Success Is Our Destiny: A Thematic Analysis of Black South African Women on Destiny Magazine Covers
Sumayya Ebrahim and Sergio Malatjie
During the apartheid reign, South African women were underrepresented in both social and economic spaces. Black women, in particular, were by law and social convention excluded and marginalized socially and economically. These exclusions were particularly apparent in the media. Changes in media representations post-1994 have revealed several shifts in how Black South African women, particularly the Black middle class, are now represented. As a media format, handheld magazines play a significant role in socializing their readers about a variety of topics, and as a form of print media, magazines circulate information to a large and diverse audience. Using magazines as a genre of mass media, we argue that representations of Black middle-class South African women have shifted from invisibility to now being portrayed as active members of South African society who empower their racial and gender counterparts. In order to achieve this, the covers of Destiny magazine, as an example of a middle-class lifestyle publication, were examined. Using thematic analysis, we analyzed forty-four issues of Destiny women’s magazine covers over a four-year period. The results indicate that Black middle-class South African women are portrayed as socially and materially accomplished and as occupying roles of leadership and stature.
Keywords: Black African women; Black middle class; media; Black feminist thought; thematic analysis
Media representations of the race/class/gender triad remain a relatively understudied topic in South Africa. Juxtaposed with social mobility and economic empowerment, the paucity of empirical research warrants academic scrutiny of the representations of race, class, and gender, particularly in South Africa in the post-apartheid era. While there is a caucus of well-established literature on the formation of the Black middle class in South Africa since the 1990s (Iqani 2017), this discussion often excluded Black South African women in particular. Hence, the upward social mobility and economic empowerment of Black South Africans, particularly Black South African women, merits specific empirical attention since the dissolution of apartheid twenty-five years ago. Historically, on the international front, race was seen as a principle impediment to the emergence of the Black middle class (Landry and Marsh 2011). South Africa is a case in point. At the height of apartheid, there were more than 500 laws and 800 bylaws that restricted the activities of Black entrepreneurs (Horrell 1977). Black South African women were most impeded by these restrictions, as most women were confined to rural areas due to influx control laws and the Group Areas Act (Ahwireng-Obeng 1993). In addition, many women were barred from owning land, inheriting money, or participating in political and social struggles (Iheduru 2003).
Since the dismantling of the apartheid regime, the second decade of democracy in South Africa necessitates scientific inquiry of the sociopolitical and socioeconomic shifts of its historically disenfranchised citizens (Iqani 2017), particularly South Africa’s women. Racialized economic inequality was the main legacy of apartheid, and consequently material equality and economic empowerment for South Africa’s majority are still spotlighted in the media, public debates, and narratives about what freedom and democracy entails (Iqani 2017).
This article is situated at the nexus of the social mobility and economic empowerment that characterizes the middle class, on the one hand, and media representations of Black women in the post-apartheid era, on the other. Drawing on Black feminist thought, we argue that representations of Black middle-class South African women have shifted significantly, from being almost invisible to recognized active members of South African society, inspiring their racial and gender counterparts. Current portrayals of this cohort demonstrate that they occupy a more empowered and socially and economically upwardly mobile position in South African society.
Black feminist thought is deployed as a theoretical lens because it critiques dominant narratives of Black femininity (hooks 1981, 1992). Black feminist thought is characterized by highlighting the value of Black women’s epistemological insight; the intersectionality of Black women; the promotion of self-definition and self-determination of Black women; and importantly, resistance to systemic oppression (hooks 1981). Issues of race and class have had a precarious history in South Africa. A key controversy during apartheid was the construction of an artificial Black middle class by the apartheid regime favoring selected Black business people. This group was deliberately favored by the apartheid state by being allowed to access economic opportunities denied to many others (Bonner 2010). The primary characteristic of this faction is that they emerged out of political favor from the apartheid government (Iqani 2017).
