| THEUNISSEN, South Africa, April 4
THEUNISSEN, South Africa, April 4 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.
"Fanagalo has a lot of cultural baggage. It's not a nice way
to talk to people. It's insensitive," Holland told Reuters.
"The older guys still use it but the young guys don't want
to use it. The problem is that it was too comfortable to use for
too long," he said.
Unions also want to see Fanagalo pushed aside.
"We are strongly of the view that the languages used should
reflect the location of a mine," said Lesiba Seshoka, spokesman
for the National Union of Mineworkers.
Phasing out Fanagalo also comes against the backdrop of a
drive to improve safety in South Africa's mines, which are
world's deepest and among the most dangerous.
"The safety link with language is very important. You can
get the message across in an emergency much more effectively in
someone's home language," said Peter Turner, head of Gold
Fields' South African operations.
He was speaking to Reuters after he explained the new
language policy to a group of workers underground, using Xhosa,
a language which many of miners at Beatrix speak or understand.
There are also high rates of illiteracy and relatively low
skill levels among South Africa's mining labour force and
experts have said this contributes to a poor safety culture.
Mines are therefore starting to require minimum education
standards for entry-level workers of at least grade 10 and this
is also seen as spelling a death knell for Fanagalo as it will
mean the emerging labour force has at least rudimentary English.
But Fanagalo is hardly going to vanish from South Africa's
Much of the labour force is in the 40 and 50 year old age
bracket and will clearly fall back on a language they are used
to and research shows its use is not confined underground.
Prof. Mbulungeni Madiba, a linguist at the University of
Cape Town, said surveys done a few years ago at Beatrix showed
that 36 percent of the workers there used Fanagalo when they
were off work and away from the mine.
Seven percent described it as their "home language" but he
said they were most likely migrant workers from places such as
Mozambique who wanted to say they spoke something South African.
"It's still pretty widely used," he said.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)