The Power of Neoliberalism: Transformation, Neo-Elitism and Class Continuities in the Post-Apartheid Media

  • Prinola Govenden University of Johannesburg
Keywords: Critical Political Economy of the Media;, neoliberal capitalism, Global South, South Africa, print media, media transformation, media diversity, class inequalities, race


Critical political economy of the media investigates how changes in the array of forces that exercise control of media institutions liberate or limit the public sphere. South Africa’s political economy of transition from apartheid to democracy was notably characterised by the emergence of new black capitalist interests merging with established white capital to refashion multi-racial capital, facilitated by a Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) strategy that aimed to address the racial injustices of the past. These changes greatly impacted media ownership, diversifying a previously racially homogenised and localised apartheid media market. The ‘new’ South Africa also moved from racial capitalism to neoliberalism as its economic system. This study investigates whether these ownership diversity changes in the South African print media market in the first twenty years of its democracy (1994–2014) liberated or limited the public sphere. A total of 684 newspaper front-page and editorial articles were analysed using both quantitative and qualitative content analysis, to aggregate as well as investigate deeper meanings and associations in diversity trends. South Africa’s neoliberal economic context substantially informs the nature of print media content transformation and diversity, which is found to be elite driven, marking the emergence of class continuities. This despite a specialised BEE affirmative action programme envisaged to cultivate transformed and diverse media content through transformed ownership. The study concludes that attempts to transform, diversify, de-westernise, and decolonise the media systems in post-colonial countries will be futile if the power of neoliberalism to perpetuate class inequalities and the race dynamics of the past remain underestimated and unaddressed.