After 1994, scholars and journalists alike engaged in contentious debate about the rise of a new Black middle class (Alexander et al. 2013; Burger et al. 2014; Nzimande 1991). Reasons cited for the then rapid upward mobility of this bourgeoning strata included: government work, monopoly capital, public service, security forces, and medium-sized businesses (Turok 1997). In the United States, government legislation and policies have been geared toward the improvement of the economic and social position of Black Americans since the 1960s (Collins 1983); similarly in South Africa, economic reforms informed by the government’s transformation agenda such as “Affirmative Action” and “Black Economic Empowerment” have been directed toward achieving equity within the class structure (Visagie 2013).
Nevertheless, Burger et al. (2014) have reported that the Black middle class in South Africa do not share a cohesive or homogenous identity, and there is little agreement as to what and who the middle class is in South Africa. Similarly, there is little consensus as to who gets to belong to the middle class globally, with some arguing it has to do with meritocracy while others view it as a sign of privilege (Lacy 2015). It is also important to note that despite the undefined parameters of the middle class, there exists stratifications within the category. Lacy (2007) has suggested that it is comprised of lower, core, and elite subcategories based on annual income. Iqani (2017) has suggested that the social category of middle class is more of a discursive construct, difficult to define in reality. However, unlike the artificial Black middle class mentioned earlier, the middle-class cohort that is of interest in this article seems to represent a more organic kind of middle class stemming from increased financial and social mobility rooted in the democratic changes that South Africa has undergone. More importantly, this article focuses on women specifically and how they have been represented in the media in the current milieu.
As a departure point, Black feminism is pertinent because it considers the history of Black women and the unique experiences they have across the globe. African feminism is specifically relevant because it focuses on political and economic equality for women on the African continent. The lived experience and subjective realities of African women is different from women elsewhere in the world, most notably due to the deeply entrenched patriarchal ideologies and long colonial histories they have endured (Maxwell 2017) that have resulted in their disenfranchisement in very particular ways.
Having contextualized our argument, the next section of the article focuses on the media as a social change agent. Thereafter, the Destiny publication in particular is discussed. The remaining sections of the article include the analysis and discussion followed by our conclusions.
THE MEDIA AS AN IDEOLOGICAL GAME CHANGER
Media as a social institution is dominated by White ownership and control, and has historically and still continues to not only be grounded in oppressive racial ideology (Griffin 2014) but also oppressive gendered ideology. In the past, South African media narratives centered on a skewed yet accurate economic distribution of wealth toward predominantly White men. Posel (2010) has argued that, historically, race in South Africa was to some extent policed through apartheid sumptuary laws. With the transition to a democratic South Africa, the media, like South African society at large, has undergone change. The liberalization of the broadcasting sector, the local production of tabloids, the surge in internet usage for media distribution, and the shifts in media ownership patterns have heralded changes in all spheres of media production (Hadland et al. 2008).
The media—magazines, television, the press, and the internet—“play a central role in communicating to the public what happens in the world. In those cases, in which audiences do not possess direct knowledge or experience of what is happening, they become particularly reliant upon the media to inform them” (Happer and Philo 2013:322). However, while consumers are not uncritical of media content, media representations are crucial to the setting of agendas and focusing public interest on particular subjects. Moreover, mediatized texts and images are often internalized and therefore influence people’s views and attitudes toward gender or race, as well as people’s views and attitudes about themselves as members of a particular gender and race (Baker 2005).
Additionally, the media is argued to play a significant role not only in shaping individual identities but also in functioning as both a site and tool of transformation. Sanger (2008) posits that it is important to take note of portrayals of Black women in magazines because magazines play a large role within the framework of mass media, a space which uses repetition to establish normativity in a popular culture. Indeed many scholars have reiterated the ideological capacity of the media and magazines in particular to normalize and privilege particular realities (Linder 2004; Odhiambo 2008; Sanger 2007).
