Communicating the idea of South Africa in the age of decoloniality

Authored by: Blessed Ngwenya

Routledge Handbook of African Media and Communication Studies

Print publication date:  February  2021
Online publication date:  February  2021

Print ISBN: 9781138574779
eBook ISBN: 9781351273206
Adobe ISBN:


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The intensification of theoretical interest in the idea of decolonizing knowledge and ways of knowing is currently one of the most popular subjects in South Africa. This contested subject calls for the interrogation of the role of all sites of knowledge production and discourses that sustain the power structure of coloniality across all spheres in the country. My contribution to this volume is concerned with the incorporation of experiences and prevailing estrangement and subordination into the disconnected and ‘vanguardist’ epistemological method of approaching media theory in the global South media landscape, in general, and post-apartheid South Africa, in particular. I argue that the dominant discourse about South Africa in the media, with special emphasis on public service broadcast media, is not a South African idea but an externally generated idea. Public service media in South Africa is therefore an idea of South Africa and not a South African idea. It is one that is generated from outside instead of from within, through internally produced social and institutional constructions of a local experience. As a result, using a Cartesian examination, the media in South Africa is a mind that is detached from its own body that is not only on the side of power but also sustains its reinforcement and continuation. In this theoretical chapter, I investigate the complex set of inquiries that critical media theorists have pursued in the process of mounting intellectual and political entrenchment of the exclusionary predominant idea of South Africa in contemporary South African media. The chapter falls into three parts. In the first, I explore the Eurocentric foundations of coloniality of knowledge. In the second, I consider what might be the idea of contemporary South Africa and the historical nodes that frame its creation. In the third and final part, continuing in the historical method, I use some standard nodes in the development of media theory to trace the development of its thought and its theorizing as located in the global North. Marxism forms the key pillars of discussion in this section. The third part analyses how the epistemic (dis)‘located-ness’ of South African media in the global North serves to defend and preserve the vestiges of imperial South Africa. In this final section, drawing from theorists of liberation such as Boaventura Santos, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Walter Mignolo, Valentine Mudimbe and others does not only call for epistemic dis-obedience but for the imagining of a new locus of enunciation in articulating the media. This approach serves to unmask the institutionalized violence that compels African media to always seek validation from European media systems whereas understanding of the world far exceeds the Western understanding of the world (De Sousa Santos 2014, 134). In this chapter, I argue that the media in South Africa is not only complicit but also promotes the unquestioning modernity/coloniality slant of producing subjects and subjectivities that perpetually lend themselves to barometers and colonialist agendas imposed upon them. I suggest that there are strong lines of continuity between Westo-Eurocentric colonial strands of power, epistemology and public service broadcast media in South Africa.

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