Small Fights


I believe that a fight must have a solid objective. If an argument disintegrates to physical blows, it must be worthwhile for each of the fighters involved. The objective must be so precious, so valuable, that it is worth risking a bloodied nose and red bruises that may be incurred. Unfortunately, I think some fights are not worth the prize. They achieve very little for the winner. They may even achieve jail time for the winner. The question is, how are you winning in that case?

A few weeks ago I was at Makro, in Springfield, looking to buy a tree cutter. Makro has busy parking bays for its customers where cars come in and go after shopping. I had just parked my car and was preparing to get out when a fist fight broke out right in front of me. An Indian and a Zulu guy were throwing boxing ring uppercuts in quick succession to each other. Next to them, a white Golf on low profiles and a Polo that were almost nose touching with doors wide open. I was shocked. So, I just sat back and watched hoping they wouldn’t bump on my car. My immature mind went “Pero! Pero! Pero!”

After a flying kick, pushing and shoving, a few jungle growls and screams like a Grade-R little girl, two car guards went in-between them and broke up the fight. I opened my door and went over to listen what the fight was about. Still clinching his fists, I heard the Zulu guy shouting, “Nxaa I don’t care! Call amaphoyisa if you want. You saw me indicating. I saw the parking first. Ididi i-indicator!? Ididi i-indicator!? Ngizok’shaya mina!”, threatening to continue beating the Indian guy. The whole fight was about the parking spot. One did not notice another indicating and went in to the spot. What a waste! All those Floyd Mayweather moves for a simple parking spot? I swear I saw about three or four open spots before I even entered the shop.

Granted. A parking spot is important. Secondly, no one should allow amaqili e-parking to get away with it. But, must it boil down to ICU stitches? Is it worth depleting your medical aid savings account? I don’t think so. There are many other examples of fights that achieve very little. That is the gist of my problem.

As a black people in SA, we seem to be constantly engaged in fights that yield small rewards. How do I judge this? By looking at what is achieved after a big fight is won. A week ago, taxi drivers across KZN embarked on a shutdown strike for the purpose of fighting, among other things, exorbitant interest rate charged by SA Taxi Finance, a monopoly in financing this black industry. They may get some movement in those interest rates. Seems like that’s a win right? Wait until you see if their lives will change after those interest rates are dropped. I bet not. This fight, a big fight in terms of impact, will yield a small victory in respect to the problems the taxi industry face. Dare I say, it will be an insignificant victory.

In SA, we are living in a perpetual striking season. We take to the streets and come in direct collision with public order police. People’s lives are often lost during protest. Our protests are often just for water, or roads, or RDP houses. Hardly seems worth someone to die. If the objective of a service delivery protest were achieved today, I do not believe the lives of those who protest would change significantly. In 2012, Marikana protesters lost their lives in dozens for seeking a mere R12,500 as a minimum wage. If they got what they were looking for, their lives wouldn’t change that much. Briefly perhaps. But not that much. Who can forget death of Andries Tatane, just for service delivery!

The townships across SA fought tooth and nail to usher in the new dispensation of democracy. It’s arguable that townships which suffered most violence and political battles are seeing an improvement in their lives. Yes, perhaps police nyalas are no longer roaming the streets. But, by and large, everything remains the same. Yesterday on TV, they showed a school where 1976 Soweto June 16 uprising began. The school is essentially the same 40 years later.

I’m comparing all these fights and protests with, say, how the English or Europeans fought for land in the “former colonies”. They went in there, beat everyone up and took the land and its wealth. That, to me, is significant. From their perspective, it was probably worth the risk. The rewards were billions they still enjoy today.

Imagine if the Taxis were in a protest for real wealth generating course. Say, for example, they wanted to own service stations. Or, say, they sought to create their very own insurance industry, or their own bank. The significance of that achievement would be impactful not just immediately but for families of taxi owners.

Imagine if the Marikana protestors were fighting for employee shares in companies they work for. Ordinary shares like the shares in JSE. Not discounted ESOP. That would be significant. Not immediately, but in their future wealth.

I wish we could collectively pursue a real meaningful fight. Like a fight against banks and other financial institutions. Governments, Businesses, Families, Individuals are poor largely because of commercial banks. You think governments are screwing us. Wait until you see how a bank keeps you poor. When you don’t have money, banks will refuse to give you any money. Wait until you have money. A bank sales lady with a sexy voice will call you and tell you that you qualify for R150 000 credit. Jesu! A devil with a tail and a pointy horn! May they burn in eternal hell.

