The rhetorical markers of nation–building in presidential speeches

06 August 2016

Twenty years ago South Africa's transition to democracy was characterised by numerous attempts to de-racialise and bring together a diverse society, which had lived through many years of forced segregation and racial antagonism. Part of this transition involved writing a new Constitution, and engaging in endeavours such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the National Conference on Racism in 2000 and the World Conference Against Racism and Xenophobia in 2001. These national projects were aimed at promoting an awareness of the atrocities that occurred under apartheid. On a smaller scale, laws were introduced in various sectors of society, such as education and the workplace, with the intention to promote equality and create an atmosphere of tolerance and non-discrimination. The situation calls for continuous analysis and examination of the course of events rather than despair. It is the opinion of the researcher that only through vigorous steps taken necessary adjustments could be made in the crafting of effective paths to national unity and development for the benefit of all South Africans.This paper explores the broad theoretical issue of nation-building agenda in the South African political and media discourse. The paper also asks whether the nation-building sentiment has been influenced by the political discourse related to the process of nation-building and democratisation in South Africa since 1994. The paper specifically addresses questions as to how Presidential speeches reflect, stand for, envisage and legitimise nation-building in discourse; what the rhetorical markers for nation-building in the speeches are; and how such speeches represent change, power contestations and envisage operationalisation for unity and prosperity. In particular, the paper attempts to examine the presence of the national democratic ideals in the nation-building elites' discourse in South Africa, using the Presidential rhetoric as the main indicator of the nation-building direction of a country and also to assess the three main terms of Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma's leadership. In order to assess if the Presidential rhetoric has changed with regards to the main nation-building directions, the researcher will conduct a textual and discourse analysis of the selected sample of the speeches given throughout their term in office.