On November 27, 2017, President Hage Geingob gave his acceptance speech as the third President of the SWAPO Party. This speech contains an innumerable amount of rhetorical and syntactical devices used in Critical Discourse Analysis. I therefore herein intend to examine his discourse, in order to study the ways he constructed his reconciliatory tone for national unity in a multi-ethnic society such as ours. For this purpose, the findings reveal that one of his goals in his discourse was to create a sense of oneness, forgiveness and nationhood among the various ethnic groups in the country in general and the SWAPO Party in particular.
A leader’s public discourse might create national unity or disunity among the various ethnic groups, depending on how individual members understand and perceive the message. Thomas et al. (2004) argued that the role of discourse is to shape the beliefs of people who establish certain ideologies as common sense, which in turn influence their behaviour.
Ghazali (2004) defines the modern notion of power as the ability to influence and control people not by force but by mind management. Macionis (2001) posits that discourse by people in power can cause competition and negative perceptions of the other.
It is evident that politics is demonstrated and observed through language and persuasion. Therefore politics and language or persuasions are interlinked. From the moment they start asserting their ideologies to their constituents, politicians in particular are keenly aware that they must use powerful or persuasive language.
More powerful linguistic devices such as the metaphor, euphemism, parallelism and the use of the pronoun are needed to increase the potency and persuasiveness of language. (Thomas, et al. 2004).
In his speech, Geingob effectively communicates his thoughts and visions to his audience. Through rhetorical devices, President Geingob also powerfully assures SWAPO Party Members and Namibians at large that the future of this country holds unity, inclusivity, shared prosperity and peace as it precious assets.
Most importantly, he uses syntactical variety, organization, and persuasive devises to draw the audience’s attention to his plans for the future. He uses powerful repeated phrases to ensure people know that he means what he says. He also does this to display the intensity of his own feelings.
Indeed, the occasion felt like the perfect time for a restart on a conversation about unity, the birth of a nation and the death of tribalism and ethnicity. My X-ray analysis of that speech is meant not as a final word on that moment, but as an invitation, a doorway to a room where we can all reflect on our country’s trajectory.
Such analysis, while interesting in itself, might be little more than a scholarly curiosity if we were not so concerned with the language issues of political discourse.
In this regard, the effectiveness of Geingob’s speech rests upon four related rhetorical strategies: The power of allusion and its patriotic associations; The oratorical resonance of parallel constructions; The “two-ness” of the texture, to use Du Bois’s useful term and The ability to include himself as a character in a narrative.
Part of what made Dr. King’s speech resonate, not just for black people, but for some whites, was its framing of racial equality in familiar patriotic terms: “This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning.” What follows, of course, is King’s great litany of iconic topography that carries listeners across the American landscape: “Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!…”
In this tradition, Geingob quotes the Bible in the Epistle to the Ephesians 4:31-32 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you”. This is a quote that becomes a refrain linking the parts of the speech. Before that, there seemed to be a genuine attempt to reconcile and unite when he said “our post congress duty is to unite behind SWAPO ideals and principles. Today is not about recrimination or retribution. It is not about saying this team has won or that team has lost. SWAPO has won”.
To put more emphasis on his message and the chosen theme of unity he continued saying “this is our moment to light a new candle of camaraderie.
It is our moment to turn our backs on petty politics. It is our moment to turn towards each other in the spirit of unity and resist the temptation to fall back into personalised squabbles. Then he continued saying “let us give one another a chance. Let us look at each other with different eyes and changed hearts.”
What comes next is “SWAPO has come a long way. For 57 years, we have been the source of hope for the attainment of the aspirations of the Namibian people,” an opening that places him in the tradition of his predecessors, as he likes to call them, and to assure the skeptics that the ‘legacy continues’.
