An analysis of a pre-election discussion on a Facebook newsgroup entitled Help us stop Jacob Zuma from becoming South Africa's next President, exploring issues of South Africanness and the potential of the new media for democratic expression.
South Africa, since 1994, has developed both politically and technologically resulting in an opening of communications both locally and globally. The 2009 national elections had been earmarked as a 'make or break' milestone for the political and social future of the young democracy. This election occurred amidst media analysts‘ concerns for the level of freedom of expression allowed to traditional forms of the South African media. New media, however, is not at present subject to the same regulations. Although a few cases of slander relating, for example, to Facebook have occurred, ephemeral cyber space appears to enjoy a greater degree of freedom of expression than the press and broadcast media. As a result the ability of these traditional forms of media to function effectively as a public sphere may be questioned, and some theorists claim that the Internet may offer an alternative medium for this function. This thesis looks at the potential of online communities to facilitate democratic expression by analysing a Facebook newsgroup text at the time of the election. In my exploration of the Facebook newsgroup Help us stop Jacob Zuma from becoming SA's next President I have analysed the text using two qualitative approaches. The critical discourse analysis traces competing South African discourses relating to the myths of the inherent violence of black men and the inherent racism of whites, the topics of crime and violence, Jacob Zuma and South Africanness. This approach‘s theoretical guidelines enforced a more objective view of the text, although interpretive methods in general grapple with subjectivity at a more observable level than do quantitative methods. The ethnographic hermeneutic component of the research is aimed at "making the obscure plain" (Blaikie, 1993: 28, cited in Neuman, 1997: 68) in the text, as well as documenting the inner workings of the online community and its relation to South African issues at the time of the national election. The findings are then measured against public sphere theory from Habermas' conception of the bourgeois public sphere to revisionist accounts (Fraser, 1997 and McKee, 2005)