The discursive impact of the media in transforming and or maintaining particular realities and possibilities cannot be ignored. For instance, research into magazine advertisements has shown that this content influences how people make judgments about and relate to one another, indicating that the role of these periodicals requires further analysis (Baker 2005; Plous and Neptune 1997). As such, empirically investigating the representations of Black middle-class South African women is not only necessary to redress disenfranchisement in South African citizenship, but this empirical investigation is also necessary to show transformation in the macro sociopolitical and socioeconomic standing of Black South African women. Odhiambo (2008) has suggested that we ought to be critical about depictions of Black women in the popular media, as an uncritical gaze undermines efforts to realize social transformation, social transformation, which, he argues, is meant to underpin the evolution of the new South Africa. In light of this, we argue that depictions of contemporary middle-class Black women in the media have mirrored the social transformations that have embodied this cohort.
Laden (2003) indicates that magazines let the reader know in great detail what is to be aspired to, and in so doing, magazines open up a new range of possibilities for Black South African women to devise new ways of living. The cultural reordering promulgated by the magazine codifies, disseminates, and legitimizes particular ideas about Black middle-class women in South Africa. In other words, the representations in the magazine create a particular social reality of the Black middle class in South Africa by constructing specific roles and ways of being. The magazine sets a benchmark for almost all aspects of living, such as net worth, social standing, and even how the Black middle-class women should carry themselves. Therefore, as a lifestyle production, magazines have been given the status of social barometer (Rossouw and Rabe 2014), and some authors have even declared them active members of society (Johnson and Prijatel 2007).
POWER IS HER DESTINY
The central tenet of this article is that representations of Black middle-class South African women have moved from obscurity to now being active members of South African society who are inspiring their counterparts with their social and economic status. The specific target selected to demonstrate our argument is Destiny magazine. This publication was chosen specifically for its target market. Launched ten years after the advent of democracy, the magazine targets Black middle-class women with the tagline “Beautiful Powerful You.” The demographics of the Destiny readership indicate that the publication is squarely read by and targets Black middle-class South African women (Chetty 2014). The readership ranges from ambitious associates to business executives and women already actively engaged in business (Chetty 2014). The South African–based magazine can be likened to Essence magazine, which focuses on upscale African American women in the United States.
Globally, studies analyzing the representations of women and racial minorities (in the West) have indicated that they have historically been underrepresented. Moreover, when women of color did appear in publications, their representations were often obscure. Alternatively, the data suggest that the dominant representations are negatively stereotypical for Black women, such as that of the matriarch (mammy) (White 1999), single mother (Baker 2005), Sapphire (West 2012), or Jezebel (Rojas 2009).
Differences have also been noted in how Black women have been portrayed in White-oriented magazines (such as Cosmopolitan, U.S Weekly, and People) versus Black-oriented magazines (such as Ebony and Essence) (McLaughlin and Goulet 1999). The data indicate that Black women are presented submissively in White-oriented magazines, while, in contrast, Black women are portrayed as financially strong and holding high occupational statuses in Black-oriented magazines (McLaughlin and Goulet 1999).
Similarly, empowered and enfranchised depictions of Black women have dominated Essence. Essence magazine is the oldest magazine oriented toward an African American female audience, and it is evident that Black feminist thought guided the content of the publication (Hill 2016). Issues such as health, employment/career, knowledge, education, Black women’s spaces, and community formed a major part of the content of the publication’s articles (Hill 2016). Essence had a vested interest in issues that concerned the everyday struggles of women in a capitalist, patriarchal society in the United States. According to Hill (2016), Black feminist thought permeated every category in Essence magazine’s articles. Moreover, women’s empowerment was one of the central tenets that guided the discourse of the magazine’s articles (Hill 2016). Using discursive strategies to bring about Black women’s empowerment, the Essence articles worked to lend confidence to Black women’s voices and operated as safe spaces for Black women to deliberate their point of view on a range of topics (Hill 2016). Therefore, Essence magazine acted as an abettor in advocating for the rights of Black women. We contend that this is the same for Destiny magazine in South Africa.
