Language as an Instrument of Protest Against Social and Political Injustice: South African Context

Author: Dr Johannes Seema (North-West University, South Africa)
Speaker: Dr Johannes Seema
Topic: Political Discourse Anthropology
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


This article explores the languages of street protest placards used as a means of expressing dissatisfaction in South Africa. In most cases, during street protests, English seems to be the dominant language as most, if not all, placards are written in English. Street demonstrations are those visible forms of protest against the ills of the society. These are some of the strategies protestors use to engage with situations to enact change, be it political or social. In this article, I wish to examine the extent to which the transition from apartheid to democracy has impacted on language issues and uses in South Africa. I also contend that Africans in general, and South Africans in particular, cannot claim to be truly democratic when the high domains of society such as social and political life and protest in particular are still dominated by foreign languages, especially English.
English dominates other languages, especially African languages, during street protests, and maintain dominant discourse while trivialising ideas and pursuits that would find clear articulation in African indigenous languages. In general, and in South African indigenous languages in particular, this should not be permitted to continue. In South Africa, indigenous languages are being neglected and that could translate to them diminishing. One cannot deny the importance of English as a tool of communication among South Africans, what I refuse to accept is the implicit and explicit imputation of the attitude held about the superiority of English. For the purpose of this article, data will be collected from the messages written on placards by protestors and will be analysed. The theory underpinning this article will be Asante’s Afrocentric theory in conjunction with discourse analysis.

Keywords: Social and Political Injustice, Asante’s Afrocentric theory, apartheid