At a church meeting at Marianhill in KwaZulu-Natal, South African President Jacob Zuma donated R500 000 (approx $50 000) through his Jacob Zuma Foundation to translate the Bible into isiZulu.
This was welcomed by his supporters as well as religious leaders, but sparked outrage from his detractors. Despite my initial reservations, I won’t be joining the chorus of protest.
For a language to grow, people need to participate in it. That means speaking it, and we all know people speak Zulu – It’s the language with the most mother tongue speakers in the country – but it also means that a language should be read, and expand its academic capability.
For isiZulu, that includes having a Bible for people to read. Some critics will remind me that there’s already an isiZulu Bible available.
In my mother tongue of Afrikaans, the Bible was translated twice. First published in 1933, the original translation was from a Dutch version of the English King James bible. In 1983 a revised version was published, based on older Greek texts.
The two versions are radically different. I’ll let those who study the bible decide on the merits of each translation. All I’ll say is that, whether you read the bible and believe every word, or read the bible and believe it’s all nonsense, you should get to read a proper translation.
You can’t eat a bible
Other critics have pointed out that Zuma is wasting money on bibles while people are hungry. I hear this often – whenever money is spent on anything – that it’s being wasted on something while people are poor. Sometimes these claims may be legitimate, when something has no real use and doesn’t enhance life much in any way. Other times it’s not. There’s more to life than food.
I can almost see the horror on your faces. Let me explain.
Cultural projects are important for a stable society. As are sporting events, like the money spent on sending athletes to the Olympics. These types of things add value and quality to life.
When you’re unemployed, all you want is a job so you can eat. When you have a job, you want more than food to give your life meaning. You don’t want to be a simple machine that goes to work and back for food.
Why, you wonder, should that matter when people are hungry? Well, the people who are working, who are stimulating the economy and generating the tax funds, need to be kept motivated. You need to give them an incentive to keep generating funds, because without that everything falls apart. No world cups, no bibles in Zulu, no food to eat. How can you inspire people to make a better life for themselves if there is no better life to make?
Jacob Zuma in a leopard skin
People have accused Zuma that he’s a traditionalist showing his true colours. There may have been cases in the past – and there probably will again be in the future – where his actions in his political capacity may have justified such criticism, but in his personal capacity – and this money was donated in his personal capacity through the Jacob Zuma Foundation, not the state or the ANC – there’s no reason for him to be anything but a Zulu and a Christian.
In the context of being the leader of a multicultural society consisting of several ethnicities and faiths, he has to act without prejudice or favouritism towards any segment the population. However, any leader still has the right to act as a member of the segment of the community he identifies with, as long as it’s done in his personal capacity, without abusing state power for such advantage.
Finding fault is faulty
Whatever my own political allegiance may be now or have been then, I’ve stated before Zuma became ANC leader and later SA president that he will be the death of the ANC. It makes me feel a bit like a prophet, although I don’t want to gloat, because with it comes a country sliding back into an abyss. The hardship of people is nothing to smile about. Besides, it’s not as if I was the only one who thought it was a bad idea to put him in charge.
President Zuma has endured much over the past few months, which eventually culminated in him getting booed at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. The validity of the criticism against him is open for debate, of course, but those who oppose him should be more discerning when it comes to formulating their claims.
If people become too desperate to find fault in everything Zuma does, they’ll start muddling issues. The legitimate criticism will get buried underneath all the mendacious claims and loose its weight. It’s easy to brush of strong criticism when there are so many insubstantial claims that can be used to divert attention.
The anti-Zuma movement is better off focussing on the things that matter.
Oh no, just not the word of God
I’m going to try my hand at prophesying once again. This time, if I turn out right, I will gloat. I’m going to speculate that a project to translate the bible into isiZulu will create more interest in the language as an academic vehicle. It will inspire more people to write and express themselves in their language, not just speak it in the streets, and allow the language to grow stronger. This may even extend to other native languages. It will get people more into reading, and with it increase comprehension.
Eventually, as the language – and with it the culture – expands, so will knowledge, and later critical thinking. When that happens, people will ditch their beliefs. On the other hand, you won’t kill a belief simply by depriving people of their holy books. Africa’s long tradition of word of mouth will see to that.
Those of you who are cringing at these words right now could do well to remember that old atheist platitude: “ If more people would actually sit down and read the Bible there would be a lot more atheists.”