Split: Missing the Master Signifier in the Role of the Media in a Democracy: The Tension between the ANC’s President Jacob Zuma and the Media in South Africa

  • Glenda DanielsEmail author


This is a work of political philosophy theory which deploys concepts pertaining to power and democracy to make sense of the relationship between the African National Congress (ANC) and the media in post-apartheid South Africa. The rationale for this research is to unravel the recent and current news media–state relationships, and examine how the media has split into two factions since President Zuma’s regime. Judith Butler’s theories in The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (1997) on how power works and how a subject becomes a subject is important for this chapter as it contains pertinent theoretical positions. These will be used to understand the attempts to subjugate critical media voices in South Africa through the idea of interpellation (hailing, naming, labeling, calling, shaming, as in the Frantz Fanon sense of ‘hey nigger’) and, even more importantly, to reflect on what reflexive turns were made towards the voices of power, and why. Butler’s concepts of ‘passionate attachments’, ‘subjectivisations’ as well as ‘resignifications’ will also be used. Political power is symbolic in nature, and through the roles and the masks, that is to say through the performative dimension of interpellations, ideological subjectivisation can take place. The methodology is, first and foremost embedded in the theoretical framework. The concepts will be explained and operationalised to shine light on the complex and contradictory nature of the ANC/democracy/media relationship and how attempts are made to pin down floating signifiers such as ‘democracy’ into a fixed meaning; tied to transformation and loyalty to the ANC. The empirical findings, through discourse material, and newspaper stories specifically on President Zuma’s corruption scandals, will be examined through the prism of the conceptual analytical tools above. These enable the drawing together of reflections, the identification of patterns or attachments, the splits and contradictions, and ambivalences on the part of both the media and the ANC. Critical discourse analysis has been used primarily to understand the ideological workings in the tensions between the ANC and the independent media.


  1. Althusser, L. (1984). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses, essays on ideology. In S. Zizek (Ed.) (1994), Mapping ideology (pp. 100–140). London and New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  2. ANC. (2010). Media, transformation, ownership and diversity. Available at Accessed 2 August 2010.
  3. ANC NEC. (2008). Media and the battle of ideas. Statement of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC): 20 January 2008. Available at Accessed 28 January 2009.
  4. Butler, J. (1997). The psychic life of power: Theories in subjection. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. City Press. (2016, 3 September). Calls for Zuma to resign increase.Google Scholar
  6. City Press. (2016, 13 November). State capture investigation: Kill Zuma’s deal.Google Scholar
  7. City Press. (2016, 12 November). Zuma tells MPs to vote against motion or else.Google Scholar
  8. City Press. (2016, 27 November). Zuma’s ANC leadership left hanging by a thread.Google Scholar
  9. Corke, E. (2015, 18 October). I am a victim of unregulated media. EWN. Available at Accessed 15 February 2018.
  10. Daily Maverick. (2011, 13 June). Manyi vs the media: The ad budget battle begins. Available at Accessed 15 February 2018.
  11. Daniels, G. (2012). Fight for democracy: The ANC and the media in South Africa. Johannesburg: Wits Press.Google Scholar
  12. eNCA. (2013, 10 September). Accessed 15 February 2018.
  13. eNCA. (2015). Zuma takes a swipe at media over xenophobia coverage.Google Scholar
  14. Fanon, F. (1952). Black skin white masks. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  15. Jadoo, Y. (2013, 30 October). Media must put SA first. The Citizen. Available at Accessed 15 February 2018.
  16. Kay, S. (2003). Žižek: A critical introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  17. Mail & Guardian. (2010, 15 August). Zuma: ANC not trying to control the media. Available at Accessed 15 February 2018.
  18. Mail & Guardian. (2011, 24–30 June). Delay in the fight against secrecy not a final victory.Google Scholar
  19. Mail & Guardian. (2011, 17–23 June). Open season on media.Google Scholar
  20. Mail & Guardian. (2013, 10 September). Zuma condemns opposite of the positive SA media. Available at Accessed 15 February 2018.
  21. Mail & Guardian. (2016, 1–7 April). Concourt klap: What next for JZ?Google Scholar
  22. Mail & Guardian. (2016, 4–10 November). Zuma at the precipice.Google Scholar
  23. Mail & Guardian. (2016, 16–22 September). Zuma pals score first nuke deal.Google Scholar
  24. Mail & Guardian. (2016, 26 August–1 September). Zuma’s hit list.Google Scholar
  25. Mouffe, C. (2000). The democratic paradox. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  26. (2015). Media to blame for Nkandla perceptions—Zuma. Available at Accessed 15 February 2018.
  27. R2K. (2014, 11 September). What’s still wrong with the secrecy bill. Available at Accessed 28 January 2009.
  28. Sunday Times. (2013, 6 May). Zuma’s name secured Gupta landing.Google Scholar
  29. Sunday Times. (2016, 3 April). For the sake of your country, Mr. President, GO NOW!Google Scholar
  30. Sunday Times. (2016, 27 March). Nkandla fall guy hits out at Zuma.Google Scholar
  31. Sunday Times. (2016, 17 April). Operation Exit Zuma.Google Scholar
  32. Sunday Times. (2016, 1 December). Three damning blows for Zuma.Google Scholar
  33. The Guardian. (2013, 12 September). South Africa secrecy law surprise as Zuma rejects controversial bill.Google Scholar
  34. The Media Online. (2013, 11 September). Zuma likes the idea of patriotic media. Available at Accessed 15 February 2018.
  35. Zizek, S. (1989). The sublime object of ideology. London: Verso.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations