This is an extract from Melusi’s Everyday Zulu: There’s um’Zulu in all of us
By Melusi Tshabalala
Published by Jonathan Ball Publishers
I started posting one isiZulu word or expression a day on Facebook in October 2017. I did so on my personal Facebook profile, so only my friends saw the posts. We’d all have a laugh.
Then, one day, I came out of a meeting to about 40 new Facebook friend requests.
This was odd but not alarming, so I went to my next meeting. When I came out of that meeting, I checked my Facebook profile again. By then, I had about three hundred new friend requests. This was definitely alarming.
Had my account been hacked? I’d usually get about 10 new friend requests a day – what the hell was going on? Before that day was over, I had received about 2000 new friend requests.
Even more alarming, the requests were mostly from middle-aged white women. What did they want from me?
Then I remembered I had posted the word ‘m’gabe’, a township word that refers to the face you make when you want to show your displeasure or disapproval, or to intimidate someone.
I’d explained that the word is derived from the surname Mugabe because when you make that face, you look as pissed off as Robert Mugabe.
Since it was posted during the week of the Zimbabwe coup, I figured the friend requests could be from former Rhodesians who thought I was pro-Rhodesia. Which I certainly am not. With hindsight, it makes no sense how I could even have arrived at that assumption.
Anyway, I contacted an older white friend (a former employer, who also features in one of the stories in the book), told him about the friend requests, and asked whether he thought they were Rhodesians.
I figured that, since he was a middle-aged white person, he’d know how other middle-aged white people think.
I was right. He laughed and told me to stop being silly; the requests were probably from people who enjoyed the isiZulu posts and wanted to read more. That put me at ease a bit, but I was still sceptical; my past experiences with white people had left me jaded.
Sitting in traffic a little later, I decided, to hell with it. After all, what was the worst thing that could happen? If these people turn out to be racist assholes, I can just unfriend them, I thought.
So, I began to accept the requests. By this time, the number had risen to two thousand and something, and continued to rise. I managed to accept all that day’s requests, and have accepted many more since.
In fact, the following grew to a point where I had to set up a separate Melusi’s Everyday Zulu Facebook page. I now post on my personal page and that page.
While running a page that is followed by people from all walks of life and from across the world is deeply satisfying, it is not without its challenges. I have been condemned by Christians for blasphemy. I’ve been called out for misogyny (rightly so) – and I apologised after taking a long, hard look in the mirror.
I have had to block racists. But, surprisingly, I’ve had to deal with far fewer racists than I thought I would. That has been one of this initiative’s pleasant surprises.
The other surprise is just how much people really want to learn about other people’s cultures.
While the page is definitely about isiZulu, the discussions go beyond that; we all learn so much about one another and the fascinating worlds in which we live, love and laugh.
I am no isiZulu expert. What I do is share what I know, and introduce the language in a fun way. Melusi’s Everyday Zulu is not intended as a language course, but merely to pique your interest in isiZulu.
The book is an anthology of some of the jokes and stories originally posted on Facebook, and others that have been written specifically for the book. Here is one example:
Lilizela is to ululate, which is done in celebration.
It irritates uSathane and jealous neighbours. In fact, I am certain the first ancestor to lilizela did so specifically to irritate a hater neighbour who was not happy about her daughter marrying a sexy Tshabalala man. And boy, did the neighbour get pissed off.
First, because it wasn’t her daughter who was getting married to the Tshabalala stallion. Second, because ukulilizela was so damn loud and piercing that whole year.
The jealous neighbour was so angry that she became the first ancestor to adopt a white surname when the settlers arrived. She then moved in with amaXhosa and the trend took hold.
Here’s the thing, though. We shouldn’t only celebrate the truly magical stuff, like marrying a Tshabalala man. Let’s cherish the little victories, too.
You managed to parallel park in under an hour. Lilizela.
Your boyfriend managed to pee without splashing all over the toilet seat. Lilizela.
You opened a can of cooldrink without breaking your geltipped nail or having to ask a strange man to do it for you, thus running the risk of his stalking you. (Yes, some guys take any interaction initiated by a woman as a come-on.) Lilizela, gherl.
You managed to hold your tongue when your stupid boss was being a dumbass. Again. Lilizela. You ate a meal your mother-in-law cooked without getting food poisoning. Lilizela.
You farted in the lift and managed to reach your floor without anyone else getting in. Lilizela.
You changed your kid’s diaper without the kid shitting mid-change. Lilizela.
You came home from work to find that no one had eaten the leftovers you’d been dreaming about the whole day. Lilizela.
You’re halfway through January and you haven’t had to sell a kidney to afford petrol. Lilizela.
You’re halfway through January. Lilizela.
Bafana didn’t qualify for this year’s World Cup in Russia, so you can watch the world’s greatest sporting tournament anxiety-free. Lilizela. The bastards.
We don’t know what’s in store for us with Cyril at the helm of a still-rotten ANC. But we lilizela, because surely it will be better than it was under you-know-who.
Seriously, though. There is so much ugliness that is out of our hands. Let’s try to drown it in positive vibes. Sure, we must confront bullshit wherever it raises its ugly head, but let’s not forget to lilizela whenever we encounter goodness. Remember, it pisses off uSathane.