What keeps the speech from falling into a pandering sea of slogans is a language that exhorts not to dwell in the past, in terms of achievement but be forward looking into the future: “we should never be led by fear of the future. I wish to assure everyone that all of us have a reason to celebrate…a SWAPO that is resilient, a SWAPO that is forward-looking and a SWAPO that is determined to improve the lives of all Namibians.”
After diagnosing the problem saying, “I have realized that one of our biggest challenges is that we don’t listen to each other. We don’t engage enough in constructive dialogue.
Most misunderstandings and suspicions are developed in an environment where there is personal animosity, communication breakdowns or administrative weaknesses”, he then pledged “to ensure…fair application of rules and effective communication with the rank and file.”
He also said “my plea is that we let go of personal animosity as we can no longer afford to drag the heavy luggage of resentment from one congress to the next” and concludes by saying “I am open to listen to the ideas of those who contested and all those who have ideas on how we can work in favour of the collective good.”
Parallel constructions help authors and orators make meaning memorable. To remember how parallelism works, think of equal terms to express equal ideas. So Dr. King dreamed that one day his four children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (By the content of their character is parallel to by the color of their skin.)
Back to Geingob: he returns to familiar evocations of the device and strategy of rhetoric by repeating the same word over and over again saying “let this be the last congress where the insults exceed ideas. Let this be the last congress where friendships and families are torn apart. Let this be the last congress where we find it difficult to look in each other’s eyes and say a simple ‘good afternoon, comrade’.
Then he continues with familiar evocations of national history, ideals, and language: “SWAPO is the vanguard movement of the Namibian people….I am ready to be a President for all SWAPO Members, I am ready to be a President of unity, a President of inclusivity and a President of shared prosperity.
I am ready to ensure that the SWAPO legacy will continue” Such language manages to create balance and, without being excessively messianic, permits him to present himself as the bridge builder, the reconciler of the country’s ethnic and racial divides.
There is an obnoxious tendency among politicians to frame their life story as a struggle against poverty or hard circumstances. To appeal to populist instincts it becomes de rigueur to be descended from “goat turd farmers” in France.
Without dwelling on it, Geingob reminds us that “there was no glory attached to joining SWAPO, no promise of a top job or lucrative tender but only joined out of conviction, out of patriotism, out of a burning desire for self-determination”.
This patriotic lexicon is meant to other ethnic groups’ ears in order to soothe their fears.
The use of pronouns is a linguistic means of including the people. When hearers assume that the “we” and “our” includes them, the speaker’s ideology is transmitted to the hearers and eventually they become convinced of the speaker’s argument or reasoning. In short, as the audience feels acknowledged, they have no choice but to succumb to the “truths” that he tells because they need to feel as though a change for the better will come to the nation that they love.
President Geingob uses devices and strategies of rhetoric such as amplification to amplify his desire for peace and unity. He also used analogy to say that to deny a man because of race or ethnicity is to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for our freedom.
There was also the use of antithesis to show that SWAPO will not deviate from its principles, but at the same time, will be willing to look into the future and not get stuck in the past saying “the outcome of this election is not about me but about SWAPO understanding the need to evolve with times, without forgetting its roots.”
“Viva SWAPO”, were my words when I was defeated by the late Comrade Hendrick Witbooi at the 2nd SWAPO Congress of 1997. When I failed to make it into in 2002, I again raised my fist and said “Viva SWAPO” Today, as I accept the role of SWAPO Party President, all I have to say is “Viva SWAPO”.
Here, President Geingob uses metanoia by recalling statements he makes and explaining them and instead of a Rhetorical Question he used quotations to call the audience to action to join in the historic effort “to achieve a united, inclusive, peaceful and prosperous Namibia”.
In conclusion, this analysis has shown that President Hage Geingob has a rhetorical style that goes in the tradition of uniting the nation under a shared destiny. By focusing more on shared ideals he becomes more inclusive.
The analysis of President Geingob’s public discourses can help current and future influential political leaders realize the importance of language in establishing and promoting national unity, and constructing positive feelings towards other ethnic groups.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.