Lingua franca of South Africa's mines set to fade slowly

Wed Apr 4, 2012 7:22am EDT
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By Ed Stoddard

THEUNISSEN, South Africa (Reuters) - In the bowels of Gold Fields' Beatrix mine in South Africa's Free State province, chief executive Nick Holland addresses the workers, congratulating them on having an injury-free month in their shaft during March.

Speaking English, his words are translated for the black miners by Beatrix boss Ben Haumann into Fanagalo, the lingua franca of South Africa's mines which is set to get phased out.

A pidgin mix of Zulu, other African languages, English and Afrikaans, Fanagalo is not a recognized language and its small vocabulary of around 2,000 words is largely limited to commands, with plenty of obscenities thrown in, according to experts and those who know the tongue.

You will find dictionaries for it online but its name has no agreed spelling. Some use Fanagalo, others Fanakalo.

Academics trace its roots to the sugarcane fields in the Zulu heartland and it then spread to the country's mines, where for decades it has been used, giving workers from Mozambique, Lesotho and several South African ethnic groups a common tongue.

But companies like Gold Fields, the world's fourth largest gold miner, are looking to replace it with English or African languages such as Xhosa for cultural and safety reasons.

Other South African miners are doing the same. Harmony Gold has a policy to ensure all employees are English literate by 2015, which spokeswoman Marian van der Walt said "implies phasing out Fanagalo."

Gold Fields has introduced a new policy to require its non-English speakers to start learning English and to require English and Afrikaans speakers to learn the most commonly spoken African language at the mine where they work.   Continued...