My imagined strategy for banks would be to shut them down one by one. How? Collectively close our personal and business accounts. When we eventually have one bank left, we change it to a state bank which has a mandate of providing facilities rather than making exorbitant profits on the backs the poor.  That’s a worthwhile fight, right? What the fuck are you charging me for, if there is no money for the debit order in my current account? Am I not broke enough already? Banks must fall. May be my strategy needs reworking.





5 Cane Lashes


It doesn’t help to be one-sided when debating about any practice. I listened to an activist for children’s right on radio the other day. She stated how outdated corporal punishment was at schools. “It needs to be abolished completely!”, she declared passionately. She said it teaches children to be violent. It breeds the culture of violence in the society.

I agree with her to a certain extent, but I wish that all sides can be reviewed fairly. Yes, some teachers were unforgivable assholes and delivered what felt like eternal damnation to our hands. But, getting few lashes can be a good thing for shaping your discipline and character.

It was mid-July winter of 1991. It was the fall of apartheid. Mandela was out of jail and politicians were debating the structure of the new South Africa. I was in a youthful oblivion about the importance of that era. In our school, our class windows were either broken or deliberately vandalized during riots. They were never fixed or replaced. Our class door had broken handles and hinges. It swung like a frozen flag on every light breeze and made a disturbing cracking noise. Much of our school infrastructure was old and rundown.

However, change was looming. There was a construction of our new school premises. We were expected to move there the following year.  I was 13 years old, naughty and stupid. I had acne problems and an incurable obsession over pretty girls.

That slimana day, when the bell rang, lunch was over. A class of fifty rushed back into the classroom. It was time for Mr Nxele to teach us IsiZulu literature. We never had sufficient text books in our class so we had to share. This meant that those who don’t have text books have to move from their desks and sit with those who have. I moved to sit with my classmate and friend Alfred Zondi, who was also naughty and stupid and enjoyed to laugh to just about anything. When we were together we laughed at everything. You could swear we were high on glue or benzene.

The class went normally until Alfred mistakenly dropped a pen. After he picked it up, he giggled, nudged me and whispered that I should have a look under the desk behind us. “Pearl is wearing white panties and they are showing”, he whispered this with a full smile. Pearl had the fairest thighs. All girls in our high school fell between two categories. Those who wore conservative long, below the knee school uniforms. And those who were liberal wore the short uniforms. Pearl wore the shortest – and we loved it.

I couldn’t wait to see what Alfred had seen. I delayed a bit to avoid suspicion then I dropped the pen as well. Deliberately. While down there I couldn’t see anything. Her thighs were together and I couldn’t see what Alfred had seen. I picked up the pen and waited to try again. After a short while I dropped the pen again because I was determined to see what Alfred had seen. I still couldn’t see anything. But this time, when I rose up, Pearls hand was in the air waving for Mr Nxele’s attention.

“Please teacher, laba bayasipopola”, reporting us that we were peeping, to Mr Nxele. The whole class went silent in shock as if to ask why-are-you-so-stupid.



Not to Mr Nxele.

Mr Nxele was legendary of delivering the stingiest of cane lashes. He was known even beyond the school grounds that he enjoyed to beat up students. He was the type that would buy cane sticks for himself and other teachers. I knew a few people of a generation ahead of us that gave up high school because of Mr Nxele’s cane beatings.

“WHAT!?”, asked Mr Nxele in outrage.

“Stand up you two”.

Alfred and I stood up, faced down. The whole class looked at us as if we were completely mad.

“Bafana bami,” referring to me and Alfred, “Don’t you know that what you are doing undermines the essence of a woman? You have violated her rights of privacy. Do you know that you have insulted all women in this school. I will deal with you. You will NEVER do this again”.


“Go and wait for me outside”, he instructed us.

My stomach was already in diarrhea mode and was making jungle noises. I remember standing outside the class thinking I did not even see anything beyond her knees, but now I am going to die. Dead. Dead. Dead.

I began to cry in regret.  I regretted everything about that day. I even regretted knowing Alfred. No. I hated Alfred. Bastard. My naturally delicate palms would turn green, yellow and blue at being struck just once. I knew he wanted to make an example of us. Jesus Christ. I was so scared.

