Seyiyakhuluma’: IsiZulu as a new ...
This article was downloaded by: [The Library, University of Witwatersrand] On: 04 June 2012, At: 02:38 Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK African Identities Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cafi20 ‘Seyiyakhuluma’: IsiZulu as a new language for political and corporate mass communication through mobile telephony Innocentia J. Mhlambi a a School of Literature and Language Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag X3, Johannesburg, 2050, South Africa Available online: 01 Mar 2012 To cite this article: Innocentia J. Mhlambi (2012): ‘Seyiyakhuluma’: IsiZulu as a new language for political and corporate mass communication through mobile telephony, African Identities, 10:2, 129-142 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14725843.2012.657830 PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Full terms and conditions of use: http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
RESEARCH ARTICLE ‘Seyiyakhuluma’: IsiZulu as a new language for political and corporate mass communication through mobile telephony Innocentia J. Mhlambi* School of Literature and Language Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag X3, Johannesburg 2050, South Africa (Received 3 May 2011 final version received 22 August 2011) Jacob Zuma’s political and personal escapades have unleashed in unprecedented forms a mobile phone culture that has for the first time transgressed dominant European linguistic boundaries. From the moment of a build-up of his case on alleged involvement in the arms deal scandal and subsequent firing from the vice-presidency, the rape case and the Polokwane fall-out between Zuma and Mbeki’s supporters, mobile ringtones and communication between users predominantly moved beyond English or Afrikaans linguistic boundaries. Ringtones of songs, popularised by a maskandi musical group, Izingane zoMa, later used by the ‘friends of Jacob Zuma’ as income generation strategies in order to pay for his many court cases, were distributed and circulated through a network of mobile phone users in isiZulu language. The success of isiZulu-language ringtones spurred on further experimentations with other forms of broad-based communication models using this new media form. The company, Peach Mobile, which describes itself in its webpage as the creators of the ‘most insane mobile content and comedy tones’, was the next conspicuous entity to offer some of its funniest ringtones in isiZulu language. From then on a host of other companies ranging from record companies to life and burial insurance companies such as Clientele, started to offer mobile content in isiZulu language. This article, in line with recent studies on mobile phone culture, demonstrates, firstly, how the ‘unofficial’ mass communication form embodied in this technology has been made to foster alternative perceptions which were in line with mass perception about Zuma, thereby contributing to unsettling and derailing scathing mainstream media perspectives of him. Secondly, it also demonstrates how this new form of mobile telephony has been appropriated and used by corporate South Africa to exploit certain marginal cultural notions – related to life, death and spirituality, for the improved penetration of remote and initially excluded markets and for the maintenance of a brand presence even if it is outside mainstream advertising space. Keywords: reversion mobile telephony linguistic boundaries ringtones communication ecology Introduction: locating mobile telephony in everyday culture The entry of the mobile phone and the subsequent establishment of the mobile phone culture in post-apartheid South Africa, particularly with African masses, ushered forth ISSN 1472-5843 print/ISSN 1472-5851 online q 2012 Taylor & Francis http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14725843.2012.657830 http://www.tandfonline.com *Email: Innocentia.Mhlambi@wits.ac.za African Identities Vol. 10, No. 2, May 2012, 129–142
fascinating ways in which one thinks about the traditional media (such as print and broadcast media) and the mobile phone in everyday cultural experiences and mass communication exchanges between ordinary citizens as well as between the elite and the subclass. According to Brinkman (2009), Smith (2006) and De Bruijn et al. (2009), in Africa cell phone appropriations by masses have shown multiple inventive uses and economic and cultural permutations that are yet to be noted elsewhere. Even though this is the case, a ubiquitous view generated by literature on mobile phones and social changes which ascribe power to ordinary people who are seen as refashioning the uses of these new technologies to suit their own needs, environment and purposes, might lead to uni-directional views in thinking about the autonomy of mobile telephony (Moyo 2010b, p. 7). The literature is fuelled by radical transformations that have resulted in traditional mass communication models being surpassed by the new mobile communication technology in (re)shaping and developing society (Goggin 2006). Arguably, the mobile phone culture accorded the ordinary citizens considerable authority to determine their own destinies (Manji 2008), as it runs in the heart of social change. Furthermore, the mobile phone has accorded ordinary citizens ‘a powerful platform for political autonomy on the basis of independent channels of autonomous communication from person to person’ (Castells 2007, p. 185). De Bruin et al. (2009, p. 15) argue that this autonomous communication is possible because creativity and innovation provoked or condoned by mobile telephony occur in social spaces in the margins of the state, that is, at the masses’ extreme end of the class continuum. Although this ubiquitous view has come to be dominant, the full impact of the relationship brought by mobile telephony between the state and the corporate sector as constitutive of Bakhtin’s binary social categories of the officialese on one end of the class continuum and the unofficialese, as the masses, on the other, is yet to be fully realised. Views that propound unbridled autonomous innovations in mobile telephony by the margins abound in situations dominated by antagonistic rivalries between the state and the corporate sector on the one hand, and the masses on the other. But in instances where there are relative mutual interests that cut across all social categories between these entities, intricate and complex forms of mobile phone appropriation by masses emerge, and the generalised views contained in most leading literature on mobile telephony and social change are found to be short in relevance. In such instances, generally, conventional perceptions regarding the state, media and society prevail, where certain traditional mass media forms remain key suspects as state ideological apparatus. The other media forms such as new technologies are least suspected of participating in mass control. And as a result adaptations of newer forms of mass communication models by different sectors within the political economy do not provoke vanguardist reactions. The nesting and use of reversioned ringtones in isiZulu language within existing communication ecologies during the Mbeki–Zuma drama occurred in a scenario of non-vanguardist atmosphere, and hence, did not incite any views of clandestine intentions on Zuma’s side. Ironically, this political fall-out, as played out in mobile telephony, spurred by succession conflicts toward the end of Mbeki’s second tenure in the presidency curtailed on many levels the agency of the masses in participating in South Africa’s democracy. Firstly this article intends to demonstrate that during a period of heightened divisions between the then State President, Thabo Mbeki, and his then Deputy, Jacob Zuma, the refashioning of cell phone use by ordinary people was infiltrated to create a ‘false consciousness’ that gave an impression that citizens’ engagement with ANC’s internal crises is participatory democracy. The Zuma-allied forces appropriated the mobile phone as there was a prevailing view that mainstream traditional media was under the control I.J. Mhlambi 130