Discourse analysis is about asking two questions about word choice (diction) and sentence structure – “why?” and “why not?”.

For example:

“WHY did the ANC choose to use the word hlanganyela on their isiZulu election posters?”

and

“WHY did the ANC choose NOT to use other words for togetherness on their isiZulu election posters?”

The same question can be applied to a comparison of the ANC’s posters and those of the DA, where similar choices have been made.

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We’ve all seen them. They have appeared in all 11 of our official languages (as well as in Portuguese, Italian, Cantonese and Greek), blossoming with the last heavy rains of summer on lampposts and at intersections, 20 metres tall in blazing lights or the size of a postcard in newspapers. They grow every day. Almost all have a face, though some show the proof of the promises (roads, houses, smiling well-fed schoolchildren) being made in black or white or red above and below them. Almost all bear a brand emblazoned on them – shields and fists and flags and suns, rainbows and elephants and all the other crazy symbols soon to clutter our ballot-papers. It is almost impossible for any citizen to be unaware of the impending election – and that is the point. We’re supposed to know. We’re supposed to be fully aware of what each party is promising.

The promises of two big contenders up here eJozi Maboneng, KwaNdongaziyaduma, kwaNyama’kayipheli-aphel’amaziny’endoda, centre around the same word in English – TOGETHER. You’ve seen the posters:

“Together we move South Africa forward” vs “Together for Jobs/Change”

It’s the same word in English, and not just in diction – either we move South Africa forward [i.e. we engage in progress] or we change South Africa. Togetherness is a pleasantly amorphous concept, reminiscent of the national anthem’s call for patriotism. In South Africa it is a particularly remedial understanding, the antidote to the apartness of Apartheid. As a result, the present government has spent much thought on the idea of togetherness (called social cohesion in recent years), spinning it into a reason to vote ANC. The word they use in their campaign is, in English, no different from the word used by their opponents, whom they would have you believe is aiming for anything but togetherness – a return to Apartheid and other Teutonic concepts espoused by its wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing.

In isiZulu, however, something unusual happens regarding the word ‘TOGETHER’. Pardon me some linguistic play, but this will prove enlightening.

In order to approach TOGETHERNESS, it is necessary first to approach APARTNESS. Apartheid is ubandlululo – the segregation and division of communities. It is a single aberrent concept. There is only one word for it, and its cognates are words for ‘discriminate’ or ‘exclude’.

Togetherness, on the other hand, is not so simple. Let’s have a look at some of various the Nouns the ANC didn’t use when translating TOGETHERNESS.

Unity, as a concept, is ubunye. One-ness. Being a single entity. This one hasn’t been chosen once in 20 years, despite the old motto of RSA, ex unitate vires (out of unity comes strength).

Cohesion is ubumbano, the way that clay sticks together in the forming of a pot. This word used to be the flavour of the month with the Zuma regime, and was the topic of a summit in Soweto a few years back.

Neither of these has been chosen in the current election campaign, or in any other (to my knowledge).

In fact, the campaigns of both 2004 an 2009 have used another trick that isiZulu possesses, rather than using some amorphous abstraction like ubunye and ubumbano – they have used reciprocal extensions of verbs. What this means for non-linguists is that they use verbs like “help-each-other” or “work-together”. This opens up a whole world of wordplay to the campaign planner, depending on which verb you choose.

Let’s have a look at two verbs which have consistently been chosen:

ukubambisana – to-hold-on-to-the-thing-together << famously used by the ANC in its 2004 campaign as part of the slogan “Ngokubambisana singenza okuningi” which was translated as “Working together we can do more”.

ukusebenzisana – to-make-use-of-something-together << currently being used by the DA as part of the slogan “Sisebenzisana ekuletheni inguquko” or “We are working together to bring change”.

So that shows that the DA’s choice of TOGETHERNESS involves everyone making use of the same system together, working together in the same place. It’s a pretty direct translation of the English, albeit a little clunky.

The ANC, by contrast with the previous choice of everyone pulling together at the same rope, hasn’t chosen either of these words this year. Instead, they have chosen a peculiar verb – ukuhlanganyela. Their slogan is

“Ngokuhlanganyela siqhubezela iNingizimu Afrika phambili”

“By Hlanangyela’ing we push South Africa forward”

Ukuhlanganyela is related to a more common verb for meeting or joining (ukuhlangana), but with an important twist. If you look it up in the most recent isiZulu dictionary (Mbatha, 2001), you will find that its primary meaning is “to form a group of people together with the purpose of attacking or pursuing a person or thing thereby outnumbered”. It basically means “gang up against”. Vilakazi and Doke (1948) define the verb as follows:

1. Unite against, combine against, make a combined attack. e.g. Bamhlanganyela (They attacked him in a body)

2. Act in unison, participate. e.g. ukuhlanganyela umsebenzi (to participate in the same work).

So it does have the same meaning as ukusebenzisana, and it has a definite use as a translation for someone “being involved in something”. It has positive connotations of active citizenship, but there is still that disturbing primary meaning hanging in the air over it. If you hlanganyela, you’re participating in a mob, ganging up on something or someone less powerful than you.

So the ANC’s election poster, translated directly, is

by-ganging-up-on-something-less-powerful      we-compel      South     Africa     forward.

Hm. That’s not such a positive choice of diction. Maybe someone should tell them.

Or maybe they already know.

You see, at this point I could launch into a description of the martial character of the amaZulu, connecting the culture’s militaristic social structures and history to our fiercely Zulu president, Msholozi, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. But I won’t, because it’s all too apparent. It’s not about unity, or cohesion. It’s not about working together.

The TOGETHERNESS of the ANC is an invitation to join the powerful, to participate in the great mass of majority in a combined attack on those less powerful or numerous. It is an invitation to put patriotism and belonging ahead of minor issues like corruption, cronyism and mismanagement. It asks us to step forward and be part of a mob against the daily service delivery protests taking place across South Africa.

While I’m not sure of the amorphous TOGETHERNESS offered elsewhere, I’m very sure of what the ANC is saying in my vernacular. And I don’t like it.