The Name Says It All


Colonialism succeeded because we still call ourselves, our places and things the way they defined the difference between superior and inferior. They allocated superior names, colours and things to themselves and all inferior names, colours and things to us.

King William’s Town does not refer to King Ngqika, Ndlambe or Hintsa or any African for that matter. It cannot because they banned the reference to our royalty in the same way as the royalty, princes, princesses, Lords, queen and King in England. Our aristocrats were reduced to chiefs, this is very insulting to people who understand royalty like they were used to in England. A chief can be a chief- anything; the status is not reserved for royalty as that of Lord. In the English language we have a chief inspector, a chief engineer, a chief director, a chief ablution facilities manager etc. So the use of this title, much as it is a leadership title, it is not excusive as royalty should be.

There is another blemish to the reference “Chief” in the South African context stemming from the ANC originally, “comrade” is not more ANC as it is an SACP construct since they started cross-pollinating. During Chief Albert Luthuli’s rein as ANC president, leaders called each other and the Chief the way he was called, non-ANC people referred to members as those people of the chief. This reference was over-employed in exile for different reason (there are as many reasons for this Chief reference as there are people explaining it, mine is just one of them). Where is the blemish? The tenderpreneurs joined the ANC after 1994 and quickly learnt the “liberation lingo” and started calling every influential black person who had the potential to give them a tender “chief” so as to feel closer to them or pass as one with struggle credentials since this became a passport to get tenders.

In the household we tend to borrow these royal titles but use them in context, without corrupting their meanings. When you call your husband “my King” you mean there is no one above him in his jurisdiction, the household or your life.

Chiefs who had other chiefs under them where called paramount chiefs to avoid calling them King because there is only one King in the British Colony, the King of England, this is a status unbefitting of a mere African who reports to a British-imposed magistrate of his district.

Under the democratic government we are supposed to be free and the government is saying it recognises our royalty but they can still not come to themselves and refer to them as royalty. Round-about euphemisms are used to retain the colonial dictate of keeping them less than royalty which is by its nature above even the leadership produced by democratic structures.

I am saying we have a new order with the same thinking as the colonial master but with a different application. Royalty and all Lords and aristocrats (abantwana begazi) are now referred to as traditional leaders and not as royalty because they still do not qualify to be above the people who are called leaders of the people, of the state and of government. There are leaders up there and then there are traditional leaders here. If everybody is a leader and you are the other leaders or a leader with a prefix, then you either must be a leader of a special kind or a leader of a lesser category, that is why only you are under a category, you have been othered (feminist language).

Why don’t we call political leaders “political leaders”. The President is not called the chief minister (Zulu: Unduna-Nkulu) head-prefect of servants to the crown, these servants being the ministers in cabinet. No!! there is no euphemism here, the president is the President and is officially greeted as Mr President or His Excellency (please let us not even begin to discuss excellence). The Lord Mayor of London is a Mayor and we even borrowed his greetings, Your Worship. A judge in the court of law is respected as Mr Justice, no euphemism there and his official greeting: Your Honour Sir. There are so many examples but why do we call our royals, traditional leaders, or an even better question, why do they call themselves traditional leaders (C.O.N.T.R.A.L.E.S.A).

Why are our doctors called traditional healers, which I must admit is a great departure from being referred to as witch doctors? Why don’t we call the doctors using European methods of healing (black or white) European Doctors to distinguish them and make them foreign and inferior to our original authentic doctors? Why do we call their medicine, “medicine” and umhlonyane “alternative medicine”. Same story, we want to other them, make them and their methods less effective to that of the multi-billion dollar modern medical industry. This is about money; political parties need money for their election campaigns.

A “proper” doctor asks you what is wrong with you, strips you naked and makes you breathe heavily while listening to some music on his earphones. He gives you a name for what you described to him and he goes to his big book and starts copying the remedies in the column under the bombastic name he just gave you. You must pay him and take his illegible piece of paper to a pharmacy where you will pay through your nose for his scribbles.