The Google search engine was used to select the magazine covers from January 2015 to September 2018. The search term “Destiny magazine” was used. All results from Google images associated with the magazine were saved and organized in date order. For the time period of investigation, forty-five covers were selected. Of the forty-five covers, the May 2015 cover was excluded because it seemed to be an archival issue, featuring the previous issues that the magazine had published since its formation. As a result, a total of forty-four covers constituted the final sample. It is important to reiterate that it was not the magazines, per se, or the articles that were subject to analysis, only the cover images.
The covers were analyzed using Braun and Clarke’s (2006) method of thematic analysis. Thematic analysis allowed for prominent themes and categories to be identified in the dataset (Ayres 2012). As the study was not guided by a specific research question, an inductive analytic approach was used. An inductive analysis is a process of coding the data without trying to fit it into a preexisting coding frame, or the researcher’s analytic preconceptions. Therefore, the data were derived directly from the magazine covers using Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six steps. Braun and Clarke (2006) also identified two levels of interpretation: explicit and latent. Given the argument in this study, the data were coded semantically as emphasis was placed on what was explicit and obvious from the data.
DATA ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
Collectively, all the magazines featured well-groomed, beautiful Black women of various ages; one cover featured its cover lady with her child and one with her male partner, and in the four-year period, only two covers featured a non-Black personality. Some issues had full-length images of the cover women, while others were only head shots. The covers had a variety of cover lines, and the analysis revealed three primary themes and one secondary theme. Career/Business Success, Material Wealth, and Leadership and Women’s Empowerment were chief among the themes, followed by Lifestyle to a lesser extent.
Almost every issue covered stories of prominent Black women and their career journey. Career progression and accomplishments in business featured strongly over the four years of covers that were analyzed. During this period, career milestones and career progress, as well as achievements in various business sectors were featured. The business successes were most often expressed in rand value, alluding to the woman’s financial worth. For example, the January 2015 issue featured Anele Mdoda, who is a radio presenter and celebrity. The cover line under her name read: “R140 million and counting. Radio’s hottest goldmine drives revenue with her fearless, energetic personality.” Here a prominent Black female was not only celebrated for her personality characteristics but also for how it has helped her achieve significant social and economic standing in South African society. Three months later, the March 2015 issue also featured a popular media personality, DJ Zinhle. The cover line here read: “R100 million strong DJ Zinhle’s triumphs over failure, lucrative accessories brand …. and hip-hop baby!” Here, in addition to her net worth, the cover line alluded to her humanity and victory in spite of setbacks, and the cover line also included her parental status. The May 2018 issue featured DJ Zinhle again, this time with her preschool daughter. The cover lines under the name of the Black female DJ reflected how she managed to keep her brand relevant. The inclusion of her daughter also spoke to a melding of the challenges of work and motherhood, as women often feel conflicted about these disparate roles. The October 2015 issue featured a cover line that promoted women in business and spoke specifically about the intuitive advantage women may have. The line read: “Nomkhita Nqweni, ‘Women have a sixth sense—an intuition about business’: The Barclays Africa executive managing client’s assets of R233 billion.” In this instance, this cover line spoke to her prestigious position in the banking sector on the Africa continent, and while the money they refer to may not be her own, it spoke to her capacity to manage this vast sum on behalf of a major banking conglomerate. In the April 2015 edition, a cover line featuring a woman in a CEO position read: “Chichi Maponya as CEO of one of SA’s wealthiest family empires, she’s giving the group new direction—and raising its next leaders.” Here her position as the company’s top leader was showcased.