After he had finished the class, Mr Nxele asked us to follow him to the staff room where he would deliver our punishment in private. Away from potential witnesses. Alfred was braver than I was and took his five strong lashes on his left hand without blinking once. What a hero!

When it was my turn I already had nasal mucus mixed with saliva and tears on my face. I cried audibly as if I had lost a parent. I was a mess and I was pleading for mercy. He had an ice cold heart and didn’t feel mercy for me. Not one bit.

The first lash was memorable. It became a life changing moment. I can’t forget it. It makes me an activist for abolishing corporal punishment even today. It was stupidly painful. I wanted to die to stop the pain. My hand was numb afterwards. My mind could not interpret the pain.

When he finished with me, he asked us to follow him to all the classes he would be going to. That was strange. We were already punished and didn’t know what he intended to do next.

At the first class he went to, another teacher was teaching and he interrupted the class. He made us stand in front of the class and confess that we were had been caught peeping under a girls uniform. He told us to refer to ourselves as ‘Abapopoli, the peeping toms’. The class broke into loud laughter.

The second class. The third class. Same thing. I got worried that he was approaching a class with my sister who was two grades above me. If this ever gets to my sister, then it would get to my father. Then, RIP to me. I am really dead. Coffin. Memorial service. Dead. My father would kill me for sure.

Mr Nxele was determined to embarrass us extensively – he went to my sister’s class. Damn. I was dead.

At home after school, I pleaded with my sister to not tell my father. I told her how I regretted and how I was already embarrassed by my new nickname ‘umPopoli’ (yes, it sounds Italian, but it’s offensive in IsiZulu). I offered to handle all her chores for weeks just so that this never lands on my father’s ears. I found myself explaining the concept of double jeopardy – nobody should suffer twice. My dad was a loving father but, he would ‘bliksem’ the devil out of me if he heard about this incident.

It never got to my father. That is why I am still alive and writing this story. I learned my lesson. I respect women bodies. I will never be a peeping tom again. For a while I could not even look at a woman in a bikini (Lies!). I turned my eyes away (More Lies!). My friend Alfred eventually turned gay after that event. I don’t know if there is a link between him being gay and Pearls thighs. Memorable corporal punishment contributed in my respect for woman.

Leave My Brands Alone


My needs from our monthly grocery are very basic. My wife uses her ordained madam-of-the-house powers to choose most of our household brands we use around the house. At first, it took some adjustments from me to get used to some of her brand choices, but, hey, I try to be a loving husband, so I adjust with love.

The grocery shops we go to are her choice. The food, veggies and meats we eat are her choice. From the dish cleaning liquids down to the pest controller spray, all, her choice. I only seek to choose my toilet paper, my soap, my roll on, my toothpaste, my perfume – all things that get to be in direct contact with my body. I chose her as well. Angithi?

You must understand, you don’t just wake up one day and prefer one brand over another. No. It’s often a result of a lot of years of trial and error. Take a toilet paper brand for example. You begin to appreciate the importance of a quality brand only after you attempt to use cheap one. I don’t want to get into details here, but, if a toilet paper fails at holding itself together, it can’t do its job hygienically. That day, I aggressively scrubbed my hands thinking I should have used my old copy of Isolezwe. Therefore, I stick to the safe Twinsaver double-ply for dignity.

The problem is her brand choices often change because she hunts for month-end specials around South Africa (No. Durban). In her mind she is not hunting for a specific brand per se. No. She is hunting for a specific item regardless of the brand. Have you ever had to eat no name breakfast cereal? To say it tastes like anything at all would be a lie. The tongue just gets confused. It tastes like placing your tongue on a cardboard! She will gladly go up to seven shops just to find a best priced cabbage. A God-damn CABBAGE!? I’m defeated.

I gave up doing grocery with her long time ago. I stopped after I caught (..what felt like..) stage-four pneumonia from standing at the below zero meat and dairy isle for over thirty minutes. I was waiting for her to choose between gouda or cheddar cheese. I’m still recovering from that even to this day. (*coughs*). If she happens not to find my requested brands on a special, she is happy to randomly chooses any other.

