An analysis of the political rhetoric of South African President Jacob Zuma's speeches on climate change

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

Climate change has a global impact on all sectors of life including politics and the economy; health and food security, social justice and media. There are stark contrasts in the political and scientific debates on climate change. The economic impacts have already gripped the attention of both the political elite and science community, who also recognise the threats on the survival of the human population. Recent global climate change meetings such as the COPs are an indication that politics, and not necessarily science, is at the centre of this environmental challenge. In politics, policy debates are arguments over actions. It is therefore important to understand how the SA government communicates climate change given its status as a leading force in Africa and its insurmountable socio-economic challenges. With a theoretical understanding of Moral Foundation Theory, Steve Vanderheiden’s political theory that addresses climate change justice and framing theory and textual analysis, the researcher analyses President Jacob Zuma’s climate change speeches during COP to identify master narratives, given the president’s visibility and political direction at these high level meetings. This dissertation contributes to the lack of scholarship on how the president communicates climate change within the communication field and general shortage of presidential rhetoric in Africa. Zuma’s rhetoric on climate change indicates that SA’s priority is economic development and this will not be compromised by climate change policy that halts growth in developing nations. Zuma is clear that common but differentiated responsibilities must remain the cornerstone of climate change policy, if fairness, balance and equity are to be realised. He stands by this argument despite growing GHG emissions from some of the developing nations, including South Africa.