No shower for Zuma in sign language
Johannesburg - Sign language users identify President Jacob Zuma by his forehead and not a showerhead, DeafSA said on Monday.
"The reference that was made that President Zuma's name sign makes reference to a shower is incorrect," said national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA), Bruno Druchen.
"In sign language they do not degrade people, or use a sign that will embarrass".
Druchen was responding to comments by cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro in The Star newspaper, where he said that he had heard deaf people were using a showerhead to depict Zuma in sign language.
"Zuma's forehead is large. What [sign language users] do is they put their hand palm open on their forehead and press it back."
It was a sign which required two movements to be completed.
Druchen said that a shower sign was completely different.
"Your hand is a claw and it opens like a shower and this is repeated".
Druchen also said other political figures had specific name signs.
For example, embattled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema was identified by his cheeks.
"[Sign language users] will open up a palm and put their thumb next to their chin. They do this on both sides.
"It's not degrading. It's a feature that people will pick up on."
When it came to Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, his "bok beard" was seen as his distinguishing feature.
"If you take your hand and you scratch your chin...[you] form a little beard."
Druchen said that "personal name signs" were a valued aspect of South African Sign Language (SASL) and deaf culture.
He said that in deaf culture, a "culturally and lingually deaf person assigns a name sign to a new non-native member of the community".
"In this culture, it is a gift, something that is given to one and is not something that a non-native can pick or invent for oneself."
Druchen said that there was a "complex system of rules" which governed how a name sign was formed.
"Assigning a name sign is usually not given quickly, nor without consideration of its rules."
"In deaf culture and sign language, a sign name is a special sign that is used to uniquely identify a person, just like a name."
Until a name sign is established, the person's name is usually finger-spelled.
Sign names were usually subdivided between descriptive and arbitrary ones.
Descriptive name signs "manually illustrate physical features", whereas arbitrary name signs are created by users putting their fingers in a letter formation on a particular part of the face.
"Though the location can sometimes have some implications (for example forehead/temple for male, chin/mouth for female), it is usually just a unique sign without other meaning."
For example, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille was depicted by an arbitrary name sign.
The letter H was formed on the cheek and the "Z" of her surname depicted as a separate sign.
Druchen said that it was possible that non-native signers made up their own signs.
"Unfortunately, many non-native signers make up name signs for themselves or others [whereby]... their formation may be unsuitable, or contextually awkward."
He also said it was sometimes possible for name signs to change.
"A sign name can be changed once or so in a person's lifetime for some reason".
Shapiro - better known by his pen-name of Zapiro - made his comments about sign language in the aftermath of the ANC's Limpopo conference at the weekend.
Malema had held his hand over his head to represent a shower, while joining in the singing of anti-Zuma songs which proclaimed "showara wa re sokodisa" meaning "the shower man is giving us a hard time".
Zapiro said this was an ironic gesture.
"The irony is that Malema has come from a place so deeply embedded in the Zuma camp and [now] he's attacking him using the shower device," said Zapiro.
Malema is currently appealing a five-year suspension from the ANC after he was found to have brought the party in disrepute.
Zapiro said that the shower head image continued to hold potency in public culture.
"Whichever faction has something against Zuma might pick it up regardless of whether they had earlier poured scorn on the original shower head."
Zapiro first depicted Zuma with a shower during his rape trial in 2006, after Zuma told the court that he had showered to protect himself from infection after having unprotected sex with an HIV positive woman.
Zuma later apologised for the comment.
Zuma is suing Zapiro for R5m for the way he has been depicted by the cartoonist.