You’re best known for your Facebook page and recently published book, which are both called Melusi’s Everyday Zulu. How did this all start?
Having worked in advertising for the past 20 years, I’ve been disappointed by the way the industry treats South African vernacular languages – and those who speak them – as inferior to English and English-speakers. This is a big bugbear of mine, because advertising has a big influence on culture. In 2017, I decided I’d had enough and started posting everyday isiZulu words, as a celebration of my language.
What do you hope to achieve through the book and Facebook posts? I hope to inspire people to be proud of who they are and make them think about their place in SA and the world at large. Every action we take has an effect, either negative or positive.
Which vernacular phrase do you use most often? “Ok’salayo”, the shortened form of “okusalayo”, which means “what remains is”. Normally, it’s an innocuous expression, equivalent to a phrase like “the fact of the matter is”. However, used formally, it’s a resounding expression of defiance that’s very effective when you’re facing an opponent who may be better than you are. Instead of conceding, you find their weakness and preface it with “ok’salayo”. That way, you can walk away with your head held high.
Which isiZulu idiom most inspires you? “Umuntu akalahlwa.” Directly translated, that means “you never throw a person away”. It means you should never give up on anyone. In a country where people, particularly young ones, face daunting challenges and circumstances, bad decisions are sometimes made which ruin lives. I believe we should always give people another chance.
What makes you feel proudly South African? Our sense of humour, our craziness – we’re really bonkers! – and our love for partying and dancing.
Which vernacular word should all South Africans should know? “Habashwe!” It’s part of the Sesotho group of languages and, directly translated, it means “Let them die!” or “Let’s kill them!” But it’s commonly used as a call to action or praise. If you’re about to walk into a boardroom to present, you can encourage your team by saying: “Habashwe!” – like, “Let’s slay them!” Or if your friend’s doing amazing moves on the dance floor, you can cheer her on by shouting: “Habashwe!”
What’s coming up next for you, career-wise? I’m focused on growing my advertising and design agency (Studio 214) and busy promoting my book. If it’s successful, I’ll publish further volumes. I’m also expanding the project beyond isiZulu by working with people from other cultures and language groups. In addition, I’m part of a team who recently launched an initiative, called Ubudlelwano, through which we get South Africans from all walks of life to talk to each other across race, gender, sexual orientation, social status and other silos.