The last time I looked at the election posters, I focused on a subtle difference in word choice. The ruling party chose a verb that signified a gang mentality, overpowering a submissive public into continuing to vote for them. The blue house chose something different, opting for using isiZulu’s penchant for reciprocity.

This time round, things seem a bit clearer. For a start, it doesn’t seem like uKhongolose is really trying. Apart from the suddenly ubiquitous road-marking and verge-trimming here in our City at Work, which is so obviously like an abusive husband buying his black-eyed wife a bunch of flowers, the posters for the Municipal Elections are disappointing. One that I saw involved the use of at least four exclamation marks, after a garbled reference to the Freedom Charter. It was like the Sun kidnapped a second-year PolSci student after a rough night out in Greenside. Another is a confused vocative and an oblique imperative referencing democracy: “The People, Govern!” Again, the use of the exclamation point smells suspiciously like one too many Johnny Walkers.

Even though I traveled all over my home province in March, I did not see a single ANC poster in isiZulu. In fact, I saw very few posters for the party at all. Like I said, it seems like they’re not really trying.

So then I turned to the DA. They’ve had posters up for ages – simple, unequivocal, direct. Mmusi looks at us and tells us, in no uncertain terms, to Register for Change. But of course, you know that my focus is not on the English. What does it say in isiNguni/isiZulu?

“bhalisela ushintsho”

Hm. There’s nothing funny about the first word – registering is ‘causing writing’, and the applied impambosi gives the idea that you’re ‘causing writing for something’. Cool. The next word, however, is the issue. Firstly, it’s not an indigenous word. A noddy-badge to the first who can tell me which language it’s from.

Yes, indeed, it is one of uJoji’s words – ‘change’.

Now why would the DA knowingly use an imfakela from English in a poster aimed at speakers of isiZulu and its cognates? What other words are there for ‘change’? What, if fact, is ‘change’? What does it look like?

There are two main contenders for the word in proper isiZulu – impenduko and inguquko. First things first – they’re both in the seasonal noun class, meaning that they follow a repetitive or cyclical progression through time, like the moon. Secondly, they are both derived from verbs, and more specifically as the products of neuter verbs – meaning that they simply occur, intransitively. Thirdly, both of those verbs are deideophonic – they come from what can loosely be called ‘sound effects’. With no further ado, here they are in all their glory:

impenduko is derived from phenduka, which is derived from phéndu

change, conversion, repentance >> turn over (intransitive); change (intransitive); become converted >> a sound of turning, revolving (derived from an Ur-Bantu root -penda meaning ‘bend sideways’)

inguquko is derived from guquka, which is derived from guqu

change in character or opinion >> change (intransitive), undergo change, get turned, turn round (intransitive) >> a sound of turning over, changing, turning round

So why did the DA not choose these words? Well, for a start the first word is linked too much to religious conversion – although it might actually be apt to consider converting to the DA. It’s also linked to the word for ‘answer’, though – impendulo. And finally, it’s quite old-fashioned. Nonetheless, a noble applicant for the post.

The second word is a more fitting candidate. It is linked to words for transformation and revolution, and signifies a change in opinion rather than religious belief. But it does have that pesky click, which doesn’t go down so well up here in the Big Smoke where people, as a rule, pronounce almost all clicks as ‘c’. Nonetheless, if I’d been working on the campaign I’d have chosen ingququko. I like the way it rolls and revolves in my mouth, signifying an alteration.

Instead, the DA chose an English word. Admittedly, it has been fully naturalised – it’s even in the noun class for complex fluids, much like the word for election (ukhetho). Its spelling has also been altered to suit isiZulu, and it’s well under cover in terms of usage – it’s very common to see it in political rhetoric across the board (especially if the board is a placard at a service delivery protest). But it still smells like uJoji.

Which brings me to the point – is it not ironic that the DA chose a word for change which appears to be a departure from the traditional and yet which is actually an Englishman masquerading as a Zulu?