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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


DE WET, JC. Rapport's depiction of Robert Mugabe's candidature for the 1980 Zimbabwean independence election. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.3, pp.424-436. ISSN 2224-7912.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has now been in power for more than three decades. The 89-year-old Mugabe will again lead his ZANU-PF party in national elections this year. He has steadily acquired an image of a power hungry dictator who allows little political opposition. The Western World has turned its back on Zimbabwe with the United States and European Union imposing economic sanctions on it. What kind of image did he bring to his initial candidature in 1980? How was he depicted by the South African media or, more specifically and for the purposes of this article, what did Rapport, at the time the only Afrikaans Sunday newspaper in South Africa and ally of the ruling National Party, have to say about Robert Mugabe and his candidature in the 1980 Zimbabwean (common roll) independence election? How was he depicted by means of media agenda-setting and framing? The term "common roll" election, as found in the (Rhodesian) Electoral Act of 1979, is used in this article merely to distinguish the election for 80 members of Parliament from the election for the 20 reserved white seats which was held on 14 February 1980. In fact, as agreed upon at Lancaster House, there was no roll for black voters. Polling for the common roll election was on 27, 28 and 29 February 1980. Qualitative content analysis is employed. The population comprises every heading, report, article, editorial, cartoon, photograph and caption on Robert Mugabe as it appeared in the available late editions of Rapport from 13 January 1980 to 24 February 1980. The analysis of the coverage and the concomitant media agenda-setting and framing are followed by argumentation that brings the content in line with the general culture of the newspaper and critical issues predominating in Southern Africa at that time. A typification of Rapport in 1980 is provided as well as the conditions under which foreign correspondents had to operate in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia during the election campaign. The vigorous press censorship that had existed after both the Internal Settlement on 3 March 1978 and the internal elections (which saw Bishop Abel Muzorewa become Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia on 1 June 1979), though diminished, was however not ended when the British Governor, Lord Christopher Soames, assumed office in mid-December 1979. Although nine political parties announced that they would contest the 80 seats on the common roll, it was soon clear that the real contest in the election would be between the United African National Council (UANC) led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa, the Patriotic Front (PF) led by Joshua Nkomo, and Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). The analysis shows that Rapport viewed and depicted Mugabe as a threat to white interests in Rhodesia on the grounds, inter alia, that Mugabe would destroy the free market system and replace it with a communist system where industries are nationalised. Rapport used mainly stereotypical images to frame Mugabe. Traits ascribed to Mugabe by means of words included defiant, dishonest, Marxist, ruthless, despicable and terrorist leader. Photographs which appeared in Rapport portrayed him as evil, ominous, representing black power, wolf in sheep clothes, insensitive to common rules of conduct, aggressive and emotional. Rapport regarded Mugabe as the frontrunner in the race for the Presidency, despite him being depicted (by Rapport) as a mean, aggressive, sinister (albeit intellectual) individual who would continue the war if he did not win the election. From the coverage it appears that Rapport regarded and framed the election campaign as revolving respectively around a choice for Southern Africa between capitalism and Marxism and between the future of white and black power. Mugabe was depicted as an enemy both of capitalism and of continued white interests.

Keywords : Robert Mugabe; Robert Mugabe; 1980 Zimbabwean independence election campaign; Rapport; qualitative content analysis; agenda-setting; media framing; stereotypical images; Southern African issues; capitalism; Marxism; White power; Black power.

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