See, for example, I prefer Sensodyne original toothpaste because my teeth are super sensitive. But, her choices left me with four different types of toothpaste in just three months. Do you know a toothpaste that has an aftertaste of an ocean? I’m not joking. When I breathe in it feels like I’m drowning in the ocean. Not the nice blue part of the ocean too. No. The brown part where some Zion Christians get baptized at night. I have had to use a soap that doesn’t have foam.  No matter how many times I rubbed it under water it would just not produce foam. After bath, it feels like I am actually wearing an itchy wool jersey on my skin that was locked in the closet for five years.

The other day, I had seizures and went comatose after she sprayed an insect repellent that ejected the oxygen out of my lungs. Today, I still can’t read the name of the roll-on she bought for me. I just refuse to use it. She doesn’t love me. No. This can’t be love. Am I exaggerating? Yes. But I want to emphasize an important point.

Brands are whoonga-like addictive. Once captured by a brand its difficult to accept anything beyond it. Tastic and Aunt Caroline are both grains of rice imported from India.  Between the harvest, the packaging and the shipment, something changes in  taste.  For this reason, a Tastic rice loyalist will seek only Tastic brand in a grocery shop. I can say the same about Nike and Adidas. They are essentially the same piece of wear yet their respective brand loyalist would label me blasphemous.

I wonder to what extent has my brand loyalty impacted my choices? Why do we seek to be loyal to a brand when an alternative brand is essentially the same? Why do I even like Kaizer Chiefs football team? Will I knee jerk mark ‘X’ next to ANC in a ballot paper purely on brand loyalty?  Whats wrong with Samsung phone compared to iPhone? Why choose five roses over glen tea? Why prefer Durban poison over Swazi? Why? There are so many questions..

Being 40

Next year, in March, I will be turning forty years. I will raise my hands in the air, look up to the skies, and receive the blessings. And then, I will pantsula dance like a young Msawawa in celebration.

I am a slowly brewed, extra matured, certified ngudu among ngudus. I even qualify to be umkhongi omncane at lobola negotiations. God permitting, I will throw a party with my family and friends to celebrate this life milestone. At this age, one celebrates, reflects and wonders upon making it on each birthday. It’s glaringly clear that life has no guarantees. It is a gift to be cherished. The romanticized image I had about adult life in my youth is over. Kunyiwa macala uma umdala.

At the age of forty, you are bang in the middle of life expectancy. You are sort of old but sort of young. You are like a wall clock at midday. You are neither the morning nor the evening. Or is it the midnight, breaking a new day.

You carry old and fresh battle scars of being on a collision course with life, but you know the war isn’t over. It feels like half-way in a Comrades marathon. There is no turning back. You swing like a pendulum in a perpetual quagmire in that you sort of get what life is about, but also don’t get it at all. You are midway on climbing Kilimanjaro. Your view is breath taking but you cannot see the summit of the mountain.

In one way you are in control, but totally out of control in another way. In one way you are mature, enlightened and aware but, in another way, you are confused, fatigued and disoriented. Your life approach is less energetic than at twenty, but it’s, more considered and careful.

You are far more open-minded and accept differences in peoples understanding and approaches to life. You have your own approach but acknowledge its deep flaws and limits.

Up to now, you have never ever seen a ghost or tokoloshe with your own eyes.

You are old. You have begun a few grey beard linings. You are a mature respectable adult. You wear a few pearls of wisdom. You are often referred with the title malume, baba, bhuti, etc. all a sign of respect. A significant number of people look up to you to provide mature guidance when a situation arises. This sometimes catches you off guard because you may still consider yourself young and care free.

You have gradually become the “go-to” person in the family. If you have income, you are able to make things happen. While you have a wide influence, you, however, realize the limits of your influence.

The life decisions you made taught you a great deal about yourself. You’ve come across insurmountable challenges. You conquered. You succumbed. You learned about what you can stand. What you cannot stand. What you like. What you don’t like.

For example, you eventually come to a realization that you don’t like spiced food. You prefer beer over whiskey. But, you also wonder what the path not chosen would have revealed to you about yourself. What if you chose Maths and Science at school? What if you started a business at an early age? What if you continued to sing and make music? What if you continued to model? What if you asked Thobile out that one day when you sat together in a taxi?

You can resist pressure. You have grown a built-in buffer for stress tolerance far better than you were at twenty. Life gives you no choice. To live is to stress, and, to stress is to live.