This theme includes cover lines about the success of women in business as they have acquired significant wealth through their business ventures. In May 2015, business entrepreneur Ipeleng Mkhari was featured on the cover with an accompanying cover line that stated: “My year of growth: Ipeleng Mkhari’s multi-billion-rand success story.” A cover line in October 2016 read: “How I took 1 200k start-up to a 70 million turnover.” Similarly, a feature in the April 2015 issue stated: “The women behind SA’s R900 m bus company.” In January 2017, there was a feature on Sophie Ndaba where her business success was celebrated. The cover line read: “Sophie Ndaba: I’m doing events worth R40 million.” Business and the vast amount of material wealth created by Black women themselves was also highlighted in the August 2016 issue, where the cover line stated: “Prime numbers, meet the stylish Butcher whose bagged 100m in contracts.” A month later, in September 2016, a cover line referring to the renowned South African celebrity chef, Siba Mtongana, stated: “A cooking star in 128 counties and building a multi-million-rand business.” This cover line spoke to her global reach within her career and the financial success that she has gained from it. Similarly, the December 2016 issue featured South African music artist, Nandi Madida, with a feature entitled “Her new show, new baby and R1m business.” Material wealth was clearly measured in the monetary sense, and the women’s successes were noted by how much revenue they generated in their personal capacities.
Leadership and Women’s Empowerment
Through the years selected for analysis, the theme of leadership and women’s empowerment was identified. This was the last major theme that emerged in the analysis. This theme revolves around the leadership roles that the women take in society at large and/or in their personal business and career enterprises. These cover lines showcase the women as leaders in their field and how these women put themselves forward to build capacity in others. A cover line in the September 2018 issue read: “The rise of women’s only offices,” showcasing the dominance of women in a traditionally male-dominated space.
Related to this, the April 2015 issue read: “Chichi Maponya, As CEO of one of SA’s wealthiest family empires, she’s giving the group new direction and raising its next leaders.” While this cover line contributed to the career/business success theme discussed previously, it spoke to this theme as well because she had been identified as a leader and capacity builder. The May 2018 issue included a cover line referring to the capacity-building of business sisters Basetsana Kumalo and Johanna Mukoki: “Sister and double digits: A business masterclass with Bassie and Johanna.” These cover lines clearly positioned the siblings as business experts and their ability to pass on these skills to others in their masterclass.
Finally, the magazine not only showcased Black female business talent but also women in leadership roles in other sectors. For example, the July 2018 issue featured Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng with the cover line under her name reading: “UCT’s new boss in town.” Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng was then and still is the current vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Cape Town. She is a Black South African woman who surpassed gender and racial inequality to become a leader in one of South Africa’s prime academic institutions. Her’s is a story of leadership and achievement in the academic space by a Black woman. The August 2018 issue also mentioned “Dr. Tshepo Motsepe A champion of reproductive rights.”
Apart from using names of prominent Black women, the magazine has published several issues featuring cover lines to empower women’s financial growth and to foster their upward mobility socially and economically, and more personally dedicated issues about motoring and medical aid schemes.
Like most magazines targeted to women, there was some clustering around the theme of beauty and lifestyle. While cover lines directed at beauty and lifestyle appeared, it was to a far lesser extent compared to the themes covered above. This category included information about beauty products, social media skills, personal accessories, travel information, or stories and information about entertainment. For example, the March 2015 issue contained a cover line about “Hot wearable trends.” Moreover, February, June, and September 2015 covered information about beauty, how to manage social media, and trendy hair on a budget. The April 2018 issue spoke to phone addictions and solutions: “Phone addictions Rules and Remedies.” Collectively, these cover lines related to lifestyle issues of Black women.
SUCCESS IS OUR DESTINY
The majority of the magazine covers analyzed centered on Black South African women’s growing social and economic status and mobility. In almost 90 percent of the issues, the magazine discussed the business and career aspirations and the success of Black women. The data suggest that Black South African women from different age groups and backgrounds have gained upward economic and social mobility in South Africa post-1994. Most of the women featured have acquired new money and have reached peaks in their respective fields, with many facing challenges and adversity on their way up. Like Iheduru’s (2003) analysis of successful Black South African women, it is apparent these women serve an important role in shaping and influencing current South African society. This observation also draws on the promotion of self-definition and self-determination of Black women, one of the central tenets of Black feminist thought (hooks 1981).
