Dashiki Dialogues: ‘Cleva’ is not the same as clever

2012-11-10 10:36

Oh dear! What are we to do? The president seems to distrust education and educated people.

Perhaps we should all be outraged, like I failed to be last week when I read reports of President Jacob Zuma’s statement at the ­official opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders.

Among many things, he was quoted as having said things like: “The people who write in papers are educated. They think they are telling the truth. It is not . . . it is propaganda.”

I just shook my head lightly when I read this and other news of how the man from Nkandla rebuked what was reported as “clever blacks”. The president is said to have slammed black people “who ­become too ‘clever’”.

Zuma has the gift of resorting to the colloquial vernacular when he is launching an attack on his detractors. Either slipping into light-hearted Zulu platitudes and rapturous laughter or bursting into song, he deploys the commonplace to disarm threats of seriousness.

That’s all well and good. However, I found last week’s remarks about “clever blacks” ­particularly fascinating. You have to know how the tag “cleva”, not “clever”, is used in the black vernacular to get how it reveals the president’s attitude ­towards “high” knowledge.

In the neighbourhoods where most black people are socialised, “cleva” means more than just saying someone is intelligent. To say “you are a cleva” is not to say “you are clever”.

The former carries a dismissive punch reserved for clueless, self-important smarty pants or the delinquently astute fast talkers who terrorise unsuspecting victims, either on the playground or in neighbourhood meetings.

So when you find yourself in the tricky throngs of a smarty pants during a debate, you simply tag them as a “cleva” and dismiss all they say. The tag delegitimises everything they say as rank trickery.

Now, the tag “you are a cleva” as a weapon of debate tends to also make its way into grown-up ­discourse as a disarming tactic.

People confronted with ideas that strike them as more superior than theirs, or threatening to their hegemony, will dismiss the new views as criticisms of a “cleva” person.

It is the same with the uneducated or the uniformed who’ve once been hoodwinked by the “educated” tricksters who knew more. They ­become distrustful of anything that resembles the assailant who victimised them.

So, Zuma unlettered, ­distrusts education as the preserve of these “cleva” types.

It is worrying because all our dialogues about development will mean nothing unless they are wrapped up in education’s dashiki. Regardless of Zuma’s apparent bibliophobia.

» Follow me on Twitter @Percy_Mabandu 

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Rugby World Cup 2015

All the action from the 2015 RWC, including live coverage of all 48 matches, breaking news, fixtures, results, logs - and much more!


Rugby World Cup 2015

Boks: The Beast is back!
Watching Boks win was special
Horne, Hooper face time on the sidelines
Du Preez: Pollard's drop-goal was vital
Traffic Alerts

It is time to focus on your daily rhythm. Are you putting too much attention on future projects and neglecting the day to day...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.