You cannot live in KwaZulu-Natal and not pick up bits of Zulu – even if it’s kitchen Zulu or fanagalo – a hybrid of English, Zulu and Afrikaans.
Unlike my son who is now learning Zulu at school, I was not offered that opportunity. I’m learning with him now and loving it!
And so, I rely on my basic knowledge of Zulu to get me by and help me understand and communicate better. This became particularly important when I started lecturing last year. My students were surprised at first – they would speak to each other in Zulu and I would respond in English. When discussing topical issues, they are equally impressed with my pronunciation and fluency with Zulu names and places – that I attribute to my years of working at SABC Radio News. It helps create a great environment in class – one of great comfort and openness. We speak our minds and respect each other.
Perhaps, that’s why I found my recent experience so uncomfortable. It happened while I was on a weekend holiday at a popular destination on the KZN south coast with my family. So there I am, washing my hands in the ladies and a group of about four women walk in. One of them asks in Zulu – “Are you going to relieve yourself? Are you worried about the Gupta? It’s just one Gupta!” And then I can’t make out what they are saying but there are loud laughs and the sentences that follow are peppered with the word “Gupta”.
I freeze. I’m bewildered. I feel insulted. I feel that they don’t know my truth and have no right to label me a “Gupta”. I leave. Not because I feel it’s fine for them to speak of me that way, but because I don’t want to confront them and ruin their holiday, and mine.
Still, it does not make such behaviour acceptable. It’s abhorrent.
We have no links to the Guptas. South Africans of Indian-origin have been at pains to prove this. We were born here, in South Africa. They were not. They are business tycoons. Many of us are part of the working class – and cannot afford lavish weddings, forget weddings at Sun City. Thankfully, the dirty deeds and dealings of the Guptas are now being laid bare before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. Anyone who is following it will tell you that it has more do to with government officials opening themselves up to corruption and irregular practices than South African of Indian-origin trying to line their own pockets.
We have not been captured by the Guptas. Equating all South Africans of Indian-origin to the Guptas is therefore myopic and misleading. And it takes me back to those chants of AmaNdiya – a song which was banned from the airwaves in 2002 for its divisive nature and inciteful remarks. Let’s not forget that ever-popular line that’s often thrown in our face – “Get onto that ship and go back to India!”
I did not come on any ship. I was born here. I am South African. Frankly, I don’t like calling myself a South African-Indian but that’s how you see me, so I will oblige.
I’d like to invite you to my class one day, with the women who called me a Gupta. I’d love for you to see democracy and dreams at work. Higher education, higher thinking, higher calling… it’s how I uplift my students every day. In them, I see the fire, the ambition, the power to do whatever they set their minds to. And I tell them that they can, and they will!
You see, I am captured. I am captured by the desire to build a better South Africa.