Zuma praat die taal
Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma made a brave foray into Afrikaans in his first State of the Nation address on Wednesday, to the delight of assembled MPs.
They laughed and applauded when, a quarter of the way through his speech, he embarked on a halting but determined passage in what was clearly not his second or third, and probably not even his fourth, language.
"Laat ons mekaar se hande vat [let us take one another's hands]," he said, urging South Africans to work together in looking for solutions.
There was more laughter and applause as he ended, with a broad smile: "Ons regering gaan vorentoe kyk, nie agtertoe nie! [our government will look ahead, not backwards!]"
Apart from an extra "t" in "vorentoe" and an unconventional pronunciation of the indefinite article "'n", Zuma put on a workmanlike performance.
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder, a champion of Afrikaner rights whom Zuma recently appointed as a deputy minister, said afterwards that the president was "very good in reaching out, making symbolic gestures".
"He spoke Afrikaans and he did it quite well," he said.
"I'm long enough in South Africa to know if you're from KwaZulu-Natal or the Eastern Cape, Afrikaans is a foreign language."
Zuma comes from Nkandla in Zululand.
He delivered the bulk of his speech in English, alternating in places between the royal "we" favoured by his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, and "me".
He included a brief passage in Tswana, and one in Zulu, on the importance his government attached to rural development.
He read the speech, which was just over an hour long, from a large-type text, with two paragraphs printed on a page.