A “traditional healer” inyanga on the other hand, will tell you what is wrong with you and if it is a symptom of a ritual that you skipped or you did not know anything about, he will tell you that your heavy period is caused by a spiritual imbalance between your ancestors and those of your in-laws due to some goat owing, and will not try to heal you or take your money until you attend to the underlying cause of your symptom (then, not the tsotsis we have now).

Tell me, who is the real Doctor here? Good answer, but they have been othered by the missionaries, by their successors and the charismatic churches, by the European funded doctors coming from the same community, by law and policy-makers, by the medical aid schemes, by HR practitioners, who view their existence in the same way as they view back-yard abortion joints.

Speaking of churches, in South Africa we have two categories of churches. Foreign churches are called Main Line Churches and African Instituted churches are the “Other” churches that have no names but strange costumes matching their strange Christian worship. Where is the main line and where is the sub-line, who draws it? Maybe first let us look at the origins of these main line churches, Anglican Church: England, Presbyterian Church: Scotland, Methodist Church: England, Dutch Reformed Church: Netherlands, Lutheran Church: Germany, Roman Catholic Church: Italy, Baptist Church: America. It stands to reason the sub-line runs the same line as the river Nile.

This othering has not escaped the dirty clutches of gender bias. A pilot is a “pilot” until she becomes a female pilot. The assumption is that a pilot is a man and a less version of him, with the same qualification will be a woman. This arrangement is not the same as when a guy impresses the queen by doing something heroic and he is knighted and acquires the title “Sir”. So now what do we call the wife of a knight?

After a six-day conference a resolution is taken, some genius has suggested we gift to her the title of Madam or Lady, e.g. Sir George Grey and Lady Grey. No, in my pilot story these people put the same effort and made the same sacrifices, the woman more because she had to constantly prove herself even to her parents that she does not want to be nurse or a waiter.

A Radio Sonder Granse newsreader in 1987 reported a terrible car accident when one man Koss and Flipie (his dog) passed away and two blacks (nameless) died.
Let us talk the colours white and black. The White people gave themselves the title of white people only after they came to know Africans otherwise on their own, they never saw themselves as white because they are not. The opposite of white then is black that is when we became blacks otherwise we were the Nation of Ntu or abantu bound together by the spirit of ubuntu before it became commercial.

What does the Oxford dictionary says:

“The term white has been used to refer to the skin colour of Europeans or people of European extraction since the early 17th century. Unlike other labels for skin colour such as red or yellow, white has NOT been generally used in a derogatory way”.

Synonyms of white – colourless, unpigmented, undyed, bleached, natural, pure, innocent, trustworthy, clean. Example, “…clean white bandage”

Non-White – “ … a person whose origin is not predominantly European”

“…of the very darkest colour owing to the absence of or complete absorption of light, the opposite of white,…”

“Lacking hue and brightness, characterised by the absence of light, enveloped in darkness”

“Pertaining or belonging to any of the various populations characterised by dark skin pigmentation, specifically the dark-skinned peoples of Africa, Oceania, and Australia” (India missing here)

Meanings: “Soiled or stained with dirt; gloomy, pessimistic, dismal; deliberately harmful, inexcusable; boding ill, sullen or hostile, threatening, without any moral quality or goodness; evil; wicked, marked by disaster or misfortune, illegal or underground….”

All those proudly black people in the house may now stand up!!!! Who wrote these things and allocated these meanings. Whatever happened to dark and lovely, ebony beauty, black and beautiful umkhitha (Xhosa epitome of black beauty).

White weddings and traditional weddings, the current South African Government has two acts governing marriages, one is called Marriages Act 25 of 1961 and the other one Act number 120 of 1998 this is the Customary marriages Act. Who do you think is superior here?

Authored by Themba Ngada

4 replies
  1. Leigh Joy
    Leigh Joy says:

    The wounds of ‘othering’ run deep. I wonder if we will ever see a society who doesn’t take interest in who is ‘in’ or ‘out’. Where we recognise our differences with curiosity so as to creatively and courageously connect, commune and embrace. I pray and live with my heart pointing in the direction of inclusivity and love. Who will join me?


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *