Tag: Jacob Zuma

Respect our language: A minister isn’t really going to defend President Zuma with her buttocks

Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane. (Pic: Gallo)
Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane. (Pic: Gallo)

Today, the South African media proudly told the world that a woman – a cabinet minister, at that – was so devoted to President Jacob Zuma that she would defend him with her buttocks.

I will give you a moment to reread that sentence, because if you are a learned speaker of any language it will quickly occur to you that such a statement is nonsensical. But if you are a speaker of a Sotho language, then you will not need to reread this statement, as it will be immediately clear to you that this is, in fact, a direct translation of the idiom Re tlo thiba ka dibono.

The saying directly translates to “we will block with our buttocks”. It simply means that the sayer pledges to (along with some group) defend an individual or ideal with every ounce of their being, even if that means the last resort will be to use a traditionally non-confrontational body part. There are hints by some that this saying comes from Sotho participation in the Anglo-Boer war where Sotho soldiers witnessed Scotsman die with their behinds revealed due to Scottish attire. I cannot say for sure if this is entirely true.

But apparently, this moment to reread this sentence was not afforded to the reporter who wrote this story and the editors who ran it – they neither had the time to research this idiom nor the interest in using this opportunity to provide the interesting history behind it. The original news report by the South African Press Association was republished on various websites including City PressSowetanLIVE and Independent Online.

No, kind reader, the reporter was far too busy being excited about shoveling out another click-bait headline to give themselves the time to think about the dangers of misrepresenting Minister Nomvula Mokonyane. But the poor soul of this reporter is not my business here.

I am in the business of speaking Setswana and what an interesting  business it is today. And by “interesting,” I mean “poorly advertised”, for had it been properly marketed, perhaps, the reporter would have heard about the over three million speakers of the language living in South Africa, and may have tried to contact at least one for clarification on the quote.

Perhaps it is poor marketing that prevented them from realising that an entire nation of Setswana speakers lies right above South Africa, and another nation of Sotho speakers actually lies in South Africa. Maybe if they knew this, they would have thought twice about their attempts to make the minister sound like a fool, by refusing to acknowledge the possibility that her language has any semblance of sophistication.

I want very much, as you can see, for this to be a matter of ignorance. And not what I fear it to be: a matter of pure disrespect. To refuse to investigate the meaning and context of this quote, is to refuse to consider that a language that has lived longer than South Africa can have the sophistication required for the phrase “fight with my buttocks” to make sense. To lazily slap on a headline with the barest seeking-out of clarification is to say to the speakers of that language that you will not even bother to think that it can have any kind of nuance, any kind of intellectual flexibility or in fact any kind of maturity.

The very idea that a woman would proudly proclaim that she will defend her leader with her buttocks should strike the listener as strange. But it appears this did not happen to the reporter of this story. For if it had, perhaps it may have occurred to him/her that there is a level of meaning that they are clearly missing. Perhaps, they would have wondered what they are missing.

But no, it is far more fashionable to undermine the intelligence of South African ministers, it is far more fashionable to undermine the complexity of African languages and it is obviously far more fashionable at the moment to insult African people as a whole.

And to that I say, le tla ipona! Or as the reporter might publish, “You will see yourselves!”

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 21-year-old mathematics major at the University of Botswana. She is currently slumming it in Finland. Follow her on Twitter: @SiyandaWrites

Dear President Zuma

An open letter to South African President Jacob Zuma from a young citizen.

Jacob Zuma (Pic: Gallo)

Dear Mr President

I hope you are well today and thank you for taking the time to read my letter (just practising). I can only imagine how busy you are. It’s the big day, election day. I have been waiting for this day for so long. You see, I love politics and I cannot express enough in words or actions how honoured I feel to cast my vote. It is my second time voting, but it feels like my first.

As a country, we need to just breathe and be grateful. Twenty years of democracy is an achievement, don’t you think? Yes, we have a long way to go but let’s think about what we have now that we didn’t have 20 years ago. I know some people give you a hard time and say that nothing has changed, but I want to believe that deep down in their hearts they are telling a different story.

But Mr President, I write this letter with a broken heart and a deep frustration. I look around and see young people graduating, but the minute they get off that stage they become a statistic that contributes to the unemployment figure in this country. Luckily South Africa’s unemployment rate eased to 24.1% in the fourth quarter of last year from a revised 24.5% in the third. According to Stats SA, the number of jobs had increased by 141 000 in the quarter, largely because of an increase of 123 000 jobs in the informal sector and 64 000 jobs in the formal sector. Quite an achievement, Mr President. But I must say things feel like they are becoming unbearable.

The cost of living has become too high. I recently discovered that there are people out there who earn a salary of R2 500. I am not referring to internships here, I am talking about people who have worked for years in a particular company. I was once that person but I had the advantage of living at home, therefore I did struggle much to survive.

The second thing that breaks my heart is the allegation of you spending more than R200-million on your private property. Really? R200-million, Mr President? No disrespect towards you or your family, but if this is true, did you really need that much to build and upgrade your own property? Whatever your reasons were, in the process of planning did you think about those who don’t live life but are forced to survive because of extenuating circumstances? I don’t want to believe that you upgraded Nkandla without considering the service delivery that still needs to be attended to more than ever. RDP houses still have to be built and the education system is shocking, from textbooks to children still being taught under trees. Yes, things have changed, but there is still more to be done.

This country is angry, Sir. Young people have a growing anger in them and I fear for the future. I feel as though one day our people will release their anger and it won’t be pleasant. The Egyptian people in 2012 came together, walked down the streets and voiced their concerns. Violence erupted and suddenly it was the people who were fighting back. They overthrew the government, living by the rule that says the people shall govern. I don’t want that to happen to us, I don’t want my people to resort to violence to be taken seriously by those we thought could rule this country better. If that happens, innocent people will be hurt and we won’t be moving forward as a country.

