Be the Historian!

Who published this newspaper and why?

When historians use newspapers as historical sources, they are interested in trying to understand the political stance of the newspaper as well as who might have read the newspaper. This is especially true when historians examine newspapers when a lot of similar newspapers competed for readers. Analyzing the way the newspaper looks and the language of the newspaper’s stories, especially as expressed in editorials, provides clues to the paper’s intended audience and its role within a historical era.


The Task:
The white-controlled government that held power in South Africa from 1948 to 1990 created and upheld policies designed to systematically discriminate against nonwhites. Collectively, these policies are known as apartheid.


Between 1984 and 1986, during an era of unrest in South Africa called the “era of mass mobilization,” newspapers proliferated in black townships and among black communities in rural provinces. At this time, the United Democratic Front (UDF), a nonracial anti-apartheid movement, controlled newspapers that engaged all sectors of society, including white businesspeople, township youths, and members of trade unions, such as the Union of Metal Workers. The papers were created specifically to reach different audiences.


In this exercise, you will examine pages from March 1986 issues of the dissident newspapers Grassroots and Isizwe. What can you determine about the target audience from reading these front pages?


Go to the exercise