School of Arts

Robert Mugabe’s Funeral Speeches for Zimbabwean National Heroes – Rants or Eloquent Orations?

Dr Prosper Takavarasha
Dr Prosper Takavarasha

Dr Prosper Takavarasha graduated with a PhD in Linguistics for his research into funeral speeches made by the late former Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe for ‘heroes’ buried at the National Heroes’ Acre (NHA) in Harare, Zimbabwe.

The study was in response to contradictory views of Mugabe’s speeches which some labelled as ‘unrelenting rants’, while others regarded as eloquent orations.

Professor Heike Tappe and Professor Langa Khumalo supervised the study which examined 26 of Mugabe’s funeral speeches comprising 13 997 distinct words and employed WordSmith Tools to identify and analyse frequent word and language choices in the speeches.

The research found that reference, conjunction, reiteration, and collocation were the main features which establish ‘coherence as internal to the text’ in the examples.  The same type of speeches, delivered at the same location, by the same speaker are the features which establish ‘coherence as internal to the listener’.

The study expands Halliday and Hasan’s (1976) theory of cohesion by identifying narrative, comparison, argumentation, and contextual framing as four cognitive elements that offer a framework for investigating and evaluating the coherence of speeches.

‘I found that Mugabe manipulates the identified features of cohesion and coherence in the corpus so as to represent the situation in ways that promote his preferred values and political ideology,’ said Takavarasha. ‘Despite the use of code-switching and code-mixing found in the corpus, Mugabe’s speeches are cohesive and coherent because of identifiable features of cohesion and coherence.’

The study concludes ‘that Mugabe was an eloquent orator as his language use and vocabulary were not random but targeted at the majority of his Shona- and English-speaking audiences. Ideas for further research include analysing all of Mugabe’s funeral speeches, to compare the style and structure of his speeches to those of his successor. Such a comparison could add further insights into the cohesion and coherence of political discourse and the epideictic genre of rhetoric,’ he said

Takavarasha thanked his family, friends and supervisors for their support during his studies.

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