I PUT IT TO YOU: 20 WORDS FOR 20 YEARS

I PUT IT TO YOU: 20 WORDS FOR 20 YEARS

Taking it from the top, Archbishop Desmond Tutu aptly described our new country as a rainbow nation. I suspect this metaphor will forever capture the nonracial future South Africans have imagined, warts and all. We were, of course, lucky to have Madiba as the father of our fledgling democracy.

But even as we began chasing the rainbow, we retained a healthy dose of scepticism. We kept a watchful eye down the road to ensure that we weren’t run over by the gravy train.

At the level of political language, the process of rot within the African National Congress (ANC) has provided an impressive list of words and phrases that have shot into the Orwellian pantheon. Take the word chief, for example. For much of the past 20 years, ANC comrades referred to their leader, former president Thabo Mbeki, simply as “chief”. But even before Mbeki lost his position as the person with the highest rank, South Africans had democratised its usage. Everyone became “chief”, as in: “Chief, can I have a squiz at your Business Day?”

A couple of the ANC chiefs left us scratching our heads over the term prima facie case. We knew, however, that it had to do with Number One, as has much else ever since.

For example, consider how the word shower has morphed from its usual association with hygiene to describing a particularly objectionable form of that which is unclean. Many citizens have taken to making shower signs when they are in the presence of Number One.