Jargon or Genuine – The Use of South African Languages in Election Campaigns

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Elections 2014It is estimated that more than 25 million South Africans are registered to vote in the 2014 elections. The parties involved are pulling out all the stops to reach as many diverse voters as possible. There have been rallies, debates, interviews, campaign posters and television adverts, with much difficulty for some parties (http://mg.co.za/article/2014-04-28-da-launches-new-election-ad-eff-marches-over-sabc-ban), all with the aim of convincing voters that one party truly understands their struggle and will actually deliver on the promises made during this period.  

The DA (Democratic Alliance) has been campaigning in all of the 11 official languages (using posters, slogans and rallies), whereas the ANC (African National Congress) have gone a step further and even launched campaign posters in Mandarin, Greek and Portuguese which have been strategically placed in the appropriate areas in order to reach even the smallest of demographic (http://www.bdlive.co.za/national/politics/2014/05/02/anc-lures-chinese-with-posters-in-mandarin). Some parties have even gotten some unexpected advertising from local businesses during this election period (http://www.iol.co.za/dailynews/news/eff-miffed-at-pizza-poster-1.1681927#.U2OMQ_mSxqU).

It is, however, difficult to say exactly what languages all of the parties are campaigning in since so many of the campaign posters, pamphlets and party merchandise are allegedly being destroyed by opposing parties. But the premise is there, the crafty tactic of using a voters home language or mother tongue to relate and associate with them (even for a moment) in order to gain a vote. As a white citizen having studied an indigenous language and using it to communicate when an opportunity presents itself, I am familiar with the awe, appreciation (of effort), amusement (of my poor pronunciation) and acceptance from listeners.  There is a definite and immediate change in disposition during such instances because we as South Africans keep our languages which are ultimately in line with our identities very close to our hearts.

As Frantz Fanon says to speak a language is to take on a world, a culture, or so it should be. We will now have to see whether our beloved languages which were used to convey the promise of change are indeed fulfilled or if it was just used by tacticians to gain power.

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