Apartheid language lives on

2012-11-10 13:09

One Saturday morning recently, my neighbour warned me to be careful because she had noticed an ­influx of “native” men. I don’t think she was being racist. I just think she has no idea how offensive I find the use of that word.

The word ‘native’ comes from the Latin and simply means one who was born in, or is indigenous to, a particular place. But the way the apartheid government mangled the language means certain words will, for generations, leave a bad taste.

There has been much said over my decision to discourage my staff from using the word ‘compound’ to describe President Jacob Zuma’s home at Nkandla.

I explained the ­apartheid-era connotation that the word has. A quick search on how the Media24 Afrikaans newspapers refer to Zuma’s Nkandla residence shows a ­recurrence of terms such as “private woning” and “huis” – all neutral references.

Interestingly, the Afrikaans translation, “kampong”, is hardly ever used because in ­Afrikaans there is no question as to what the word means – a place where “blacks” live.

The Star newspaper published a report on November 7 in which it is claimed they spoke to me about an email I sent to my staff instructing them to ­refrain from using the word “compound” in relation to the president’s residence.

The newspaper does it in such a disingenuous way that any careful reader would immediately pick up its dishonesty.

­Instead of quoting me, it has me, “repeating a refrain”. Whatever the odd phraseology, it is a blatant lie. I never spoke to the reporter, or anyone else, from that newspaper.

At the time of writing, I have still to receive an apology, or explanation, from the newspaper.

The irony is, the email emanated from the fact that I had urged more coverage on the cost of and controversy about Zuma’s ­private residence. But I wanted reporting, not comment.

Nkandlagate and Zumaville are highly loaded and judgmental terms that explain nothing. In fact their use is comment, not news.

Words are our stock in trade. We fail in our duty as ­editors and journalists if we cheapen them.

» Matthews is acting head of news at the SABC 

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