The data also suggest that discourses of Black feminist empowerment and African feminism, to an extent, dominated the narrative in the magazine, hinting also at the Black liberal feminist orientation of the magazine. In addition, the results seem to feature an element of neoliberal capitalism, which is an empowering ideal in the economic sense. The results could be also be read in the context of Frazier’s (1957) infamous ideas of the Black Bourgeoisie, however, the unique South African context out of which the women implicated in the analysis have emerged merits a more considered approach.
Laden (2003) noted that Black South African magazines have become increasingly aspirational. Laden (2003) argued that South African magazines open a new range of possibilities for Black South Africans to devise new ways of living life, “enabling them to access new resources and strategies directed at the social and the individual production of selfhood” (Laden 2003:191). Like its U.S. counterpart, Essence, representations of Black women in Destiny contest Black women stereotypes and liberate Black women from structures of systemic oppression (Woodard and Mastin 2005). Similarly, Destiny magazine has dismantled many stereotypes internationally held about Black women.
The magazines have effectively performed as a cultural reordering entity. Indeed this has been shown in our analysis as well. The cover lines represented the women as autonomous and self-determined. The portrayals of these middle-class women demonstrated how they have challenged systematic oppression to rise above and forge new realities for themselves. The magazine portrays Black women as dominant figures in society defying odds in the business industry previously dominated by White (and Black) middle- and upper-class men.
However, as a media publication, the magazine only covers the stories of the wealthy and privileged Black middle-class women. In reality, most Black South African women are still in the margins, excluded from the economy (Iheduru 2003). Therefore, the portrayal of Black South African women as rich successful women is not representative of all middle-class Black South Africa women. Like Lacy (2007) has postulated, the middle class has stratifications within itself, and the representations in the magazine are of a specific privileged cohort of Black middle-class women. Despite this, the representations of the women are indicative of the social and economic heights that some Black South African women have managed to attain.
While s transformation in representations is evident, the success of Black middle-class women is still confined by (White) capitalism. Nevertheless, capitalist entrepreneurship may have the potential to further open political spaces, though limited, within which women, especially Black South African women, could seek and realize autonomy and self-determination in a society historically steeped in a legacy of gendered and racial oppression and subjugation. Moreover, the transformative nature of media representation leaves room for other Black South African women to be vicariously empowered through the success of their racial and gendered counterparts.
The privation of empirical data of media representations of the race/class/gender triad remains a relatively understudied topic in South Africa. Juxtaposed with social mobility and economic empowerment, the paucity of empirical evidence warrants academic scrutiny of the representations of race, class, and gender, particularly in the post-apartheid era. This article is situated at the intersection of social mobility and economic empowerment that characterizes the middle class and media representations of Black women in the post-apartheid era. The Black middle class as a gender-inclusive category has been at the center of robust discussion globally despite the lack of consensus on who or what the middle class is exactly. Further, there is limited empirically informed scholarship on Black middle-class women in particular, especially in South Africa. Moreover, media representations of this cohort have been bleak under apartheid media practices. This article contributes to the limited scholarship on empirically informed knowledge of the media representations of Black middle-class South African women.
Drawing on Black feminist thought, we have argued that contemporary representations of Black middle-class South African women have transformed from obscureness, to now being showcased as socially and economically active members of South African society who inspire their counterparts. By analyzing the covers of Destiny magazine, we have shown empirically through themes of Career/Business Success, Material Wealth, and Leadership and Women’s Empowerment that middle-class Black women have attained social and economic mobility in the post-apartheid era. These representations break stereotypes and position Black middle-class women as formidable players in the South African social and economic landscape. Moreover, the transformative capacity of the media has made these shifts not only visible to the masses, but the cover lines of the magazines also showcase how these women are empowering the next generation of Black South African women.
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Sumayya Ebrahim, University of Johannesburg
Sergio Malatjie, University of Johannesburg