Ndumiso Ngcobo, Times Live, May 7, 2017
During the horrible ole days of the ANC-vs-IFP low-intensity warfare of the ’90s East Rand, there was an urban legend doing the rounds.
Apparently, when the “comrades” were trying to ascertain whether or not an individual was a Zulu from KwaZulu-Natal (read: automatically IFP), they would whip out a R1 coin and ask the suspect, “What’s this?”
We Zulus are renowned for our inability to pronounce the letter “r”. There are no r’s in my language, you see. And so it came to pass that folks got bludgeoned because they called the R1 coin “iLandi” instead of “iRandi”.
According to the urban legend, Zulus soon learnt to deal with their linguistic challenge by simply responding, “ishumi” – the colloquial term for a R1 coin. For the linguistically challenged, ishumi means 10. As in 10 shillings.
This thought occurred to me recently when I was accosted by a car guard in the shady part of Brakpan. He says to me, “Mlungu wami, ngishiye ne half tiger nyana” (My white boss, please give me a half tiger).
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. The automobile security expert did address me as “my white boss”. This is the new thing between us darkies. We call each other mlungu wami as a sign of respect in this, the age of “wokeness” and #RhodesMustFall.
But this is not the black people’s self-hate column. This is about the “half tiger” that my black subordinate was asking from me – a R5 coin. We darkies refer to a R10 note as “one tiger”. Don’t ask me what that’s about. The smartest guess I encountered when I asked around was from Harry, my father-in-law, who speculated that the old £10 note might have had a picture of a leopard back in the day. And who is counting stripes and spots in the township?
This whole thing got me thinking about white monopoly capital.
I think white folk are skating on thin ice around here. We could plot an entire revolution right in their faces and they wouldn’t know. We have nine different indigenous official languages (if you exclude Afrikaans, Shona and Igbo) in this country. But in every one of them, a R10 note is “a tiger”.
We darkies have a secret English language that no palefaces understand, if you don’t count Johnny Clegg, Athol Trollip and Ms Colonialism Zille.
I wonder just how many white people know that we call all retail store plastic bags “i-Checkers”. Or that the generic term for toothpaste, from Mdantsane to Khayelitsha, is “Colgate”.
Those two examples may not be too difficult to decipher, my paleface friends. But that’s just the beginning. When the revolution comes, I suspect some of my best white friends are thinking, they can blackface themselves out of being driven into the sea. No sirree.
There is no amount of Kiwi polish can help you out when you’re accosted by a visibly annoyed Julius lookalike asking you if you have a “De Klerk” in your pocket. You don’t know what a De Klerk is? That’s a two-rand coin, silly. That’s coz we had only R2 notes before De Klerk became president.
The same goes for “i-choccie” for a R20 note. The colour of chocolate, geddit? The R50 note is a “rouge” for obvious reasons and a R100 note is a “clipper” for similarly obvious reasons.
A former friend’s wife (don’t ask) once posted on her Facebook page that when the revolution comes she’ll don her domestic helper’s uniform and stand outside her house. And when the peasants led by Jimmy Manyi and Oros, the ANC Youth League leader, come to reclaim the land and other bourgeoise perks, she’ll shoo them away with, “Don’t worry comrades, I’ve already repossessed this one”.
Yeah, laugh now, whitey. It won’t be so funny when the revolution comes and you don’t know that any chewing gum irrespective of brand or flavour is called “Chappies”. Or the fact that a knock-kneed person is described as having “i-kiss kiss”, short for “kiss kiss madolo” (knees that kiss). Or the fact that the 1992 to 2001 BMW 3-series is called a Dolphin. Or the fact that the model that came after that is called a G-string. Or the fact that a VW Golf GTI is called a Vrrr Pha!
I’m not trying to scare you, my white best friend. All I’m saying is you’d better get with the programme. The revolution is nigh.
If you lived in Germany, I bet you’d be fluent in German and would even appreciate the nuances between Bayerisch German and Berlinerisch.
But if you’ve lived in this place for all of your 50 years of life and you have no idea whether someone is addressing you in TshiVenda or isiXhosa, it is possible that you might be slightly brain damaged.
And those are not even the languages you need to be ashamed of not understanding. What needs to embarrass you is that you don’t even understand black South African English such as “the Chicco” (German cut) or the “Zola Budd” (the Toyota Hi-Ace minibus taxi from the ’80s) or the “Mellow Yellow” (the yellow anti-riot vans from the ’80s).
And don’t get me started on the “pharas”, the Durban term for street kids – an abbreviation of “parasites”.