Cape Town DA politician JP Smith’s attempt at a joke – poking fun at an “unpronounceable” African name – has backfired badly on him.
Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security, was referring to master of ceremonies Abongile Nzelenzele at a film industry event.
“Good morning, goeie more, molweni nonke, my fellow Capetonians. So to our MC, Abongile (Nzelenzele). I’m not even gonna try that surname, dude. Too many vowels, too awkwardly placed. Need to galvanise short, compact one like me, Smith,” he said.
The Twittersphere did not respond well to the remarks and called him out for not knowing better as a public figure and a politician.
However, others came to his defence, saying the same could be said about English names and English words that were not pronounced correctly on TV and radio.
Smith said he was allocated to Langa as a councillor, which meant he spent a lot of time there and has become quite proficient with pronunciation.
“The pronunciation was not the issue. We were joking about names and other issues.” Smith said.
Political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga said Smith’s remarks were unfortunate.
“That was supposed to be a joke, but a joke in the wrong place,” he said.
Mathekga said if anything, the moment should be used to highlight the lack of sensitivity.
“Everybody knew what he meant but it seems it left a sense of awareness,” Mathekga added.
He said part of the solution was to accept uncomfortable conversations.
“If you can, help people strike a better conversation because we always blame each other,” he said.
Political analyst Daniel Silke said being in the public eye, one has to be sensitive to languages or names.
“Public representatives need to be sensitive and perhaps avoid a heavy-handed attempt at comedy, especially in what is a relatively sensitive arena in South African politics at the moment.”
Silke said Smith might have learned a valuable lesson in being careful of how funny you think you are when you’re not – but has little political relevance to the DA.
“All sorts of people have difficulties with names. We see it even in parliament where some of the honourable members also struggle with names,” Silke added.
He said Smith’s comments were not abrasive or malicious.
“There are added sensitivities in South Africa around attempting to pronounce names they were not familiar with, whether it was individual or place names.”
Silke, however, said there were much bigger issues in SA that need a cooperative approach and this wasn’t on top of the agenda.