South Africa
news media

How to Cite

CONRADIE, M. S. (2020). PURE POLITICKING! RACIALISED BLAME GAMES AND MORAL PANIC IN THE CASE OF A SOUTH AFRICAN HIGH SCHOOL. Society Register, 4(1), 37–60. https://doi.org/10.14746/sr.2020.4.1.04


This study combines two discourse analytic frameworks, and explores the utility of this combination for unpacking journalistic opinions written in response to a polarising and racialised event in South African education: the Overvaal High School incident. It uncovers strategic constructions of racism within politicised blame games, in the context of Overvaal, and discloses how blame-assertion and blame-denial became implicated in framings of moral panic.

Methodologically, this study relies on the concept race trouble, as well as a practical model of argumentation. In conjunction, these two approaches supply insight into both the calculated construction of racism, as well as the incorporation of these constructions into arguments aimed at rationalising blame-assertion and blame-denial. The results are interpreted within theorisations of moral panic.

The findings showcase how arguments are produced to blame an individual politician for escalating racial antagonism around Overvaal, instead of offering a deeply historicised and contextualised account of the incident. Consequently, the arguments that shaped the opinion pieces, and the framing of racism involved in these arguments, ultimately obfuscate inquiry into structural determinants of racial inequity.

Implicitly, this framing of racism and its incorporation into argumentation and blame games, produce a form of moral panic, in which South Africans racialised as white are construed as embattled by self-serving (black) politicians. Such politicians are vilified, or rendered as folk devils, and the results indicate how this process evades penetrating analyses of racialisation and its intersection with unequal education.




Adegbola, Oluseyi and Sherice Gearhart. 2019. “Examining the relationship between media use and political engagement: A comparative study among the United States, Kenya, and Nigeria.” International Journal of Communication 13: 1231-1251.

Aguirre, Adalberto. 2010. “Diversity as interest-convergence in academia: A critical race theory story.” Social Identities 16(6): 763-774.

Bosch, Tanya. 2017. “Twitter activism and youth in South Africa: The case of #RhodesMustFall.” Information, Communication and Society 20(2): 221-232.

Boukala, Salomi. 2016. “Rethinking topos in the discourse historical approach: Endoxon seeking and argumentation in Greek media discourses on ‘Islamist terrorism’.” Discourse Studies 18(3): 249-268.

Buire, Chloe and Lynn Staeheli. 2017. “Contesting the ‘active’ in active citizenship: Youth activism in Cape Town, South Africa.” Space and Polity 21(2): 173-190.

Cohen, Stanely. 1972. Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd.

Cresswell, Catherine, Kevin Whitehead, and Kevin Durrheim. 2014. “The anatomy of ‘race trouble’ in online interactions.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 37(14): 2512-2528.

Grue, Jan. 2009. “Critical discourse analysis, topoi and mystification: Disability policy documents from a Norwegian NGO.” Discourse Studies 11(3): 305-328.

Hall, Stuart, Charles Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, and Brian Roberts. 1978. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order. Basingstroke: Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

Hansson, Sten. 2018a. “The discursive micro-politics of blame-avoidance: Unpacking the language of government blame games.” Policy Sciences 51: 545-564.

Hansson, Sten. 2018b. “Analysing opposition-government blame games: Argument models and strategic manoeuvring.” Critical Discourse Studies 15(3): 228-246.

Heleta, Savo. 2016. “Decolonisation of higher education: Dismantling epistemic violence

and Eurocentrism in South Africa.” Transformation in Higher Education 1(1): 1-8.

Hoffman, Garrett and Tania Mitchell. 2016. “Making diversity “everyone’s business”: A discourse analysis of institutional responses to student activism for equity and inclusion.” Journal of Diversity in Higher Education 9(3): 277-289.

Leonardo, Zeus and Michalinos Zembylas. 2013. “Whiteness as a technology of affect: Implications for educational praxis.” Equity and Excellence in Education 46(1): 150-165.

Leong, Ching and Michael Howlett. 2017. “On credit and blame: Disentangling the motivations of public policy decision-making behaviour.” Policy Sciences 50: 599-618.

Mihailidis, Paul. 2014. “The civic-social media disconnect: Exploring perceptions of social media for engagement in the daily life of college students.” Information, Communication & Society 17(9): 1059-1071.

Nijjar, Jasbinder. 2015. “Menacing youth and broken families: A critical discourse analysis of the reporting of the 2011 English Riots in the Daily Express using moral panic theory.” Sociological Research Online 20(4): 1-12.

Reygan, Finn and Melissa Steyn. 2017. “Diversity in basic education in South Africa: Intersectionality and Critical Diversity Literacy.” African Education Review 14(2): 68-81.

