PROFESSOR Yehoshua Gitay, the co-director of UCT's Centre of Rhetoric, was elected as the new president of the South African Association of Rhetoric and Communication at the society's past meeting, held at the University of Lesotho in Roma.
In 1993 two UCT rhetoricians, Professors Philippe-Joseph Salazar and Gitay, who were concerned about the art of effective communication and the power of speeches in South Africa, established the Association to organise meetings and seminars revolving around rhetorical issues.
According to Gitay, the goal has been to follow and assess South African rhetoric, especially at the period of the transition and during the democratisation of the country. â€œThe assumption is that democracy and the power of speech are not separate issues,â€ Gitay added.
â€œRhetoric is the art of public speech, which believes in persuasion. The government's policy is a subject of debates and arguments, and a strong democracy is tested in the level of its argumentation, as we seek to argue rather than to dictate a policy. Actually, rhetoric penetrates into all aspects of our lives such as religious sermons, education and the classrooms.â€
Given the new political developments in South Africa, the need for pursuing research in the field has grown, and the society seeks to organise conferences and seminars that explore the topic.
The establishment of the society also provided the opportunity for scholars from South Africa, Africa and overseas to meet together and to engage in scholarly discussions.
The Association has met in Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Johannesburg.
â€œNevertheless, a need has been felt to promote rhetoric not only in the new South Africa but to expand to the rest of the continent, and embrace scholars in other countries in Africa. Two years ago the society met in Lusaka, Zambia, and this year the meeting took place in Lesotho, said Gitay.
Discussing the importance of rhetoric, he said: â€œThe HIV/AIDS controversy, the matter of privatisation, the policy towards Zimbabwe, are all issues that find their place in the public arena. Newspaper articles, editorials, parliamentary speeches revolve around the subjects, and people write and talk.
"But are these effective? Are we interested at all in persuading our peers, community, or do we just express our views actually to satisfy ourselves, and sometimes we even shout at each other out of our desperate attempts to be heard? A society which does not know how to argue, how to communicate effectively cannot hold its democratic ground,â€ he added.