No shower for Zuma in sign language

2011-12-19 21:50
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".

Name signs

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.

Non-native signers

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.

Read more on:    ancyl  |  jacob zuma  |  julius malema  |  kgalema motlanthe  |  helen zille  |  zapiro  |  politics

Join the conversation! 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.
NEXT ON NEWS24X 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

INFOGRAPHIC: New thinking required for retirement

Everything we believe about retirement is fast becoming outdated.


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
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 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.