Thomas Moriarty

South Africa’s rhetoric of reconciliation: Changes in ANC and Pretoria government rhetoric, 1985–1991

Thomas A. Moriarty

  • School: Purdue University (0183)
  • Degree: Ph.D.
  • Date: 1999 pp: 160
  • Advisor: Harkin, Patricia
  • Source: DAI-A 61/05, p. 1823, Nov 2000
  • Subjects: Language, Rhetoric And Composition (0681); Political Science, General (0615); History, African (0331); History, Black (0328)
  • ProQuest Document Number: 304523734
  • ISBN: 0-599-81021-1
  • UMI Number: AAT 9975577


    This project develops a theory of public discourse through a case study of recent South African political rhetoric. I examine a broad sample of public statements from leading members of the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African government from 1985 to 1991, a period in which that country moved from violent conflict to the start of negotiations for a new political dispensation. I identify discursive patterns in their public statements –;-recurring constructions of the political scene–and consider them in relation to political behaviors occurring at the same time. My analysis shows strong anecdotal correlations between specific kinds of rhetorical constructions and political behaviors. For example, I show that from 1985 to mid-1989, the ANC routinely characterized the South African government and its leaders as violent racists who would go to any length to maintain white domination in South Africa. The South African government, for its part, repeatedly characterized the ANC and its members as dangerous and violent communist revolutionaries who were intent on not only overthrowing the white minority government, but on destroying the country as well. These rhetorical constructions of the opposition, in combination with constructions of other facets of the political scene, created very different political realities for the members and adherents of these two groups, political realities that led to and justified violent political behaviors. These findings suggest that political rhetoric first constructs a political reality—an understanding of the political scene—for an audience, then members of that audience act and make decisions based upon that construction, all within an evolving historical context. These findings also suggest that public discourse–arguments made in the public sphere–is not a monolithic discourse that constructs a single political reality for all members of a given society. Rather, public discourse is best understood as a collection of smaller, competing discourses that construct multiple, and often conflicting, political realities for various groups in a society.