‘Seyiyakhuluma’: IsiZulu as a new language for political and corporate mass communication through mobile telephony
Jacob Zuma's political and personal escapades have unleashed in unprecedented forms a mobile phone culture that has for the first time transgressed dominant European linguistic boundaries. From the moment of a build-up of his case on alleged involvement in the arms deal scandal and subsequent firing from the vice-presidency, the rape case and the Polokwane fall-out between Zuma and Mbeki's supporters, mobile ringtones and communication between users predominantly moved beyond English or Afrikaans linguistic boundaries. Ringtones of songs, popularised by a maskandi musical group, Izingane zoMa, later used by the ‘friends of Jacob Zuma’ as income generation strategies in order to pay for his many court cases, were distributed and circulated through a network of mobile phone users in isiZulu language. The success of isiZulu-language ringtones spurred on further experimentations with other forms of broad-based communication models using this new media form. The company, Peach Mobile, which describes itself in its webpage as the creators of the ‘most insane mobile content and comedy tones’, was the next conspicuous entity to offer some of its funniest ringtones in isiZulu language. From then on a host of other companies ranging from record companies to life and burial insurance companies such as Clientele, started to offer mobile content in isiZulu language. This article, in line with recent studies on mobile phone culture, demonstrates, firstly, how the ‘unofficial’ mass communication form embodied in this technology has been made to foster alternative perceptions which were in line with mass perception about Zuma, thereby contributing to unsettling and derailing scathing mainstream media perspectives of him. Secondly, it also demonstrates how this new form of mobile telephony has been appropriated and used by corporate South Africa to exploit certain marginal cultural notions – related to life, death and spirituality, for the improved penetration of remote and initially excluded markets and for the maintenance of a brand presence even if it is outside mainstream advertising space.