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"The media is telling lies, it's all lies!" : post-apartheid racism and discourses of place-identity in a small town.

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When a young white man from the small town of Swartruggens chose the informal settlement of Skierlik to go on a killing spree, this was labelled racist by the media. Only black people lived in Skierlik, and small towns in the North West province had a reputation for being racially divided. This study examined the impact of this event on residents’ identities, specifically because it was widely publicised and discrediting to the town. Problematised places potentially threaten residents’ sense of self. The concept of place-identity was used here from a discursive psychological framework, arguing that self-in-relation-to-place is socially constructed in the conversational space of human dialogue. Thus, this analysis exposed the spoken discourses that maintain and reproduce racialised constructions of place-identity in post-apartheid South Africa. Forty two semi-structured interviews were conducted in either English, Afrikaans or Setswana, during a two-week stay in the town. Despite the literature showing that place-identity threat in problematised places result in residents trying to preserve a positive place-identity, the data in this study shows a different trend. The central argument is that discourses of victimhood are constructed by both black and white residents, but for divergent purposes. White residents argue against negative media versions of Swartruggens, while black residents amplify disadvantage and promote media versions. Indian residents, largely omitted from media reports, maintain a positive place-identity by constructing an ambivalent third space of participant-observer in the town, geographically and socially separate in a black/white divide. The analysis is situated in relevant broader pre- and post-apartheid ideologies.


Thesis (M.Soc.Sci.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2010.


Identity (Psychology), Mass media and race relations., Group identity--South Africa., Loyalty., South Africa--Race relations.