Frames and Marginalisation of Counter-hegemonic Voices: Media Representation of the Land Debate in South Africa


Mandla J. Radebe


Associate Professor

Faculty of Arts & Humanities

University of Johannesburg

Mandla J. Radebe is an associate professor in the University of Johannesburg’s Department of Strategic Communication. He is the author of ‘Constructing Hegemony: The SA Commercial Media and the (Mis)Representation of Nationalisation’ (UKZN Press).
South African


Because of its location in the capitalist power structures, the South African commercial press is unable to play a democratizing role for the marginalised and voiceless in society. Instead, it reinforces the interests of the powerful societal forces.

There are no studies that examine how the mainstream media represent and construct one of the most critical socio-economic issues at the heart of redistributive justice in South Africa – the land question. Therefore, the main purpose of this paper is to respond to this gap by conducting content and framing analysis of stories on land in the South African English language print media in 2018, when the debate on land redistribution was at its peak.

Key Findings

What emerges from the research is that an overwhelming negative coverage of the discourse is dominated by what we regard as elite sources. Furthermore, the negative coverage is driven mainly by five key themes: land grabs, private property rights, food insecurity, negative consequences to the economy, and investor confidence.

    How to apply research

    The media must be less concentrated to ensure plurality of voices.
    With 11 official languages, the South African media must be diversified in terms of language, ownership, content and distribution.
    There is a case to be made for an independent de-commodified alternative media that is not limited by the structural factors of capitalism such as ownership and control, advertising etc.
    This research can be useful in understanding how the marginalised section of our community could given more access in the media to speak for themselves and expressed their views on their oppression and the form of justice should that should prevail. To this end, by using decolonial theories to supplement existing theories, we are able to unravel the nature of oppression, how the media becomes a useful tool in reproducing domination and class inequalities.

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      About this research

      This journal article was part of a collaborative effort

      Sarah Chiumbu

      This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

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      UN Sustainable Development Goals

      This research contributes to the following SDGs

      About this research

      This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

      This paper was co-authored

      Sarah Chiumbu

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      What findings means

      The themes mentioned in the above findings betray the newspapers’ slant towards hegemonic ideas of the dominant capitalist class. Through a close analysis on coverage of ideologically laden discourse, it becomes apparent that the way the South African media represent discourses such as the land debate should not be delinked from its historical role and location within Western economic and ideological hegemony.

      Although useful, the critical political economy of the media theories have proven to be limited in articulating South Africa’s unique challenges of both class and racial domination. The issues of global capitalism, epistemic dominance, racism, and other related matters as manifested in the political economy of media operations and their role in the capitalist accumulation can be best analysed when located in decolonial theories.


      The paper is based on content analysis where all South African English-language newspapers were analysed. Articles were found in the SA Media database where a search for “land expropriation” produced 3218 between January and December 2018. From these articles a sample of 10 per cent  considered resulting to 321 articles. However, many articles were from the same media houses due to syndication, especially from the Independent and Arena Holdings, a subsequent sample from each newspaper per media house was taken, resulting to about 30 articles that where a detailed content analysis was performed.

      Futhermore, a content analysis enabled us to identify and count the number of articles while at the same time probing key themes and frames. This approach is also useful in analysing other elements such as top journalists who wrote on the land issue and top sources employed in the stories. To decipher the nature of the representation of the land expropriation debate, thematic and framing approaches were employed.

      The paper is dependent on English-language newspapers found on SA Media database. Although South African media print media landscape is concentrated, the country boasts a diversified broadcast media and an ever increasing digital media. Therefore, the findings must be understood in this context.


      Critical political economy of the media
      The critical political economy (CPE) of the media looks at how the interrelations between economic processes and specific political circumstances shape media structures and practices. The CPE of the media is also concerned with how hegemonic “ideology” is produced.
      Deconoloniality "coloniality" theories
      Decoloniality or “coloniality” theories attempt to understand the “continuity of colonial forms of domination after the end of colonial administration” (Grosfoguel 2007, 219). This refers to how colonised countries, even after independence, find they still cannot control the political economies of their country as they appear to be directed from the outside by multi-national corporations (Nkrumah 1965)

      The full paper is not available open access

      Radebe, M. J., & Chiumbu, S. H. (2022). Frames and Marginalisation of Counter-hegemonic Voices: Media Representation of the Land Debate in South Africa. African Journalism Studies, 43(1), 1-18.

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      for helping to prepare this research