Business Day Weekender, Johannesburg, 21 October 2006

The Struggle English of the revolutionary comrades


THE Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) get-together last month reminded me of something I had not heard in a long time, a lingo called Struggle English. Struggle because it was a language spoken by people involved in the resistance against apartheid; English because that is the one language it most closely resembled in its sounds.

I suppose the best way to understand how Struggle English worked is to go back to the Middle Ages in Europe: a select few had a language all their own, Latin.

This clerical elite ran the Church and the universities and justified its existence by reminding everyone who cared to listen that only it had the language suited to the thankless task of leading society towards God’s grace.

So it was with the comrades who spoke Struggle English. They spoke it because they were our leaders; they were our leaders because they were fluent in Struggle English. They understood, as the joke went in the townships in the 1980s, Big English.

But Struggle English never made any sense.

Looking back, I am not even sure that many of those who pretended to be fluent in the lingo actually understood what they or their interlocutors were saying to one another.

Entire meetings would be conducted in Struggle English, with healthy servings of truncated or made-up quotations from Marx and Lenin.

None of us was any the wiser about what had been decided at the end of each meeting.

But it did not matter, you see. We were guided by the revolutionary principle of democratic centralism and that meant that whatever (and I mean whatever) was decided at a meeting would always hold and you dared not criticise it or let slip that you had absolutely no clue what the comrades had just agreed upon. Revolutionary discipline, comrades!

Here’s how a typical conversation would be conducted. Bear in mind that I have made it somewhat intelligible:
Comrade Chair: Comrades, actually in fact the agenda it’s (sic) clear. Can I get a mover for its abortion, comrades? Are there any seconders of the notion on the table, comrades? Can we abort, er, adopt the agenda, ma-comrades?

Comrade Seconder: Sho, coms! Accordingly, verbally, actually in fact I second the motion, comrades.

Comrade Thirder: Double for sho, coms! I third the motion in revolutionary spirits, ma-comrades.

Comrade Chair: Order, comrades! The issue it’s (sic) one, comrades. The issue it’s (sic) clear. It’s unrevolutionary to waste time, comrades. Our people are shedding blood to nourish the tree of freedoms (sic) outside this meeting. Comrades. Any injections, ma-comrades? Any objections?

Comrade Thirder: Point of order, Com Chair! Point of order, Comrade Chair! To can say I am wasting time, comrade, that issue it’s (sic) wrong.

Comrade Seconder: Point of before, Comrade Chair! Point of before, Comrade Chair!

Comrade Thirder: Protection. Comrade Chair! So that then, because to can say, I am still on the floor, Com Chair. So that then, in order of according and actually in fact, I need your protection.

Comrade Fourther: Point of exigency, Comrade Chair! This is unprocedural. Comrade Seconder cannot rise on a point of before when actually in fact Comrade Chair must, accordingly, still deal with the point of order.

Comrade Chair: Ma-comrades, you are forcing me to utilise and abuse my powers now, actually in fact, because the issue it’s (sic) one. So, without further doo doo (sic), I move that we abort, I mean adopt the agenda so that then, to can say and actually in fact, we can start the meeting. Can we move?

Comrade Fifther: Order, comrades, order! Comrade Marx and Lenin are, to quote and unquote, jumping in their revolutionary graves, comrades! To can say, to can misquote and unquote Marx and Lenin, that thing it’s (sic) wrong. Where’s the discipline, comrades? Where’s the revolutionary spirit?

On and on the conversation (what else does one call it?) would go. The comrades would each give as good as they got.

The more adjectives you could throw into the mix, the better. Even better if you had very big words in your arsenal, words like perpendicular, relevance, according, and so on.

A comrade would say: “The comrade is marching perpendicular to the truth, comrades.”

To be fair, the Cosatu crowd I mingled with was nowhere near as bad as my student leaders. But there were enough “points of orders”, “points of befores” and “points of exigencies” to remind me of what happens to speakers of Struggle English.

They grow old. But they never grow up.

From: http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/weekender.aspx?ID=BD4A299319

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