Mayor Zandile Gumede has called on eThekwini councillors who are not mother tongue Zulu speakers to learn the language so the council can hold meetings in it without relying on interpreters.
Currently, English and Zulu are the official business languages at council meetings and they are used interchangeably with the help of interpreters.
She reportedly said: “I feel really good when I use it (Zulu). Even in this exco...it must happen officially, across the board, in all committees. For us, I don’t think it must get to a point where councillors request interpretations in committees, it must be a norm (councillors debating in Zulu).”
It is probably a well-intended call, that will be seen as conciliatory by some. It certainly could go some way in improving relations among the different races. One has to merely observe the other person warming when efforts are made to speak his or her language.
People express themselves better if they articulate in their mother tongue, because things do go awry in translation. Arguments may weaken, even be lost, in second tongue.
On the surface, it makes business sense that a council meeting in a city where the majority of the citizens are Zulu speakers should hold meetings in that language without interpretation, as Gumede has suggested.
But there are many other considerations. How would this benefit ratepayers? Many of them, too, would have to learn the language to fulfil the important principle of council accountability.
What purpose does it serve to impose a language on councillors? Does the current policy accommodating both Zulu and English in council meetings not serve everyone? Is it not an affirmation of the diversity of which the country is so proud?
The mayor should rather focus on delivery than the council medium, which has no bearing on service provision.