Comparative Analysis of the Reportage of the Guguletu 7 Events in the South African Press in 1986 and 1997

Article excerpt

Abstract

On 3 March 1986, a fatal confrontation occurred between the police and the inhabitants of Guguletu, a residential area near Cape Town. Seven inhabitants were killed. The incident was not without controversy, and received wide coverage in the press. A decade later, in 1997, the events were recalled when two members of the police who had been involved in the confrontation applied for amnesty before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Once again, the hearing received wide coverage in the press. In this article I will perform a comparative analysis of the reportage in the South African press in respect of the event in 1986 and the 1997 amnesty application within the framework of Critical Linguistics. It is hypothesised in Critical Linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis that the public media can convey their ideology in a subtle manner through language use. Because news discourse does not occur in a vacuum, but is the product of the social and political system in which journalists operate, the way in which the different socio-political contexts of the two events found expression in media reports will also be indicated.

Keywords: Guguletu 7, Cape Town, police, reportage, Critical Linguistics, Critical Discourse Analysis, news.

Introduction

At about 7.30 on Monday morning, 3 March 1986, a fatal confrontation between the police and local residents occurred at an intersection on the way to Guguletu, a residential suburb near Cape Town. Two members of the police were wounded, and seven Guguletu residents were killed. The incident is therefore referred to as that of the 'Guguletu seven'. The incident, which received wide coverage in the local press, and even overseas, was not without controversy. Allegations of irregularities on the part of the police were made, and a legal investigation, which ultimately failed to satisfactorily resolve all the questions, was instituted. A decade later, the events were recalled when two members of the police task force who had been involved in the events appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and applied for amnesty.

In the time that elapsed between the incident in 1986 and the hearing in 1997, the political and social situation in South Africa had changed radically and these changes found expression in the tone of reporting in the press.

In this contribution I aim, within the framework of Critical Linguistics, to provide a comparative analysis of the reporting on the Guguletu 7 events in the South African press, on the basis of a comparison between news reports issued at the time of the original incident in 1986, and reports concerning the hearing before the TRC in 1997. In Critical Linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis, it is hypothesised that the public media convey their ideology in a subtle manner through the use of language. The objective in this contribution is to determine whether ideology is conveyed in the media and, if so, to explain how this happens. Before the comparative analysis of the reportage is carried out, the theoretical framework within which the analysis is to be conducted will be explained, while the role of the press will be elucidated and an overview of the political context within which these two events took place will be provided.

Theoretical framework

Mainstream schools of thought in Linguistics, (1) namely structuralism and generativism, are often accused of not displaying sufficient social involvement, and there is a growing belief that linguistic analyses should, and can, render a contribution to other social disciplines. Within this trend of thought, Critical Linguistics developed from mainstream linguistics. (2)

As a subdiscipline of Linguistics, Critical Linguistics investigates the interrelationship between language and society, which includes the deliberate, as well as the unconscious misuse of language in the manipulation of power relations. …