Final Word

Zuma receiving what his name predicts


Mr. Jacob Zuma as a proud traditionalist, should not be surprised that his own party wants him to resign as president – he was warned at birth.

While much of Africa’s history is preserved and passed on from generation to generation via an oral tradition, most African languages also have a rich heritage of phrases and proverbs, encapsulating those traditions and history. isiZulu, Jacob Zuma’s mother tongue, is no exception.

When Mr. Zuma’s father had to name his eldest son from his second wife in 1942, in line with the prevailing habit of the time, he gave him an isiZulu second name, Gedleyihlekisa.

It is a contraction of an old isiZulu phrase that reads: “ngeke ngithule umuntu engigedla engihlekisa.” Various translations of the phrase slightly differ, but all encapsulate the same message: “I won’t keep quiet when someone deceives me with a beautiful smile while he is doing damage to me.”

Against this background, Mr. Zuma should not be surprised about the reactions by increasing numbers of his party compatriots, and wider South African public.

There is also a good measure of irony in the fact that he in 2007 succeeded to defeat ex-President Thabo Mbeki as leader by the ANC for being seen to be much more a champion for ordinary people.

Another isiZulu proverb that probably applies presently with Mr. Zuma’s constant denial that he has done anything wrong. That reads: ”Iqaqa alizizwa ukunuka,” which translates to “no polecat ever smells its own stink.” 

Advice for Ramaphosa

There is, however, also some wise advice for Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa, who took over the ANC leadership from Mr. Zuma, in the wealth of isiZulu proverbs. With regards to the “soft landing” he seems intent in engineering for Mr. Zuma, he should heed the advice of the proverb, “You cannot fight an evil disease with sweet medicine.”

On the other hand, he cannot just indiscriminately push people around, because as another isiZulu proverb warns: “When you bite indiscriminately, you end up eating your own tail.”

In this regard, Mr. Ramaphosa seems to follow the advice of the proverb that holds that the “bones must be thrown in three different places before the message must be accepted.” This is a reference to a divination ritual and imply that one should consider a question multiple times, and in multiple ways, before reaching a decision.

Final word

What ever the final outcome of the Zuma-saga, as it became clear, Zuma as per isiZulu proverb: “Uthanda ukubukwa njengesiyephu” – he likes to be looked at like a long-hairy goat; the one who likes all the attention unto himself.

However, in the end another proverb catches the final result: “Aku ‘gili lzikota emhlana,” describing someone who has attempted some trickery beyond his cunning, and then got found out.


by Piet Coetzer

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