#TranslationTuesdays: The Fascinating Versatility of South African Languages

3 June 2019. Thoughts in Social Media by

What started out as a campaign to increase our vanity matrix (the number of Twitter followers and likes on our page), and increase brand awareness, has become a uniting social mechanism that not only highlights the wonderment of Black Twitter, and the fascinating connectedness of Black people, but also serves as a reminder of our amusing and singular linguistic prowess. Implemented by Kaitoma’s head of social media, Busisiwe Skhosana, #TranslationTuesdays is a heart-warming and humorous reminder of the uniqueness of not only South African Black culture but also of how Black people relate to one another and how we connect through language.

Black people’s interactions on Twitter have been so profound and impactful that an entire virtual community has been recognised and given the title Black Twitter. In an article published in The Atlantic (2015), Meredith Clark, a professor at the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas, defines Black Twitter as a “temporally linked group of connectors that share culture, language and interest in specific issues, talking about specific topics with a black frame of reference.”

Black Twitter is adept at bringing pertinent socio-political issues to the fore—this virtual community shares content unapologetically, thereby determining what will trend on social media. But Twitter is not only a site for Twitter wars between the public and prominent people, or a platform for exposing racist sentiment; launched in 2006, the popular social networking platform is also where Black people go to express themselves and share chucklesome content that adds much-needed levity to the heaviness of daily South African news. For Black people, Twitter has become a place where we have more of a voice than in reality.

Contrary to popular belief, people of colour, particularly Black people in South Africa, are hardly a homogenous group; we are also a kaleidoscopic group of people with a beautiful array of traditions, cultures, languages and beliefs. While there is much diversity within the black community in South Africa, there are many similarities and shared experiences. Common aspects of the Black experience in South Africa include the ubiquitous mother-and-child portrait that watched many of us grow up; the porcelain dogs that sat on our room dividers as we waited in anticipation for the next episode of Generations to come on. In addition to commonalities that relate to Black homes, our proclivity towards masterful expression is something worth acclaiming; we are an expressive people, and language – amongst other things such as music and dance – is a marvellous form of expression.

If there is one thing that our #TranslationTuesdays campaign has highlighted thus far is just how powerful a force language is; it unites people in the most intriguing and often mysterious ways. The mystery lies in how one group, that is made up of diverse sub-groups, can understand the meaning and contexts of certain phrases and words. When considered in light of the Black community in South Africa, language is constantly evolving to reflect the current zeitgeist, and it invariably takes on a life of its own. Moreover, common cultural experiences add to the nuance, flexibility, versatility and adaptability of South African languages.

Only vernacular-speaking South Africans will understand the meaning of the #TranslationTuesdays words and phrases, and what deepens a word’s meaning are the sentiments, memories and circumstances associated with it; be that as it may, the definitions give non-vernacular speakers insight into Black millennials’ lexicon and nomenclature, as they pertain to South African pop culture. The definitions, which are provided by Kaitoma’s followers, unite the Black community, reminding us of just how creative we are. The fact that we can relate to the meanings of a myriad of words, regardless of the language—whether it’s Sesotho or Zulu—adds to the humour; it makes us gain an even greater appreciation for who we are as a community and foregrounds the fact that there’s so much more that unites than divides us. And, what’s more, our use of language sets us apart from other socio-ethnic groups.

It is quite a task to imagine an existence that does not require us to constantly negotiate our place and being in the world. Through the content we share online, we offer one another some form of [collective] respite from the pain that is inhered within Black life, not only in South Africa but in the diaspora as well. These shared experiences, as expressed through language, signify that there is so much more to being Black than struggle and invisibility. As we share our common experiences, let us hold firm to the belief that our worthiness, as it echoes through the Twittersphere, will no longer be something that we have to convince others of. Black Twitter exists as a mighty collective that, albeit virtual, provides a space for us to be seen and affirmed. A campaign like #TranslationTuesdays is a celebration of the Black culture; it’s a ray of light that breaks through the cracks of societal problems to remind us that, OK’SALAYO, Black Twitter has power.

See the campaign case study →


Donovan, R (2019, April 10). The Truth About Black Twitter. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/04/the-truth-about-black-twitter/390120/

Forsey, C (n.d). What is Twitter and How Does it Work? Retrieved from https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/what-is-twitter


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