If you’ve always fallen on the non-attractive, non-charming or non-handsome side in your youth, worry no more. You will be fine at forty. All are datable. All are lovable. And all are fuckable at forty. Dating scene is surprisingly accommodating. Looks mean shit. Yonke insipho iyawasha.

Sometimes, you just want to lay your head on her boobs and fall asleep.

Some experiences have lost novelty. Your possessions are simply a means to an end. No longer the end itself.  Your car is not more than a transport, regardless how expensive it is. Shagging is by and large a response to biological demand. It’s no longer an act of conquering and victory that you have to tell your boys about.

You generally value good old friendships because you know that good friends are hard to come by. You are old enough to have been stung due to your ignorance to this fact but your eyes were ruthlessly opened. There were times when you were relatively broke, people you held in high regard turned around and showed you their true colours. Izinqa zabo.

Forget enjoying the club after 10 pm, your bed is calling your name.

You have found your footing in your faith. It stops being about how you were raised and becomes more of a choice you make for your own self. Seeking and choosing faith is a long lonely foggy path in self-identity mission. Your footing gains traction. You are probably less than your parent’s level of faith but having little faith has made you witness little miracles in your own life. There are too many traps that could have sent you to second division but you defied odds and came out.

For you, it’s unmistakable the difference between the love people show off on Valentine’s day, on holidays and on birthdays. The love they show off on Instagram and social networks. Compared to, the courageous love of sacrifice. The love that loves you when you are unlovable. The love of commitment. The love that can visit you while languishing in jail, or deteriorating in a hospital bed. You want that love for yourself.

Your health is on a free fall. Your ability to recover quickly is regressing. A paper cut takes seven days and seven nights to heal. Running for half a kilometre literally ignites a volcano inside your rib cage. Your trusted eyes now demand a second look because it’s blurry. Your memory is fading. You cannot remember people’s names. No matter how much you try. The name drops on the floor the moment you stop the handshake. Your erection is on boycott at times. It becomes a non-intimidating, half-hearted disappointment to the dismay of your partner. You need to care a little more for your body organs, drink more water and watch your sugar and alcohol intake. Exercise becomes your doctor’s prescription rather than a luxury. Without it, you could struggle to fasten your own shoe laces.

Your bullshit radar detector works like a well-oiled German engine. You identify bullshit easily because you’ve mastered identifying its pattern over the years. You’ve dealt with loss and grief but you recovered.

Granted, some people are forty in a number of years only. They have remain twenty or younger in maturity. It is the age of knowing and no knowing. You have a clearer understanding of your self-identity. You are no longer a regular patron in Fearville. It is the age of wisdom and foolishness. Every now and again, you still get down to “Ak’siyim ile Gqom”.



One day I was at Musgrave’s Mugg n Bean with a friend minding my business drinking something alcoholic. My friend then stood up and went to the bathroom. While he was away, I browsed through my cellphone and then, out of the blue, a lady from a table across me walked up to me. She boldly asked me why was I taking photos of them. I was so confused. I looked up and their table had three other girls and one guy. All staring at me suspiciously. It was actually the first time I even noticed them.

Well, I told her she was mistaken. I blatantly refused for her to see my image gallery to prove a point. She was wrong and she got me annoyed. I remember thinking to myself that she must have levels madness. I couldn’t reconcile that just because my phone could be pointed at her it therefore means I am taking photos of her. She turned around and went back to her table. Then I started taking photos of her sexy butt because she was ooh so gawd damn hot. No. I didn’t.

I’m just thinking about how many times I see people thinking that they are a preoccupation of the minds of other people while in truth they aren’t. Uzwa a guy paralyzed by fear of passing by a table full of pretty girls. Only to find that the girls he fears don’t even know he exists. Some, think they are being bewitched by others. Kanti its just a circle of life. Your day too will come. No one is controlling your luck. Life is just bipolar like that. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

A Dead Body

Van Gogh

My first experience of seeing a dead body in a coffin was forced on me by my teachers at primary school. The memory is vivid to me today even though I write about it thirty years later.

A girl who was at our school, was sickly and often missed classes. Even when she attended, teachers treated her with some form of fragility than the rest of us. She was always saved from regular caning that all of us received from ‘making a noise’.

None among students knew what was wrong with her, but the teachers must have known. One day, at the school assembly, the principal unexpectedly announced that she had passed away. Her funeral was going to be some time during the week.