Strong, Krystal. 2018. “Do African lives matter to Black Lives Matter? Youth uprisings and the borders of solidarity.” Urban Education 53(2): 265-285.

Tilly, Charles. 2008. Credit and Blame. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Toulmin, Stephen. 2003. The Uses of Argument. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zagar, Igor. 2010. “Topoi in critical discourse analysis.” Lodz Papers in Pragmatics 6(1): 3-27.

Zienkowsky, Jan. 2019. “Politics and the political in critical discourse studies: The state of the art and a call for an intensified focus on the metapolitical dimension of discursive practice.” Critical Discourse Studies 16(2): 131-148.

Manuscript authors are responsible for obtaining copyright permissions for any copyrighted materials included within manuscripts. The authors must provide permission letters, when appropriate, to the Society Register Editors.

In addition, all published papers in Society Register are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 Unported License.

1.1 The Author hereby warrants that he/she is the owner of all the copyright and other intellectual property rights in the Work and that, within the scope of the present Agreement, the paper does not infringe the  legal rights of another person. The owner of the copyright work also warrants that he/she is the sole and original creator thereof and that is not bound by any legal constraints in regard to the use or sale of the work.

1.2. The Publisher warrants that is the owner of the PRESSto platform for open access journals, hereinafter referred to as the PRESSto Platform.

2. The Author grants the Publisher non-exclusive and free of charge license to unlimited use worldwide over an unspecified period of time in the following areas of exploitation:

2.1. production of multiple copies of the Work produced according to the specific application of a given technology, including  printing, reproduction of graphics through mechanical or electrical means (reprography) and digital technology;

2.2. marketing authorisation, loan or lease of the original or copies thereof;

2.3. public performance, public performance in the broadcast, video screening, media enhancements as well as broadcasting and rebroadcasting,  made available to the public in such a way that members of the public may access the Work from a place and at a time individually chosen by them;

2.4. inclusion of the Work into a collective work (i.e. with a number of contributions);

2.5. inclusion of the Work in the electronic version to be offered on an electronic platform, or any other conceivable introduction of the Work in its electronic version to the Internet;

2.6. dissemination of electronic versions of  the Work in its electronic version online, in a collective work or independently;

2.7. making the Work in the electronic version available to the public in such a way that members of the public may access the Work from a place and at a time individually chosen by them, in particular by making it accessible via the Internet, Intranet, Extranet;

2.8. making the Work available according to appropriate license pattern CC BY-NC 4.0 as well as another language version of this license or any later version published by Creative Commons.

3. The Author grants the Publisher permission to reproduce a single copy (print or download) and royalty-free use and disposal of rights to compilations of the Work and these compilations.

4. The  Author grants the Publisher permission to send metadata files related to the Work, including to commercial and non-commercial journal-indexing databases.

5. The Author represents that, on the basis of the license granted in the present Agreement, the Publisher is entitled and obliged to:

5.1.  allow third parties to obtain further licenses (sublicenses) to the Work and to other materials, including derivatives thereof or compilations made, based on or including the Work, whereas the provisions of such sub-licenses will be the same as with the Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Creative Commons sub-license or another language version of this license, or any later version of this license published by Creative Commons;

5.2. make the Work available to the public in such a way that members of the public may access the Work from a place and at a time individually chosen by them, without any technological constraints;

5.3. appropriately inform members of the public to whom the Work is to be made available about sublicenses in such a way as to ensure that all parties are properly informed (appropriate informing messages).

6. Because of the royalty-free provision of services of the Author (resulting from the scope of obligations stipulated in the present Agreement), the Author shall not be entitled to any author’s fee due and payable on the part of the Publisher (no fee or royalty is payable by the Publisher to the Author).

7.1. In the case of third party claims or actions for indemnity against the Publisher owing to any infractions related to any form of infringement of intellectual property rights protection, including copyright infringements, the Author is obliged to take all possible measures necessary to protect against these claims and, when as a result of legal action, the Publisher, or any third party licensed by the Publisher to use the Work, will have to abandon using the Work in its entirety or in part or, following a court ruling in a legal challenge, to pay damages to a third party, whatever the legal basis

7.2. The Author will immediately inform the Publisher about any damage claims related to intellectual property infringements, including the author’s proprietary rights pertaining to a copyrighted work, filed against the Author. of liability, the Author is obliged to redress the damage resulting from claims made by third party, including costs and expenditures incurred in the process.

7.3. To all matters not settled herein provisions of the Polish Civil Code and the Polish Copyright and Related Rights Act shall apply. 


Download data is not yet available.