Zuma 'lost in translation' - academic

2013-11-10 16:01

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Johannesburg - The controversies that President Jacob Zuma’s public remarks sometimes trigger have been attributed to cultural misunderstandings between the president and those who interpret his messages.

Mark Sanders, who lectures in comparative literature at New York University, has suggested that Zuma’s use of the isiZulu idiom in his public statements is sometimes misconstrued, City Press reported on Sunday

Using examples from Zuma’s 2006 rape trial, during which he addressed the court in isiZulu, Sanders says that nuances in his speech are sometimes lost in translation.

He says what Zuma said during the trial would not be difficult to understand if the English media had attempted to report his comments accurately.

“Reported accurately, what he actually said is not difficult to understand,” says Sanders.

Political analyst Protas Madlala believes Zuma gets short shrift from his critics mainly because of his educational background and the difficulty of translating cultural meaning.

“You can’t translate culture. The moment you translate cultural meaning, it will have a different meaning altogether,” says Madlala.

But not everyone agrees.

Cultural expert and activist Nombonisa Gasa says the problem with the president’s statements is not the language they are communicated in, but the meaning they convey.

The issue with Zuma is that “his cultural references in terms of isiZulu are specific and frozen in time”, she says.

“In the culture that he harks back to, he suggests a world that is frozen – and that’s a problem.

She says there is something patronising about claims that Zuma is misunderstood because it suggests that some people cannot “transcend” village life.

When contacted for comment this week, presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj declined to respond.

But he did say that he was not worried about what commentators think of Zuma.

Read more on:    mac maharaj  |  jacob zuma  |  politics

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