Later, our class teacher told us that the whole class would have to go to her family to sing and pray after lunch. Her house was close to school premises so it wasn’t a big deal for many of us. And everybody enjoyed leaving early.

About three dozen of us arrived from school and pulled chairs in a tent outside the house. We had started singing before an uncle invited us inside the house into a bedroom. We obliged to be respectful. We quickly packed the house. Since I was short I was often in front so I went in first.

Inside the bedroom, there laid a brown glossy coffin with a yellow and white flower arrangement on top. We didn’t expect the coffin to be there, but it was. Short, wooden and suspended in iron bars. Next to it, her mom, covered in blankets, sitting on a mattress. She cried audibly and sniffled throughout our time there.

I was a nervous wreck but managed to calm myself. It was my first time to be so close to a coffin. In my mind I had a clear association of coffins with ghosts. And, there was nothing I feared more than ghosts. Ghosts can just appear in the house at night, regardless of how much you’ve locked. Nobody can fight ghosts and win. They can’t die. Jesus Christ. This was my ultimate fear.

We sang hymns as we often sang at the school assembly although the closeness to the coffin made us uneasy. The teacher was ready with a bible and a word. He preached as he would often preach at the school assembly.

About an hour later, when we were finishing up and preparing to leave, one uncle voluntarily removed the flowers and opened lid of the coffin and offered us to see our school mate. The teacher ordered all students to come and view the body.

Jesus Christ!

He asked us to form a queue, view the body and come out. Before my turn arrived, I could see some of my class mates were crying aloud. Their terrified ululation echoed in my ears. This was not good for my nerves. Not good at all. I closed my eyes praying for my turn never to come, but it came.

I remember asking myself ‘But why uncle, why? I didn’t ask for this. No one asked to see her dead body.’ I could have closed my eyes the whole time through if I could. I also thought taking off like a cheetah but no way out. Eventually I had to look.

Her face was angelic. She looked as though she was without a sin. She was light in complexion and was dressed like she was from receiving her first holy communion. She was quiet, peaceful as though asleep, but, I was so very much afraid of her. So afraid. I don’t know if I slept at all that whole year. To me, it was equivalent to seeing a ghost. The memory of her face in a coffin could not leave my mind.

Aristotle said, “Time crumbles things; everything grows old under the power of time and is forgotten through the lapse of Time.”

I am fast approaching 4.0 litre engine years. Since then, I have seen countless bodies during funerals. I moved from being a nervous wreck to forgetting about the moment I step out of the service. I have beautiful sleep regardless whose dead body I saw earlier.

The feeling that lasts with me is that our dead friend is finally awake. Yes, awake. He now knows the truth. He knows if there is life after death. He knows the truth from bullshit. In a way, I feel happy for him. My chosen belief is that each soul goes home when it dies. It goes to the source. No pain. No suffering. But, what do I know. I will really find out when my time arrives.

Welcome To Twini

It was about 10 AM on a Monday at our Durban, Umhlanga offices. The supervisor for our office cleaning staff, Kuben Naidoo, banged open our office door in a hurried state. He looked around, spotted, and went straight to uncle Gideon ‘Guduza’ Cele who was softly whistling while dusting one of the desks. Kuben’s tall but petite stature made it looked like he was being blown forward by the aircon wind charging towards uncle Guduza. Uncle Guduza, in his mid-fifties, was one of our office cleaners. He had a strong Zulu village background.

“Coo-two-sa, Coo-two-sa,” Kuben’s pronunciation of uncle Guduza “..wait right there.” With a finger he adjusted his eye glasses, and continued, “Man! Tune tune, why did you leave lo floor wet at the canteen now without displaying the warning sign? Man – you gonna get me in trouble! Why did you do that? Huh?”

Guduza seemed confused and taken back by the question at first. Especially since there was still some tension regarding how a fellow cleaner and friend, Sizwe Mthethwa, got dismissed the previous week. Guduza saw this as a possible dismissible misconduct and became defensive.

“Eww hee sengenzeni manje ku Gubheni wangibhokela ngolaka ekuseni? (What have I done now to Kuben? why is he having a fit so early?)” Guduza softly asked himself in isiZulu. Then, Kuben sought to make himself clearer upon seeing his confused facial reaction.

