I recently wrote a post on the DA’s election posters, looking specifically at their choice of imifakela (borrowed words) in their Zulu campaign. I was rather disparaging of the ANC’s efforts, as I had not yet seen anything from them in any vernacular.

The other day, I went for a walk in my neighbourhood. As I was trudging up Sylvia’s Pass, I looked a little closer at the ANC posters lining the route. And it was then that I saw what I had missed from my car.

You see, the poster I’m talking about is the one with an androgynous and racially ambiguous human staring out of a superimposed X. It was a very clever choice, no doubt made better by some artful manipulation of photoshop. S/he occupies the whole spectrum of colour, from dark to light, as s/he smiles out at prospective voters and encourages them to register to vote. As mentioned before, the slogan is “The People, govern!”.

But under this slogan, in smaller print and (indubitably) aimed at pedestrians, is a single phrase: sishoda ngawe. At first, I was relieved – at least it’s in vernacular! And then I began to think of it a bit more.

Firstly, the same issues around imifakela arise here. The verb being used is from English, not isiNguni or isiNtu at all. It’s derived from the phrase ‘to be short of’ something, and is modern enough not to occur in the 1958 Vilakazi and Doke. It’s frequently part of phrases such as “imali iyashoda” (the money’s running short) and “ukudla kuyashoda” (the food’s running short). When used with an adverb like ngawe, it has the meaning of “be short of you”. So the whole slogan would read:

we’re short of you

Which is another way of saying “your vote counts” or “we are nothing without you”. What it can also mean is “we lack you”. So far so good.

But why (again) choose a borrowed word? What else could uKhongolose have done? Well, they could have written “Siyakudinga” or “Siswela ngawe”. Both of these are acceptably orthodox.

Another question to ask is “why include a small slogan in vernacular on a poster that is otherwise in English?”. As far as I have been able to determine, there’s no equivalent seSotho slogan on any of the posters. Nor is there any equivalent in seTswana, tshiVenda, xiTsonga or sePedi. So what’s the point?

Since I’m feeling uncharitable at the moment, I’m inclined to believe that the choice was not well-thought-out. I imagine a meeting, where a bunch of Nguni-speaking plutocrats sit around scratching their imikhaba and plotting some kind of defence against the inevitable loss of municipalities due to presidential fumblings, and where a vernacular slogan must be added almost as an afterthought.

“Ah yes, maqabane, I like the way s/he looks in the photo”

“Ehhe, and the X is very striking, especially in the intothoviyane colour-scheme around it”

“But comrade, what about the language?”

“The language, maqabane? What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s all written ngoJoji!”

“Indeed, comrade. But my brother’s cousin’s friend’s print company’s quote is only for one single print run. We can only pay lip-service to the 9 indigenous languages.”

“We didn’t fight the amabhunu to end up only having isilungu on our election posters!”

“Indeed, we didn’t. What do you suggest?”

“Well, we could put in a small isiqubulo. Write it ngesiNtu. Actually, everyone understands isiZulu, so let’s write it ngesiZulu”

“Won’t that ostracise the non-Nguni-speakers?”

“You have a point there, comrade – so let’s not use isiZulu esijulile. Let’s aim for the urbanised – how about “sishoda ngawe”?”

“Now we’re talking. It’s catchy, too. Sign off quickly. Sishoda ngeJohnny Blue.”