'I decided to give my stories a bigger meaning than just LOLs and likes' – Melusi Tshabalala on writing Melusi’s Everyday Zulu
Nal’ibali column 21: term 3 (2018)
What inspired you to write Melusi’s Everyday Zulu?
I’ve worked in advertising for the past 20 years and it broke my heart how the industry treats indigenous, (South) African languages with disrespect. I wanted to showcase the beauty and, because I am um’Zulu, I did it with isiZulu.
You have a background in advertising. How are different languages used in this industry? What do you think needs to change?
You can’t talk about how advertising uses languages without bringing marketing into it. African languages and the people who speak them are not given much respect. This is starkly evident in radio advertising, where the quality of African-language radio ads is often not the same as the English and Afrikaans because they are not given the same quality control. We need more marketers and advertising professionals who actually care to deliver a quality product to this majority audience.
Your book concept started with a Facebook page! Tell us about discovering the power of social media as a tool for activism.
A little while ago, I realised that people on Facebook enjoy my writing, so I decided to give my stories a bigger meaning than just LOLs and likes. We all have the responsibility to help build the country, using whatever skills we have. Mine is writing.
How did the momentum shift your idea from a social media platform to regular media, like your book deal and a radio slot?
I was approached by publishers and radio producers – I honestly didn’t see that coming. I now have features on Kaya FM and East Coast Radio, as well as a column in Finweek.
What was the public feedback to your Facebook posts?
The feedback has been very positive even though we’ve had some very tough conversations. The people on the page don’t always agree with me or each other, but we learn from each other. Well, most of us!
Has there been a learning curve in writing for such a huge public audience?
Yes, I’ve had to adjust to writing for a broader audience, with people from different walks of life. I’ve also learnt not to react to everything people say to me. I sometimes still react, though.
You literally tackle one of SA’s big problems one word at a time. Do you think we can chip away at our ingrained prejudices?
I’ve realised that we can! We just need to talk to each other. We exist in silos and make assumptions about “the other”. That said, some people really are just terrible.
I love your catchphrase – “There’s Um’Zulu in all of us!” What do you think SA would be like if we all made an effort to learn and use each others’ languages?
I believe we all have little bits of each other in us. We need to tap into them and become an unstoppable force in the world. That’s our nation’s uniqueness.
Children’s brains are incredibly good at picking up language – they learn through play and aren’t afraid to get words wrong. How can we keep this sense of play and fun in learning language as adults?
We need to interact with each other, make friends who are different from us. We need to laugh together and at ourselves, while always being aware of our colonial and apartheid history.
Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit: www.nalibali.org.