“Ground floor. Canteen. Wena shiyile (left) lo floor lo manzi (wet) when you were mopping. You didn’t put up the yellow sign. Staff will shibilika (slip up) and break their legs, and will charge us with negligence. Two ladies almost slipped there already!”

I wasn’t ready when Guduza responded “Hhayi Gubheni, mina zamile lo keys for storeroom. Storeroom locked. Wet floor sign phakathi. Then mina hambile to reception. Lo ntombazane from reception was hlinile- no answer when I say good morning. Mina buzile lo keys but she thula du.”

I buried my eyes in my computer to avoid any eye contact. I couldn’t bear to listen to him being reprimanded. I doubt that uncle Guduza had any schooling. He couldn’t speak English. Everyone spoke Fanakalo or isiZulu to him. When he was being shouted at, you could see his struggle of trying to respond. This incident happened in 2013. The rest of that day I was pre occupied with Fanakalo.

Fanakalo has a long history in the beautiful province of KwaZulu Natal. I once searched for it on Google and it was listed as an endangered language. It’s like the panda bear of languages. My earliest encounter with Fanakalo was in my township when I was still a lightie. A dark, grey hair, Indian gentleman called Paparam used to drive in, in his beat up bakkie, to sell fruits and vegetables. He’d drive around the streets hooting and screaming ‘Woza mama. Shibhile lo mfino. Shibhile lomazambane. Shibhile lo cabbage.’ Even then I used to find it awkward. I remember auto-correcting this strange Fanakalo into proper Zulu inside my mind.

When my sisters, my brother and I attended Saturday schools at the Durban City hall in the eighties, we used to pass at the Victoria market to get to the City hall. This was the mecca of Fanakalo. ‘Ngena mama ngena mama woza makoti..’ on every street vendors table. Some of them were oblivious to what makoti means, any woman is a makoti. Sometimes, even a man would be referred to as makoti!

Fanakalo found fertile grounds in places of professional services. Places like Indian lawyers’ office or Indian doctors’ office have extensive use Fanakalo, and it has worked to their benefit. Have you ever seen queues of Zulus in Clairwood, Isiphingo and Tongaat doctors’ surgery? You could swear Indian doctors don’t receive their medical degree if they cannot say ‘Khamisa’ ‘Phefumula’ ‘Thatha lo four times after meals’ and ‘Khokha hundred and fifty lapha reception’.

At some point I was at peace with the fact that Fanakalo was an Indian attempt of Zulu. I had not heard a white person even attempting Zulu at the time – except for Johnny Clegg of Juluka. He could speak Zulu like he was umntwana in deep Nongoma – right in the Zulu royal household. Yet, he was white as snow. So, Fanakalo was a flattery I appreciated, so to speak.

In my youth I wasn’t aware of the vast institutionalization of Fanakalo. I grew up to see places officially named Tongaat, Umkomaas and Umbongitwini- simply known as Twini, which are supposed to be oThongathi, eMkhomazi and eZimbokodweni respectively; I withdrew my appreciation of it. To me, it’s silly to have Fanakalo names of places when we actually know the proper Zulu word for it.

I recently got annoyed when Ravesh, a gentleman who had been fixing my car’s bent rims, insisted on addressing me in Fanakalo. Even after I spoke to him in ‘proper’ English.  I don’t speak English with a nasal congestion accent like those SABC radio news readers. You know get surprised when she says, ‘..stay tuned to more headline news at 3:30, I’m Mphokakametsi Matshilatshila for MetroFM news ’. All the while you thought it was a white person speaking.

When Ravesh was done fixing the rims he said to me “Hamba khokha lapha two-eighty. Ask for lo discount”. I insisted on English, “Do you mean I should pay 280 rands and ask for a discount?”, using my fake nasal English.  He then turned around to his Zulu colleagues and asked ‘Ikwerekwere yini lo?’ They all laughed. I wasn’t very impressed.

I’m not sure where I intend going with this narrative, but to me, Fanakalo needs drastic overhaul improvement if it’s still to serve its primary purpose of communication. I imagine that when Whites and Indians begin to embrace our African languages it will sound like Fanakalo. Some people may find it as an insult to the proud language. I don’t know who the custodians of this language are, but it sure seems to be withering.  I’m not sure if it qualifies as a language at all. If there are still deep fundamental problems with it, we certainly can’t use it to name our streets and our towns.