Mr President, you talk a lot but let’s try something new for a change. Listen to your people, we did put you in the position that you are in. We listened to you when you were campaigning for our votes and you became the president of South Africa. Take a minute of every day of your life and listen to the cries of the people. We don’t feel politically cheated by your actions, but I for one feel socially and emotionally cheated. I trusted you but I feel as though you have broken my trust. People are painting you as a selfish leader and no matter how hard I try to defend you and convince myself that’s not true, my heart breaks.

I hope these allegations about you are wrong because if they are true, I fear voting for the ANC because you will win and be the president again. Will you spend R200-million for your personal use again? Can you promise me that? I don’t want to vote for another political party other than the ANC but I fear, I fear that you will remain as the president and you will continue not to listen to my people.

My only plea to you is that if the ANC wins the election, please step down and give someone else the opportunity to rule this country. You have done well, Mr President, but I feel your time is up.

Kind regards,

Sindiswa Nene

This article is published in partnership with inkulufreeheid.org – a non-partisan, youth-led organisation that innovates engagement and ignites action on democratic, social and economic issues in South Africa with the aim of advancing the implementation of solutions to those issues.

An African president’s Christmas wish list

You see, Africans are an odd bunch. Barack Obama is winning elections using Facebook and next thing every African politician wants to win elections by a landslide using Facebook. My friend and brother Kim Jung-un is putting a rebellious Uncle in his place and next thing AU Summits are full of nervous jokes about the endangered Uncle species. The Egyptians are gathering in Tahrir Square to pull Mubarak down and next thing elements in Nigeria are obsessed with turning every open patch of ground into a revolutionary square. South Sudan manages to earn its independence, next thing every hamlet in Tanzania is raucously debating colour choices for an independence flag.

Copycats – that’s the problem with Africa. We haven’t got minds of our own. We are always copying everything we see, good or bad. Treasonable uprisings, immoral music videos, Western sexual practices – nothing is above being copied by the youth of this continent.

In my country you now have a group who think themselves an African Tea Party. They think that by repeatedly falsely labeling me a Communist they can turn me into one.

Every time I speak of my commitment towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for my country, these disgruntled elements start to snicker. And then cartoons show up on the internet, thinly disguised caricatures of me proclaiming that what I actually meant by MDGs was  Murders, Drugs and Guns.

I let it go, because I am not a tyrant; I am a democratically elected President.

But it really does get to me. Because that is how people start getting ideas to throw a man out of power – it starts with anonymous comments on the blogs and snide cartoons on Facebook. Ask Brother Zuma to tell you how his troubles started, with the shower-head cartoons. Now see how much hate the man has to deal with because of minor renovations to his crumbling homestead.

If I go ahead and invoke state powers and order prosecution on the grounds of libel, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International jump on the case, desperate to justify their generous funding. They call me names. But I let it go, because I am not a tyrant; I am a democratically elected President – and by a landslide too.

My Nigerian brother, the democratically elected Goodluck Jonathan, once cried out that he is the most abused President in the world. Do you know what it must have taken for him to say that out loud? Do you know how painful it is to watch disgruntled elements distort your every word, make fun of you at every turn?

Look at Brother Uhuru in Kenya, also democratically elected, like me, who has to suffer the indignities of being treated like a common war criminal.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (L) and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. (Pic: AFP)
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (L) and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. (Pic: AFP)

If we continue this way, very soon no one is going to want to be an African Head of State. We will have no leadership, no government. And you know what that means. Chaos. Disaster. We will slip back into the dark ages.

I don’t want that to happen. Neither do you.

Therefore my wish is for Africa’s new generation of freedom fighters and activists to realise that the times have changed, and that the weapons that were perfected in the fight against yesterday’s tyrants cannot and must not be deployed against today’s generation of democratic statesmen. I know Brothers Goodluck and Uhuru, we are not Brothers Abacha or Mobutu, and we do not deserve to be treated like those men.

No we don’t. We are men who have an eye on the verdict of history. It has just dawned on me: now that there’s a Madiba-shaped hole in the heart of Africa, I would really like nothing more than to be the man of destiny to fill that space.

I have a lot more in common with Madiba than you’re willing to acknowledge. You look at me and think I’ve been President for X years – failing to understand one simple truth; that I’ve actually been a Prisoner all that time.

What you call the Presidential Palace, I call a Maximum Security Prison – without the hard labour of course, and with a few conjugal visits thrown in (when Her Excellency is not trying to avoid me).

I spend my days and nights holed up in this place, trapped by the endless “security reports” that say the streets are full of mobs of tweeters, snipers and revolutionaries; all rooting for my downfall, thirsting for my blood.

To evade them, I am forced to be a Prisoner.

I need to get out of this prison. Because Africa deserves another Nelson Mandela.

My long walk to freedom has now started. Someday soon, dear friends and comrades, brothers and sisters, I shall be free from these chains of duty and service to a most ungrateful country.

It is my fervent – and final – wish, that, at that time when I am cast out of this stuffy and joyless Prison into the exceedingly fresh air of freedom, my friend and Brother Mo Ibrahim will not have given up on his laudable idea of handsomely rewarding those rare African statesmen who do what needs to be done when the ovation is at its loudest.

Tolu Ogunlesi is a Nigerian journalist and newspaper columnist. He has written for the Financial Times, CNN, the London Independent, Al Jazeera and The Africa Report, amongst others. Between 2009 and 2011 he was features editor at NEXT, a Lagos-based daily newspaper. Follow him on Twitter.