that will

Kwayedza and Umthunywa 111 be targeting farmers’ (Telephone interview, 5 May 2019). The Umthunywa editor also noted that the newspaper is ‘self-funded’ (Email interview, 15 March 2019). The two indigenous language tabloids are funded through advertising revenue and sales, but the Kwayedza editor argued that they largely make their money from circulation. He stated that ‘tabloids, including Kwayedza, are circulation driven and are designed to get most of their revenue from street sales’ (Telephone interview, 5 May 2019). This argument challenges the widely held view that advertising is the oxygen that drives the media and, without them, newspapers will collapse.

The two newspapers are also widely circulated in schools and universities, towns and rural areas; however, whereas Kwayedza is a national newspaper, Umthunywa is widely circulated in the Matabeleland region. But both Kwayedza and Umthunywa have the lowest price, and this was a survival strategy that they adopted in the face of competition from the English language press. Initially, they sold for $1, then they went down to SO.50 before going back to SI due to the economic challenges facing the country. Whereas Kwayedza, citing the 2018 ZAMPS results, claims that sales and advertisements have increased, Umthunywa acknowledges that the economic crisis has resulted in a slump in advertisements and sales. In a bid to remain viable, they have introduced several strategies that include ‘bulk sales, engaging companies and schools to take up subscriptions’ (Umthunywa editor email interview, 15 March 2019). It is during such challenging times that, if the newspaper is not breaking even, it is ‘carried by the other [Zimbabwe Newspapers Limited] publications’ (Email interview, 15 March 2019).

The two newspapers’ editors also dispute the widely held belief that indigenous language media generally perform poorly commercially. Responding to the questions, ‘There is a general belief that indigenous language media do not perform well. Is this true of Umthunywa? If yes, what could be the reason for this?’, the Umthunywa editor responded, ‘The ... statement is not true of our publication. At our peak, we sold close to 20,000 copies’ (Email interview, 15 March 2019). She also went on to cite examples of successful indigenous language newspapers from South Africa and Kenya to buttress her point. She further argued that, ‘ Umthunywa is no different [from these successful indigenous newspapers] when the economic environment is conducive’. It is apparent that, for the Umthunywa editor, the use of indigenous languages does not have any bearing on the performance of a newspaper; instead, it is the macro-economic environment that may have either a positive or a negative impact on the newspaper. From this perspective, it is arguable that the suspicions that indigenous languages lack the necessary properties for them to be useful on development fall away (see Zeleza 2006). Similarly, the widely held view that they are commercially non-viable also falls, since it is arguable that, as long as the economic situation is vibrant, they too will be vibrant. This is plausible given Zimbabwe’s post-2000 economic woes - the two publications have survived, nevertheless, and it is arguable that if the economy improves they too will become more robust.

The Kwayedza editor shared the same sentiments as the Umthunywa editor. He noted that 'Kwayedza was rated [during the two surveys in 2018] by ZAMPS as the most preferred weekly newspaper after The Sunday Mail, an English-language sisterpaper of Kwayedza (Telephone interview, 5 March 2019). It is therefore clear that, for these two managers of the only indigenous language newspapers in Zimbabwe, indigenous media are profitable. These findings call into question claims that previously were taken for granted. For example, the assertion that tabloids survive primarily on circulation calls into question critical political economists’ assertions that media cannot survive without advertising (see Murdock and Golding 1997; Wasko et al. 2011). It also casts doubt on the widely held assumption by critical political economists that media content is influenced by advertisers. In this case, the widely held assumption that indigenous language media are not profitable because their content and language do not interest both advertisers and audiences is called into question. Not only are indigenous language media popular amongst the Shona and Ndebele in Zimbabwe, but they, specifically Kwayedza, are also attracting mainstream advertisers, such as banks, universities and other mainstream corporate entities. Instead of advertisers influencing content, it is arguable that, even where the content is considered to be too sensational and popular with ordinary' people, advertisers will follow as long as these ‘ordinary people’ are their target market. As the Kwayedza editor noted, ‘advertisers follow numbers - we are the second-preferred weekly after The Sunday Mail?.

However, in the case of Zimbabwe, the informalisation of the economy' due to high levels of unemployment may also be partly responsible for indigenous media’s, especially Kwayedza's, increasing popularity' with advertisers. The money is now in the informal market - it is now with the ‘other’, the previously marginalized - and it is these ‘other’ who read the indigenous language press. Huge sums of money circulate in the informal sector in Zimbabwe, and banks and the revenue authorities have been try ing to tap into it. Rural tobacco farmers also read the indigenous language press and it is these that some of the corporate entities will be pursuing {Kwayedza editor telephone interview, 5 March 2019).

 
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