“Disability isn’t contagious, ignorance is”: a critical analysis of the socio-cultural construction of disability in rural Swaziland as portrayed in mainstream media

Dlamini, Bonisile Sisana Faith
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Disability happens to be one of the stigmatized discourses in rural Swaziland where myths and superstitions on just about any discourse abound (SINTEF, 2011). My research coincided with the 2018 national elections in Swaziland which is generally a period that is often marked by an alarming rate of ritual murders of people with disabilities. At the heart of ritual murders are ludicrous cultural and social constructions about people with disabilities. Socio-cultural constructions about people with disabilities tend to reinforce and reproduce existing stigma and social inequalities prevalent in rural communities and seldom are these cultural constructions publicly let alone privately challenged, dispelled or interrogated despite their harm. The media (print) being one of the key knowledge producers in Swaziland has often reproduced ableistic notions about people with disabilities thus reinforcing ableism and disability oppression. Entman and Paletz (1980, p. 154) assert that “however unsubstantial or fanciful, the media’s depiction of reality influence the way people think and act politically, the messages affect power”. I therefore opted for this research because disability is amongst the most unpopular, less understood/misunderstood and least researched discourses in Swaziland which is evident in the little, scarce and scanty available resources on disability research. It is also still a less talked about taboo discourse or rather spoken about in hush tones due to misperceptions about it being ‘dirty-linen that ought to be swept under the straw-mat’. Personally, being a rural resident, I have also been indirectly affected by disability through kinship relations whereby I have observed how everyday taken-for-granted language and clichés have propagated and reinforced ableism and disability oppression as is invisible naturalized and legitimated at the expense of people with disabilities. The research also centres on rural communities because that is where about 86% of people with disabilities reside in Swaziland (MoHSW, 2000). Rural communities are generally characterized by a higher level of illiteracy and limited access to knowledge hence myths, misconceptions and superstitions easily breed and are perceived as ‘gospel’ truth (Dlamini, 2017). Socio-cultural constructions become powerful influences that often ‘spread like gangrene’ but when timeously ‘nipped in the bud’ significantly prevent or undo harm on those to whom they are directed or coined which is often marginalized minority groups. It is against this background then that in this research I critically identify and analyse the socio-cultural constructions of people with disabilities as portrayed in mainstream media. This work is divided into five (5) Chapters namely; Chapter 1 contains the Introduction, Research problem, Rationale and Objectives of the study, Chapter 2 is the Literature Review, Chapter 3 is about the Methodology and Theoretical Framework, Chapter 4 is the Data Analysis and lastly Chapter 5 is the Summary Conclusion and the Bibliography. About 50 articles have been gathered as data
Minor dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Masters in Critical Diversity Studies, Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, 2020