Fanakalo to be officially phased out in mining operations

5th December 2008

Platinum mining company Anglo Platinum (Angloplat) is actively taking steps to rid itself of the unofficial pidgin language Fanakalo as a means of communication at its operations.

Research conducted by Angloplat has shown that the artificially manufactured Fanakalo language was found to have an adverse effect the effectiveness of communications. More importantly though, is how this affects safety issues.

To resolve this situation, all employees, supervisors and management will, over a period of three years, learn two languages, namely English and the relevant dominant local language.

A strong perception held by Angloplat is that there is a correlation between mine safety and effective communication, proved true in the first half of 2007. As reported by mining operations, a significant deterioration in safety performance occurred during the first half of 2007.

This led to a halt in production, particularly at Angloplat Rustenburg operations, to ensure that every employee fully understood the principles and accountability underlying all safety standards, initiatives and programmes.

Working in partnership with key stakeholders such as unions, training specialist Media Works, Wits University and Wits Enterprise, the comprehensive language strategy will be phased in over the next three years.

"I am aware of numerous attempts to stamp out Fanakalo in the past, by various mining houses," says Media Works MD Jackie Carroll. "But this is the first time that such a comprehensive solution has been sought and is being provided. After running two highly successful pilots, and witnessing the support that we have received from all quarters for this initiative, we know we have a solid working model that will finally release mining from the shackles of Fanakalo."

As research conducted among some 6 000 employees revealed, most employees agreed that a change in Angloplat's language policy would improve understanding among employees and enhance work place safety. The aim is to provide for an operational level of communication proficiency, rather than to enable literacy and fluency.

Forming part of the mining group's comprehensive safety improvement plan, the programme will be implemented at all Angloplat-managed mining operations.

The full roll out of the Oral Language Development Programme will start in 2009.


Fanakalo, also known as Fanagalo, is the only Zulu-based pidgin language, and is a rare example of a pidgin based on an indigenous language rather than on the language of a colonising or trading power.

The name Fanakalo comes from strung-together Nguni forms meaning "liken + it + that" and has the meaning "do it like this", reflecting its use as a language of instruction.

Fanakalo is one of a number of African pidgin languages that developed during the colonial period to promote ease of communication. It has been suggested that it developed in the nineteenth century in KwaZulu-Natal as a way for English colonists to communicate with their servants and was also used as a go-between language between English and Afrikaans-speaking colonists.

Historically, Fanakalo was used extensively in gold and diamond mines because the South African mining industry employed workers from across southern and central Africa, including Congo, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique.

With workers originating from a range of countries and having a vast range of different mother tongues, Fanakalo provided a simple way to communicate and is still used as a training and operating medium.

In the mid-20th century there were white efforts in South Africa to promote and standardise Fanakalo as a universal second language, under the name of Basic Bantu.
It is in this sense that Fanakalo has unfavourable and negative connotations for many South Africans, furthering the cause for its abandonment.